Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Power of Silhouette

Harvest - by Maxfield Parrish

The term silhouette was named after the French government official Etienne de Silhouettte who because of economic crisis in 1759, was forced to imposed harsh economic policies upon the French people, in particular the very wealthy. As a result, his name became synonymous with anything that was done very cheaply, including the making of cut paper portraits.

Silhouette type portraits were popular at the time before the advent of photography mainly because they could be produced quickly and at very little cost. An artist with a modicum of skill could produce a portrait likeness with such basic materials as black card paper and scissors. 

End paper art for Treasure Island - by N.C. Wyeth

One of many Kuppenheimer ads done by J.C. Leyendecker

The best illustrators also understand the power of this simple concept to carry their artwork as evidenced by these examples from some of my favorite Golden Age illustrators.

Rosie the Riveter - by Norman Rockwell

The above Parrish piece reduced to black and white still caries the dramatic intensity of the original

Even when reduced to black and white, these images still retain their readability, narrative content and compositional heft because the artists understood the power of the silhouette.

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