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An outline image in a single flat colour against a plain background, giving the appearance of a shadow cast by a solid figure. The term is applied particularly to profile portraits in black against white (or vice versa), either painted or cut from paper, which were extremely popular from about 1750 until about 1850, when photography virtually killed the art. The word silhouette derives from Étienne de Silhouette (1706–67), who was French finance minister under Louis XV. He was notorious for his parsimony is said to have cut shadow portraits as a hobby; hence the phrase ‘à la silhouette’ came to mean ‘on the cheap’. In Britain silhouette portraits were generally called ‘shades’ or ‘profiles’ up to the end of the 18th century.

Subjects: Art.

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