Hair, Brushes and Art

George Romney, The Clavering Children (1777-8) Oil on canvas. Huntington Museum, San Marino, CA

In pointing out yesterday that George Romney’s The Clavering Children (above) is more about Romney and his art than his young sitters, I left out a few points. Hair and its resonance.

Hair resembles a paintbrush and is brushed; and like art, is styled. Flying metaphorically, both have hairlines which, in art, is the essence of drawing. Paint dries; hair too. One is lacquered, the other varnished, sprayed on with or without an airbrush. In fact, there are probably more hair-dos in art than hair-don’ts.

L: Detail rotated of Romney's The Clavering Children
R: Detail rotated of Romney's Self-portrait (c.1765)

Hair’s essential. Study its cut in an artist’s self-portrait. Facial fur is important as well because whiskers and ’staches are also styled. Beards too which Hermann Melville called fly-brushes. Once, as with today's example, you know Romney’s own preferences, your eyes will open to more possibilities. In The Clavering Children I identified the boy as “the artist” and the girl as “his painting within the painting” who/which must be self-representational. And so she is. Her bangs are a row of vertical lines like the hair lines in Romney’s youthful self-image which, being the sharpest lines, may suggest that they are also lines of drawing in his mind (above).1 Note too how the girl's nose and mouth resemble his.

L: Detail of Romney's The Clavering Children
R: Detail rotated of Romney's Self-portrait (c.1784) Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Meanwhile the fur on the dog’s ear at the far left of the painting, his more visible ear, is messy and disordered, like Romney’s hair in a later self-portrait (above) and they both have sharp noses.

L: Detail rotated of Romney's The Clavering Children
R: Detail rotated of Romney's Self-portrait (c.1765)

For a third hirsute self-reference, take a look at the charming puppy the girl holds, designed again to resemble the same youthful self-portrait whose hair the girl references. Compare their noses and general wide-eyed expression. So, to close out this hair piece, study self-portraiture carefully because while an artist’s hairstyle might change from year to year, in art it often lives on.


1. The accuracy of the self-portrait is not certain because he looks much younger than his 31 years of age.

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