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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘fashion’

Great Spectacle Wearers From History

In which we consider Robespierre’s eyesight

Since briefly writing about Maximilien Robespierre the other week – particularly, writing about the biography Fatal Purity by Ruth Scurr – I’ve had a couple of search hits from people looking for Robespierre information. And one, in particular, tickled me.

maximilien robespierre glasses

Drinking glasses with Robespierre etched on the side? Possibly. But, I assumed, about spectacles. Because Robespierre was famous for wearing spectacles. His whole life, he had terrible eyesight. He habitually wore glasses with green-tinted lenses, and often when speaking, a second pair over the top.

He was both short- and long-sighted, so everything he saw was slightly blurred. His glasses helped him focus, they filtered the harsh sunlight, and they were also props used to dramatic effect as he spoke at the tribune. (Scurr, p10).

Strangely, though, there are barely any portraits of Robespierre that show him wearing glasses. There were probably thousands of images of him made during his lifetime – his own study was practically papered with pictures of himself – but in just about all of them his forehead and eyes are bare. There is one portrait showing them resting high on his forehead; and one rough sketch, made the day before his death, in which he’s wearing them.

Maybe it’s something about his depiction, often in an idealised fashion; but that doesn’t apply to all the portraits made of him by a long chalk. Maybe, though, it’s about his own personality. Robespierre had something in common with the modern far-left politicans George Galloway and Tommy Sheridan: a noticeable pride in his own appearance and clothing, bordering on vanity.* Unlike many of his contemporary revolutionary colleagues he always dressed well, as well as he could afford, and fashionably.** Maybe he didn’t want to be seen in glasses, even though he had to wear them all the time. It’s certainly a possibility. If he was around today, I’m fairly sure that he’d go for contacts.

* Apart from that, and their place on the far left, he had very little else in common with them, of course. On the one hand: Robespierre did achieve a position of high political importance in his lifetime. On the other, he’s unlikely to ever appear on Celebrity Big Brother, what with being dead, and all. Robespierre was often libelled in the press; his response was to start his own political newspaper. Court cases weren’t really an option at the time.

** The BBC’s rather unhistorical Saturday-teatime version of The Scarlet Pimpernel was particularly inaccurate here, showing him always in dour black outfits, when he was famous for his brightly-coloured jackets and embroidered waistcoats.

Artwork

In which things go in phases

Do you go through phases of liking different sorts of art, different fashions, as you get older?

The other day someone said to me: “all teenage boys go through a surrealist phase”. And, it’s true, I had a surrealist phase when I was a teenager. Some of them – Salvador Dalí, for example – never grow out of it.* Most do, though, and go on to other things. When I was small, I was also a Heath Robinson fan, and it took me a while to realise that he had ever done anything other than the bizarre machinery cartoons which made him a household name.**

So, did you go through art phases when you were younger? What artists did you like then that you really don’t care about now? I want to see if this is true in general, or if it just applies to floating rocks and lobster telephones.

* Magritte, on the other hand, did grow up – I assume he just had strange fetishes for bowler hats and sleighbells.

** I have more to write about Heath Robinson soon, but no time to write it now.

We are all works of art

In which we visit a street fashion exhibition

Yesterday: a day out, to the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television with The Parents. We’d not visited almost since it first opened. Most of it has been completely rebuilt since, but the gallery on the mechanics of TV is still unchanged from 20 years ago, back when blue screen Chroma-Key was an amazing feat of modern technology. The exhibits have all been re-captioned by Tim Hunkin, but even he only gave it a 2/5 score.

We didn’t go to see anything specific, but we did look around the current exhibition: Fashination, about the grey area between fashion and art. It seemed a rather strange choice for the NMPFT to put on. I suppose the connection was the importance of fashion photography, which was touched on in one part of the exhibition; but it really would have fitted better at somewhere like the V&A. The most interesting section – given more prominance on the website – was the “street fashion” polaroids of random people and their clothes. As someone who wishes they could just wake up, throw on something random and still look great, I love the idea that fashion is not the province of Great Artists whose work is more suited to a catwalk or photograph than to everyday life. Which seems to be entirely the opposite opinion to everything else in the show.