Movember Special: The Importance of a Moustache

by Aileen Mitchell 18. November 2016 15:53

The moustache is a real statement whether its handlebar, pencil or cowboy. It also plays a key role as a statement in art as well as fashion in everyday life. Join us this Movember as we look back at the historical president of 'the tash'.

One of the first and greatest celebrations of the upper-lip adorner was the Sutton Hoo helmet. This extraordinary object is a pinnacle of Anglo-Saxon burial art. The helmet was found as part of a ship-burial from the very rich archaeological site at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. Look closely at the face mask and you can see that the neatly clipped moustache represents not just a moustache but the tail of a bird flying upwards. Surely one of the most recognisable tashes in art history.

When we think of medieval knights we imagine tall, handsome men astride a horse with – of course – a terrific moustache. This hairy status symbol was of such importance that in the fourteenth century Edward Prince of Wales had an effigy on his tomb showing him in full battle dress armour but with his moustache on show.

We have always looked to our monarchy and aristocracy to keep up to date with the latest vogues. Although Queen Elizabeth didn't sport a handlebar, the Elizabethan era was the start of men choosing to be very bearded. This was then further refined by King Charles I and his iconic handlebar moustache and goatee beard.

There have been many modern artists who have used the moustache as statements in their work, and in fact on people's art! Revolutionary artist Marcel Duchamp, famous for the statement urinal in the 1917 exhibition for the Society of Independent Artists, has also paid homage to the moustache. In a series of works titled 'found objects', Duchamp would take a mundane and ordinary object and alter it, making it extraordinary. L.H.O.O.Q. is a postcard print of the Mona Lisa with Duchamp's addition of a moustache and goatee.

As Duchamp demonstrated, it's not just men who have an important relationship with the moustache in art. Frida Kahlo, surrealist painter most famous for her self-portraits, often depicted herself with a moustache – or more accurately the natural layer of hair that lined her upper lip. This attention to her natural features is for a number of reasons from pride in her Mexican heritage to painting exactly what she saw, to a feminist statement about her main pleasures in life being considered as 'manly'. Putting herself under such scrutiny as she painted, it has been observed that Kahlo would make the hair on her upper lip more prominent than it really was.

Our next moustache-wearing art icon appeared in Spain at the beginning of the surrealist movement. Salvador Dali's moustache is almost as iconic as the melting clocks in his artwork. When asked in an interview whether his moustache was in fact a joke, he responded by saying it was "the most serious part".

Dali's moustache was not only a famous part of his look that we remember him by even today, but an extension of his personality and mood at the time. One day it would be tied in a bow, the next stuck in spikey straight lines, sometimes curving up like the horns of a bull. He also would sometime use his moustache to paint – either whilst it was still attached, or he would use the trimmings to make his own bristle head on a paintbrush. 

 

Van Gogh is another famous artist who had a very close bond with his moustache. Almost every self-portrait he painted includes a beard and moustache – so much so that the painting of himself simply named, Self-Portrait Without a Beard, is one of the most expensive of his paintings going for 71.5 million dollars!

It is interesting to see that in his self-portraits his brush strokes do not change from the texture of his face to the moustache and beard; the only thing that changes is the colour. Art historians consider this as Van Gogh expressing how his facial hair is very much an extension of himself rather than a grown accessory. Closer studies on this subject have also shown how little difference there is between the way he paints his landscapes and the way he paints himself. Another example of very deep levels of an artist expressing their character in their masterpieces.

There are such strong links between artists and the moustache throughout art history it would be wrong to deny its constant presence and significance. Not only is the moustache a statement on a fashion and visual level but an embodiment of an artist's emotions and opinions at that particular stage of their career.

Image credits:

User: vggallery.com/ Self-Portrait with Straw Hat / Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

User: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei / Self-Portrait Without Beard / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

User: Karl Stas / LHOOQ (1919) / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

User: Thomas Gun / Charles I of England / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Tags:

Art History | Artists | The Art World

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