Web Gallery of Art Find of the Week 4/10/20006

An Infrenquent Showcase for Paintings You Didn't Know You Need

Art Hairstory Bloopers - Coiffures of the Damned


I voyaged to Seattle last night in order to see some chamber music. Oleg Malov, a renowned performer of newish Russian piano music, played Shostakovich's second piano sonata. He also served as soloist in a chamber transcription of Shostakovich's Symphony no. 15, but that didn't bother me as much, as there was a providential celesta blocking my view of his hair. As I sat through the  boring parts that Shostakovich scattered through all his works like the Johnny Appleseed of overblown compositional preciousness, I grew ever more fixated on Malov's ridiculous hairdo. He wasn't sporting the Vomit of Jupiter look pictured above (yes, that is Oleg himself), but rather a part that measured no less than 8.2 on the William H. Macy scale. Pictured below is William H. Macy in The Cooler, the movie that taught us all that if only a man is pathetic and unattractive enough, a beautiful prostitute will fall eternally in love with him and see him as more than the sum of his part. 


<--I've never been a Las Vegas prostitute, but I may overcome my quibbles if it can help me catch a hunk like this.





In honor of Oleg Malov and his silver-screen role model, I decided to revive the stillborn Art History Bloopers series and feature a selection of ill-advised hairstyles dredged from European painting and sculpture. I aim not to mock the silly fashions of the past, but silly fashion in general. All fashion, of course, is silly fashion, and I harbor just as much scorn for a 1997 wearer of the Rachel as I do for an 1831 wearer of the Dangling Ur-Egon, although the Dangling Ur-Egon is admittedly a bit more patentely ridiculous. 

Alfred de Musset doesn't seem to be enjoying himself at all on this medallion, but then again, maybe it was his brooding foppishness that earned him the covetable, if not exactly unattainable, affections of George Sand. Speaking of George Sand, last week I took to heart the name of this website and decided to read some of her work. However, I committed the blunder of starting the book from the beginning--in this case, a "Life of George Sand" by the reprehensible pedant and patriarch Edmund Gosse. In the first paragraph, he deems George Sand "the greatest woman writer the world has known, or is ever likely to know." Such a convenient preemptive dismissal of 130 years (and counting) of women writers! Later in the paragraph, Gosse lost me completely:

It was on the maternal, the sympathetic side that her femininity, and therefore her creative genius, was most strongly developed. She was masculine only in the deliberate libertinism of certain episodes in her own life. This was a characteristic--one on no account to be overlooked or denied or disguised, but it was not her character. The character was womanly, tender, exquisitely patient and good-natured."

Upon reading this little gem (immediately after finishing A Room of One's Own, as fate would have it), I discarded the volume and determined to approach the work of George Sand by some other avenue. Okay, back to the hairstyles.


Thomas Gainsborough - Portrait of a Lady in Blue

Her humble 'do is just about perfect by itself, and the inclusion of the hat and feathers sends me into transports of aesthetic bliss. It reminds me of one of the less filthy passages of Jonathan Swift's "The Lady's Dressing Room," which is about a pervert snooping around in his lover's personal effects:

Now listen while he next produces,
The various Combs for various Uses,
Fill'd up with Dirt so closely fixt,
No Brush could force a way betwixt.
A Paste of Composition rare,
Sweat, Dandriff, Powder, Lead and Hair;

Lead was a component of the makeup that women in Swift's time (and Gainsborough's time, and the time of the ancient Romans, who were kind enough not only to preserve the awful beauty standards of the Greeks, but to send a few awful beauty standards of their own ringing through the ages) wore in order to achieve that deathly paleness that men so loved, because it proved that women really weren't humans after all. Gainsborough's subject (or object, as the case may be) chips in with a jauntily symbolic bow tied tight around her neck.


Michelangelo - David 

<--Yes, the curls are a bit Blue Lagoon for my liking, but that's not the most pressing issue brought up by this sculpture.













My lord, the pubic hair! The internet fails to provide a satisfactory close-up of David's pubic hair, but if you've ever seen Michelangelo's overrated masterwork in person, you'll know what I'm talking about. David's hairstyle is as labor-intensive, though fortunately not as voluminous, as that of Gainsborough's sitter. His dainty little thatch has been crimped, primped, teased, symmetrized, and in all likelihood moussed. Until the 19th century, artists were squeamish about representing any pubic hair at all, as it pointed at man's bestial nature, so to speak (blame the Romans for this one. They regarded body hair as an abomination, and had every hair below the head plucked by special slaves at the baths). One almost wants to congratulate Michelangelo for bucking this trend, but David's pubic hair has been completely sanitized--tamed by human reason, as idealized as the rest of David's form. It's not an outcropping of the human body, but the external Platonic form of a bush, tacked on as if to say, "the perfect man's (i.e. the perfect human's) pubic hair arranges itself like this of its own accord, unlike that of all you base creatures upon whose eyes this vision of beauty deigns to fall." Michelangelo probably sculpted it while thinking of Corinthian columns, the capitals of which are similarly overwrought.


Albrecht Durer - Portrait of a Man 

Durer's subject bears with admirable stoicism the flaccescency of his Jheri curl. While the painting is worth seeing, I'm mainly glad that it gave me an excuse to look up obsolete forms of the word "flaccid" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Flaccescency (first syllable stressed), meaning "the quality of becoming flaccid," was used by Henry Power in his indispensable 1664 volume, Experimental Philosophy. The OED, with uncharacteristic stinginess, withholds the crux of its example quotation: "The reason of its flaccescency, upon admission of external Ayr, is, because [etc.]." What is it that becomes flaccid upon admission of external air, and why does it do so? Nobody has put anything by Henry Power on Project Gutenberg, so I may lose sleep over this for the rest of my life (Project Gutenberg does, however, contain a book by Effie Louise Power, the wonder of whose name shall sustain me through the cold nights ahead). 


David d'Angiers - Mademoiselle Mars 

This bust was sculpted by the same idiot responsible for the medallion of Alfred de Musset. I don't want to clog my general survey with works by a single man, however accomplished he may be in the field of bad hair, so I instead offer a link to his preposterous portrait of Chateaubriand. You're welcome.


 Enguerrand Charonton - The Coronation of the Virgin (detail: Jesus)

No survey of bad hair in art would be complete without Jesus. It's impossible to choose a single example of Jesus's tin ear for hairstyles, but I'm quite fond of this French work from the middle of the 15th century. Chill with the bangs, Jesus!


Vittore Carpaccio - Portrait of a Woman

Awful bangs are the least of this woman's worries. 


 Sandro Botticelli - Christ Crowned with Thorns

I leave you with this lavishly sized miscarriage of artistic justice perpetrated by Botticelli. He painted this late in his career, after falling under the influence of Savonarola's proto-Puritan zealotry and burning all his nude paintings that hadn't been dispensed to relatively sane owners. This massive public burning was called the Bonfire of the Vanities; as well as costing us examples of the only type of painting for which Botticelli was useful, it indirectly brought about one of the worst novels of the late 20th century. Savonarola is one of my least favorite historical figures, but at least I've been to the square where he was publically executed. There were a bunch of workmen there setting up stands for an upcoming soccer match. Anyway, I hate to pick on Jesus yet again, but what worked for Venus didn't work for him. 

I'm sure I'm leaving out all sorts of hairstyle bloopers, but I hope that you've enjoyed the handful on offer.