Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Strongest Man in England

Colonel Frederick Gustavus Barnaby - James Tissot

This is Tissot's painting of Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby, "the strongest man in England" and, by all accounts, a generally sporting guy. A few anecdotal remarks will serve: he once carried two ponies into Windsor castle, one under each arm, as a prank; at parties, he used to vault billiard tables and tie fire-pokers into knots with his bare hands; he made a 1,000 mile journey alone into Russia on horseback. You get the picture, I'm sure. Does all this, fascinating as it may be, have anything to do with the success of Tissot's painting? Is the painting beautiful, or have I been charmed? More broadly, to what extent should this kind of information factor in to an evaluation of Beauty?

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