Creating a Portrait on the Cheap

From Anonyponymous: The Forgotten People Behind Everyday Words by John Marciano:

Étienne de Silhouette sil·hou·ette n. A shape distinctly outlined by background.

While living in London, Étienne de Silhouette stumbled onto the black-magic secrets of Anglo-Saxon capitalism and fiscal responsibility. He returned to Paris spreading the dark gospel, no more popular on the Champs-Élysées in the mid-1700s than now. Silhouette, however, had the ear of the royal mistress, Madame de Pompadour, through whose devices he was elevated to be Contrôleur général des finances.

To pay down the crushing debt being incurred from the ongoing Seven Years’ War, Silhouette suggested what amounted to an import of the British Window Tax, although he wanted to tax doors too, and just about everything else he could think of. Silhouette also proposed slashing the pay of bureaucrats—again, never a way into the Gallic heart—and even ordered the king to melt down the royal plate.

The most amazing thing about Silhouette’s departure after nine months in the office was that he lasted so long. Parisian ridicule of the finance minister didn’t stop with his fall from grace, and anything made on the cheap was said to be done à la silhouette, including the then-popular method of producing a portrait without having to draw, in which the “artist” traced the subject’s shadow onto a piece of black paper, cut it out, and stuck it in a frame.