Few people in history are remembered by their name for inventing something. The Duke of Wellington and the Earl of Sandwich are two notable gentlemen who appear in the Oxford Dictionary as having eponymous ‘products’, although the Iron Duke outdid the gambling aristo by also having a dish named after him as well. Joseph Ignace Guillotin was a French physician who came up with a speedy and effective method of dispatching the aristocracy during the French Revolution, while others include Morse (not the detective), Samuel Plimsoll, who left his mark, literally, on ships all round the world, Jules Léotard, who also invented the flying trapeze as well as his more famous gym clothing, and László Bíró came up the ball- point pen. Who would have thought that an 18th century French finance minister would have lent his name to a form of ‘solid portraiture’, but Étienne de Silhouette did exactly that.
The art of silhouette suffered a decline after its heyday in Victorian and Edwardian times, as that sort of sea-side portraiture was superscded by photography. However, there is now a revival of interest in the art, and Charles Burns is at the very top of his profession. The book comprehensively explains its history and diversity and gives step-by-step projects of ‘capturing shadows’ and other traditional kinds of silhouettes, as well as painting on glass, working in colour (it doesn’t have to be in black and white), embellishments and the so- called ‘Etruscan’ silhouettes. This book is primarily aimed at artists, but it is a fascinating read for anyone interested in this art-form.
France had a credit crisis during the Seven Years War and had to impose severe economic restrictions and demands on the French people, particularly the wealthy. Because of de Silhouette’s austere economies, his name became synonymous with anything done or made cheaply, as it was with these outline portraits, the cheapest form of capturing a person’s appearance. Austerity, then. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, peut-être?
Fil Rouge Press