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. Both have hairlines which is the essence of drawing. Hair dries; paint too. One is lacquered, the other varnished, sprayed on with or without an airbrush. You can find hair-dos in almost all figurative art and they are worth close study.

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

The artist's own hairstyle in a self-portrait is the place to start. Facial fur is important as well because whiskers and stashes are also styled. Beards too which Hermann Melville called fly-brushes. For instance, once you know Romney’s hairstyle (above right), you will be able to recognize it on the heads of his painted figures. In The Clavering Children I identified the boy as “the artist” and the girl as “his painting within the painting” who, in turn, must be self-representational. And so she is (above left). 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 and they both have sharp noses (above).

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 study self-portraiture carefully because while an artist’s actual hairstyle might change, in art it lives on and can appear in the most unlikely of places.


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

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

The EPPH Blog features issues and commentary.