In the first article of these two about beards and other facial hair in paintings, I looked at the good – classical and Christian gods, the learned, and artists and their circles. Here I conclude with a look at beards and life stages before ending with their darker side.
Many bearded painters have ensured we have a record of their faces through their careers. I have chosen William Merritt Chase as my example here, for his fine set of whiskers is almost a stereotype of the late nineteenth century.
In this portrait painted by his friend James Carroll Beckwith, the aspiring Chase is 32. The wingtips of his moustache sweep out beyond the sides of his head, but the underlying beard is neatly trimmed to match the polish on his patent leather slippers.
Here he is in one of his last self-portraits, 34 years later, at work in his 4th Avenue studio less than a year before his death at the age of 66. The beard and moustache are now largely white and less dashing and neat.
Some artists have lived further into old age, their beards bushing out to resemble that of Father Time himself.
The year before his death at the age of 73, Christian Krohg pictured himself asleep in a chair beneath a clock which is fast approaching midnight. His white beard spills foamily down over his body.
As the proud owner of a beard for almost every day of the last forty-eight years, I’m reluctant to admit that facial hair can also be associated with more sinister traits.
The figure at the left of this section of Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s fresco telling the story of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso shows the bearded figure of Atlante, an old wizard who keeps trying to intefere with fate by imprisoning the knight Ruggiero. To the right is the hippogriff on which he flies, and Melissa, the good sorceress, who is a follower of Merlin, another well-bearded wizard.
In Goethe’s Faust, the wearing of beards is similarly symbolic. As shown in Anton Kaulbach’s Faust and Mephistopheles from about 1900, the devil himself is clean-shaven, and it is Faust who sports a long white beard to indicate his great learning. He is here clutching the contract he made with Mephistopheles, compelling evidence that knowledge doesn’t necessarily bring wisdom, morals or common sense.
Coloured beards have their own connotations in folk tales and history.
Gustave Doré’s wonderful illustration for the story of the evil Bluebeard achieves a wonderful cross between a benevolent uncle and an evil gnome, with his eyes almost literally popping out.
Adopting a style reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley – who despite his name remained clean-shaven – Harry Clarke’s later illustration of Bluebeard is a stylish caricature in which his beard has become an organ in its own right.
The other famously coloured beard was that of Frederick I, King of Germany from 1152 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1155, known as Barbarossa, Redbeard.
Bernardo Cane’s full-length portrait of Friedrich Barbarossa was probably painted between 1580-83, and portrays him as a combination of king and saint, with a pious appearance which almost merits a halo. His hair – and the all-important beard – is quite distinctly red. Probably the most powerful ruler in Europe since the collapse of the Roman Empire, his reputation as one of Europe’s least despotic monarchs was badly damaged when his name was hijacked by Nazi Germany for its invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 (Operation Barbarossa).
Although pointy beards do crop up occasionally as indications of malice and evil characters, I’m relieved to show that this is best seen among those who can’t make up their mind whether to shave or not, and sport a moustache without the support of a proper beard. My final example is a wonderful narrative painting which until recently had been largely forgotten.
Berthold Woltze’s Der lästige Kavalier (1874), best rendered into English as The Annoying Bloke, shows a loathesome middle-aged dandy with a brash moustache and mutton-chop whiskers foisting himself onto the young woman who is sharing the railway carriage.
You just couldn’t imagine anyone with a real beard doing that, could you?
Finally, for those who like happy endings, I’m pleased to reveal that my mother’s maiden name was Beard. So they sort of run in the family.