Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Tuesday 8th December - Naughty Muffs

So far in Muffvent there have been plenty of sniggers and chuckles at the muff-tastic pictures and all the saucy euphemisms.  Heaven knows that's what I have built a career on and long may it continue.  However, part of me wondered if the Victorians were in on the joke. 

Brace yourself...

Woman with a Muff (1912) Edward Okuń
Well, isn't she pretty? Imagine, if you will, sitting down to gather lovely paintings of Victorian ladies in their winter apparel and typing 'Muff' into Google. Imagine 20 seconds later when you realise that the safe search wasn't on and some of those ladies aren't wearing any suitable accessories for winter.  Among them was this image by Edward Okuń, a Polish Art Nouveau painter.  It made me wonder if the placement of the muff was deliberate and whether the Victorians used the word 'muff' as a euphemism for pubic hair as well.  Turns out the answer is a resounding 'probably, you filthy baggages'...

Woman with muff (19th century) Unknown photographer
Heavens to Betsy!
The word 'muff' used as slang dates from around the turn of the eighteenth century.  The root of it is obvious, something furry, and I was delighted to see that both photographers and artists had taken advantage of this euphemism. Okuń has presented us with a classy image of a lady covering her modesty with her enormous muff, linking what is on show with what is hidden, but our photographer hasn't bothered and it's all on show.  I think it's interesting that the stockings are apparent in both. Here's a bit more gratuitous antique sauce...

Health and Safety!

It's a niche market I admit...
Do men like women who pretend they are giant moths?
Giant guitar playing moths?
If so, I think I know where I've been going wrong all these years...
Step outside for a breath of fresh air if all this gets too much for you...

Victorian pornography is very interesting as a study of what people found arousing in times past and for a culture who covered up, often showing items of clothing that wouldn't normally be seen was as sexy as stripping off entirely.  The thing that always delights me about nineteenth century erotic photography is how jolly people look.  I think half the time the women are just delighted not to be wearing a corset.

War and Us (1917-1923) Edward Okuń
Edward Okuń is an artist I would like to know more about.  In addition to his mighty fine use of a muff in art, his paintings are a wonderful swirl of Art Nouveau beauty. A rich orphan, he grew up and studied in his native Poland before spending the next twenty years traveling Europe and eventually living in Rome until 1921. He then moved back to Poland and settled into the centre of the art scene, teaching at art school, becoming a member of the Society of Polish Artists and being vice-president of the Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts.

Sacred Music (1915) Edward Okuń
It struck me that Art Nouveau is an art movement where the female form is integral and it is there for aesthetic reasons rather than given the excuse of context.  The curves of Belle Époque women are there for our risqué delight and often what is high art borders on what is pornography, especially if we take the raison d'etre of porn as being something that inspires lustful thought. Okuń's woman with her muff is a little more modest than our anonymous photographer's but both are jolly, sexy images. Sometimes I wonder is we underestimate the saucy intentions of artists, presuming that people in the past were too innocent or uptight to think filthy things while looking at a piece of high-brow art.  I suspect that in many ways we haven't changed at all and after all, sex sells.  Maybe we should consider that more when we celebrate the art we love so much. 
Actually, in light of the fact I own more than one copy of Julia Margaret Cameron's Iago postcard, it's probably best we don't.

Today's pressie idea is a decent book on Art Nouveau.  Just over a decade ago, the V&A had a gorgeous exhibition on Art Nouveau and now you can buy their massive catalogue at a reasonable price second-hand.  At over 400 pages long you can have a good wallow in the history and objects that made art nouveau such a beautiful art movement. It can be bought secondhand or even new for less than £20 and I can't think of a more lovely introduction to the subject.  There is also a book on art nouveau clothing that I can heartily recommend.  As the days get darker and life gets a little bit more scary, I can't think of a more beautiful escape.

See you tomorrow for considerably more innocent matters...


  1. Kirsty, Kirsty. Kirsty you are such a saucy minx. Are you sure your name isn't really McGill? I love this post and your delightfully naughty maidens. Perhaps it is us who are uptight and not the Victorians? We seem to be offended by everything these days. Thank you for the introduction to Edward Okuń, wonderful stuff. You really are a breath of fresh air and a source of astonishing knowledge, long may you blog.

  2. Dear Kirsty
    Good gracious! Well, it had to happen... I am very concerned for the guitar playing moth lady whose legs appear to have rather strange angles in odd places. What on earth has she stashed down her bloomers? On second thoughts, probably best not to think about that too much!
    Best wishes

  3. I certainly think we make a massive show of being okay with everything when we really aren't, whereas the Victorians pretended all of it was either invisible or was filthy so they could enjoy it in private. Not sure which is the best way round, possibly a middle ground would be best where we can enjoy smutty art history sniggers among consenting adults.

    Ellie, I'm not asking about ladies' bloomers. I have my hands full enough with muffs, if you know what I mean.

    Thanks, as always, for your comments!


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx