A silhouette is an outline filled with a solid color, typically black on a white background. Silhouette images can be found in Stone Age cave paintings (an outline of a hand) and on ancient Greek vases. Two hundred years ago, long before the invention of the camera, a person wishing to have an inexpensive portrait would have visited a silhouette artist. Within minutes and using only a pair of scissors (or knife) and a skilled eye, the artist would have produced a little image about 2 or 3 inches in size freehand with a remarkable resemblance to his subject. Here is my silhouette made 30 years ago. You will notice that I didn’t have a double chin back in 1977. I also didn’t have money for a painting.
The term "silhouette" originates from the name of Etienne de Silhouette, a Frenchman who was a finance minister to the Duke of Orleans in 1759. He was not the originator of this type of picture, but the French were apparently very impressed by his work: they came to refer to all works of this type by his name. [Aside: Do you know what was named after Amerigo Vespucci? . . . the Earl of Sandwich? . . . Thomas Crapper?!] The first silhouettes were painted images using lamp black, taken from a subject's shadow, and subsequently reduced in size, often with a pantograph. Later on the artist would hollow-cut the profile with a knife from white paper (black paper being difficult to obtain), which could then be framed backed with some suitable black cloth. An immense stride in cutting out silhouettes came in 1761 when Robert Hinchliffe produced the first pair of modern-day scissors made of hardened and polished cast steel.
Today these early profiles are extremely important to American historians, as they often provide the only portraits in existence of the early American settlers. Many founders of towns and cities exist today only as a cheap black image. It seems many eighteenth century Americans did not have the time or inclination to commission more elaborate works of art.
In England, the first silhouettes may have been the profiles made of King William and Queen Mary, produced about 1700. The English called them "shades." Their popularity was established by 1720, and spread to France and to the United States later in the century. Silhouettes were extensively used in World War II by the military on both sides for training troops to recognize enemy ships, tanks, and planes. Today the American trucking industry has adopted the polished metal “Mudflap Girl” as their contribution to the world of art.

Hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is the famous Auguste Edouart silhouette entitled Frank Johnson, Leader of the Brass Band of the 128th Regiment in Saratoga, with his wife, Helen which he created in 1844.