Art History’s Best Mustaches: Marcel Duchamp’s Mustachioed Mona Lisa

As we enter the final week of our month-long brush through art history’s best facial hair — in recognition of Movember, the mustache-growing competition and male cancer awareness campaign — we mark our second entry featuring a female subject, and like our first it involves a bit of aesthetic surgery. Marcel Duchamp‘s “L.H.O.O.Q.” (1919-65), which consists of the titular letters, a mustache, and a beard applied to a postcard of Leonardo Da Vinci‘s “Mona Lisa,” exists in at least eight different versions spanning more than four decades and may feature art history’s most controversial ‘stache.

The title of the provocative Dadaist portrait, in which Lisa Gherardini sports an abra kadabra — or Dali — mustache and petit goatee beard, is the French phrase “elle a chaud au cul,” which means “her ass is hot” or, more colloquially, “she is horny,” thus functioning as a kind of critique or at least subversion of the most famous painting in the world.

Duchamp also said that the title, pronounced in English, sounded like the word “look,” connecting it to many of his other pieces that engage the theme of voyeurism. The image of a masculinized “Mona Lisa” evokes the artist’s own appearances in drag as his female alter ego Rrose Sélavy. Duchamp even created one version of his modified Da Vinci titled “L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved” (1965), consisting of a playing card image of the famous painting with no facial hair added.

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image via Wikipaintings.)