Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Fool like an Old Beau

Sunday, August 1, 2010
Susan reporting:

We've shown you numerous English prints that make fun of ladies' vanities and follies, so it seems only fair to do the same for the gentlemen. The 18th c. artists certainly didn't spare them. This was the age of dandified macaronis, gentlemen who affected powdered wigs, jeweled snuff-boxes, and embroidered coats of pastel silk brocades, and there was considerable concern in London and beyond that the once-proud and virile English male had deteriorated into an effeminate, Frenchified peacock, fit for nothing but preening.

Thus we present The Old Beau in Extasy, sitting in his flowered banyan before his looking glass with the ever-knowing, eye-rolling attendant (is there any other kind in these prints?), a Continental hairdresser with his comb tucked in his own hair. And check out the beau's queue (ponytail) of false hair: so prodigiously long that it must be wrapped and clubbed into a bundle.

Here's the caption:

   Behold this Wretch! a Fop at Sixty-two,
   A true conceited, ugly, worn-out Beau,
   Whose Toilet boasts of every scarce Perfume
   With Chinese Paint for Artificial Bloom:
   A half-starv'd paltry Thing so strange all o'er
   That England ne'er beheld his like before.
   The Girls all hate him, and at their request
   Up hands the Cap they think will suit him best.

The cap that "suits him best" is, of course, the pointed dunce's cap hanging over his head, complete with a pair of ass's furry ears. The clock's drawing close to midnight, and like Cinderella, this beau's time is nearly done. I can't quite make out the classical painting (doubtless a memento of his long-ago grand tour to Italy) hanging on the wall, but I think it shows Narcissus, leaning over the stream to admire his reflection – entirely appropriate!

The Old Beau in Extasy by John Dixon, 1773


nightsmusic said...

I have a feeling you're probably right about Narcissus at the Well. Sure looks like it, doesn't it?

I admit, I think we went through a minor phase of 'fops' and 'dandies' as well, not too long ago. Shoulder purses for men, men who still wear eye liner and dress to be metrosexual (and I'm still trying to figure that out, but I'm pretty sure it translates to 'fops' and 'dandies') and I'm always so happy to see a Man.

I like the historicals in that period with the unconventional male who bucks the system and refuses to give in to the powder and rouge. They're some of my favorite. ;o)

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Theo, I suspect that whatever the generation, most men don't succumb to Fashion. Probably there were only a handful of English gentlemen in 18th c. society who did the whole patches-and-powder thing, but they got all the press, and caused all the handwringing. Just as in the 1960s, there weren't many average guys wearing full Carnaby Street excess, or in the 1970s copying David Bowie with his androgynous glam-look, or in the 21st c. attempting to look like the brooding, waifish male models on the Milan runways or bulking up like "The Situation". Most guys remain just...guys.

But whatever the century, the gaudy peacocks always do inspire the cartoonists, don't they? :)

Hels said...

It is interesting that that the dandified look was seen as French and effete, good for nothing except poncing around balls. I wonder if the criticism would have been as intense, had the fashionable look been more leathery, butch and Germanic.

Unknown said...

Was this the era of Beau Brummel?
At least the men could walk through doors and breathe with ease, those poor women, I do not know how they made it through the day. I was watching Der Rosenkavalier set in C 18 and I was more impressed with the women belting out their arias than with the music itself. Those costumes looked too tight in the waist and how they moved so easily impressed me.

Mary-Laure said...

I just discovered your blog and I am smitten! I really like it how you pointed our the wit of the artist in your comment about the work. It's just hilarious!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Hels, I think a lot of the ridicule for French fashions probably stems from France being England's long-time enemy; the two countries were a war for much of the 18th c., and making fun of a rival as being effeminate is certainly a time-honored (if not honorable) tradition. Also, with the Hanover king of Germanic descent, it probably wouldn't be wise to make too many German-jokes.

Penny, this print's from 1773, about a generation earlier than Beau Brummel's prime. But there always seems to be these guys preoccupied with fashion, whether fops, beaus, macaronis, dandies, or mods.

Mary-Laure, I'm delighted to hear you've found us! As for "reading" the details of satiric prints, I'm sure there's so much more in each one then we see with modern eyes. Someone seeing this over on Facebook (I cross-post) suggested that there were hanks of horse-hair leaning against the shelf, ready to augment that ponytail even further!

Lady Burgley said...

I adore his doting expression as he admires himself. And that queue! Looks like a bundled electrical cable, doesn't it? A quite wonderful print.

Heather said...

Love your blog and this print! I am so much more used to seeing these making fun of women, so it's nice to see the other side :)

Hersteria said...

Oh, I do love me a fop. This is fantastic - I'm so glad I found this site!

You may be interested in my blog, Hersteria, in which I give sex-ed and marriage advice that I find in vintage books. Might be up your alley. ;)

Finegan Antiques said...

This reminds me of aging movie stars who still think they are the hottest thing around. Thry don't have the sense to age gracefully. Kind of sad really.


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