A silhouette is the image of a person, an object or scene represented as a solid shape of a single color, usually black, its edges matching the outline of the subject. The interior of a silhouette is featureless, and the whole is typically presented on a light background, usually white, or none at all. The silhouette differs from an outline which depicts the edge of an object in a linear form, while a silhouette appears as a solid shape. Silhouette images may be created in any visual artistic media, but the term normally describes pieces of cut paper, which were then stuck to a backing in a contrasting colour, and often framed.
Cutting portraits, generally in profile, from black card became popular in the mid-18th century, though the term “silhouette” was seldom used until the early decades of the 19th century, and the tradition has continued under this name into the 21st century. They represented a cheap but effective alternative to the portrait miniature, and skilled specialist artists could cut a high quality bust portrait, by far the most common style, in a matter of minutes, working purely by eye. Other artists, especially from about 1790, drew an outline on paper, then painted it in, which could be equally quick. The leading 18th century English “profilist” in painting, John Miers, advertised “three minute sittings”, and the cost might be as low as half a crown around 1800. Miers’ superior products could be in grisaille, with delicate highlights added in gold or yellow, and examples might be painted on various backings, including gesso, glass or ivory. The size was normally small, with many designed to fit into a locket, but otherwise a bust some 3 to 5 inches high was typical, with half or full-length portaits proportionately larger.