History of Silhouettes
The History of Silhouettes

The art of silhouette cutting originated in Europe in the early 1700's.
Prior to the French revolution, silhouettists were hired as an
amusement for the royal class. The featured artist would attend the
many extravagant balls and cut out the distinguished profiles of the
Lords and Ladies capturing the latest fashions and elaborate wigs.

While the aristocrats were having their silhouettes cut out and eating
like kings much of Europe was starving, especially in France. In the
1760's the Finance Minister of France, Etienne de Silhouette, had
crippled the French people with his merciless tax polices. Oblivious to
his people's plight, Etienne was much more interested in his hobby of
cutting out paper profiles, the latest fad. Etienne de Silhouette was so
despised by the people of France that in protest the peasant s wore
only black mimicking his black paper cutouts. The saying went all over
France,"We are dressing a la Silhouette. We are shadows, too poor to
wear color. We are Silhouettes!" To this very day the black profile
cutouts are called silhouettes. Thankfully, the negative connotation no
longer remains.

The art of silhouette cutting reached its "golden age" in the 1800's.
Many European silhouettists immigrated and became very famous and
rich, catering to the American politicians and very wealthy. Others
traveled to county fairs and small towns capturing the profiles and the
hearts of countless thousands of ordinary folk. Silhouettes remain as
popular today as ever. In fact, they have become one of the most
collectable art forms. Unfortunately there are only a handful of
silhouette cutters left, perhaps as few as 15 in the United States. We of
the computer age may be seeing the last generation of silhouette