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Art History’s Best Mustaches: George Luks’s 1919 Faux-Military Portrait of Otis Skinner

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For the second installment of our month-long comb through art history’s best facial hair — in honor of Movember, the campaign to raise awareness of male cancer issues by not shaving ones beard and/or mustache — we find another mustachioed gent in costume. This time it’s George Luks’s outstanding painting of actor Otis Skinner dressed as Colonel Philippe Bridau, the character he played in “The Honor of the Family,” a stage adaptation of Balzac’s novella “Les célibataires.”

In the 1919 painting Skinner sports what might best be described as an imperial-handlebar hybrid mustache, in addition to his military costume from the stage production. Because the actor was so busy, Duncan Phillips, the fan who commissioned the painting, bought Luks tickets to see the production so he could sketch Skinner from the audience. After that all it took, allegedly, was a half-hour visit to the actor’s dressing room and a photograph, and Luks was able to finish the portrait in just one week. It now hangs at Washington, D.C.’s Phillips Collection.

Luks, who lived from 1867-1933 and is best-known as a member of the Ashcan School with his luminescent urban scenes, was also a member of the rebellious Philadelphia group The Eight, and exhibited with them in New York in 1908. He also participated in the famous 1913 Armory Show. True to the reputation he cultivated as a bad boy of American art, Luks was found dead early one morning in October 1933 after being killed hours prior in a bar fight.

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image via Phillips Collection/Google Art Project.)

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