A History of Whiskers: Facial Hair and Identity in European and American Art, 1750-1920

Nov. 19, 2016Mar. 7, 2017
Works on Paper Room, Huntington Art Gallery

Facial hair has always been more than a matter of fashion. Impeccably coiffed or wild and unkempt, a beard or mustache says a lot about a man and who he aspires to be. This exhibition explores how facial hair styles were used to craft the identities of historical figures and fictional characters. Presidents, generals, industrialists, and aristocrats relied on facial hair to influence how their peers perceived them. Some styles were meant as statements of power, while others were supposed to indicate wisdom, piety, or even a whimsical disposition. For those seeking to rise in the ranks, the appropriate choice of whiskers could be an effective means of imitating, and perhaps flattering, one’s superiors.

Artists also used facial hair in constructing characters and conveying vital information to viewers. Beards and mustaches provided a visual shorthand, signaling anything from a personality trait to an occupation. Featuring 16 prints, drawings, and photographs from The Huntington’s library and art collections (including two early photographs of our own institution’s founder, Henry E. Huntington), the artworks in this exhibition depict a range of facial hair styles, some of which are still in fashion today, while others have become relics of the distant past.