Reading time: 2 min. | In this picture, Elvis Presley, Delbert Sonny West, and Jerry Schilling meet 1970 Richard Nixon in the White House. Nixon, being a man of the post-war 50ties, didn’t step up his fashion game and declined to wear sideburns.
Recently, my wife and I had friends for supper. Traditionally, we’re chatting about economics (he’s an economics professor) and art, politics, you name it. But we’re also talking about more entertaining matters such as adventures we’ve been passing when we were younger, back then when the school system’s failure didn’t bother us much because there were no kids and no pandemic. In such evenings, we’re also talking about mundane things of unpredicted importance (creativity is more her role). On that evening, one subject was sideburns and why they became a precious species in the advent of the bearded man of today.
Well, I used to wear sideburns. Not the ones Elvis Presley in his late years wore, more the subtle variant of Steve McQueen. For some reason, due to my averseness towards shaving or the zeitgeist, I switched to a regular beard. With my friend’s enthusiasm for sideburns, I gave my razor a go. Neatly shaved and equipped with a fresh set of sideburns, I researched why sideburns are called sideburns.
But I didn’t go the straight route such as searching the web for the term sideburns. I even didn’t know I was searching for sideburns. I was searching for nothing particular. And while doing nothing particular, I learned on Wikipedia that there was a distinct Düsseldorf school of painting in the 19th century, besides Paris and Vienna predominant for the fine arts at that time.
That caught my interest because the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie was the alma mater of my mother in the 60ies when Düsseldorf was besides New York the world’s centre of fine arts, with Joseph Beuys at its spiritual head. He’s the mentor of generations of artists following his thoughts until now. Beuys’ famous coinage “everyone is an artist” has always been my mum’s core message and is deeply rooted in my family’s genes.
Thumping through the Düsseldorf School’s list, I came across names such as Arnold Böcklin (he painted the funkiest classicist paintings at his time, inspiring composers such as Gustav Mahler and surrealists such as Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst) and Worthington Whittredge. I mention Whittredge because in my link-click endeavour he led me to Emanuel Leutze.
Whittredge, himself an all-time American painter hero, is portrayed in a painting of his colleague Emanuel Leutze, who, again, spend time at Düsseldorf Kunstakademie (the two men met there). Leutze subsequently became the most renown American artist of that time.
Emanuel Leutze painted the world-famous painting George Washington crosses the Delaware, on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the capstone of the American Gallery, of which I had the honour to eyeball personally in all its sheer size and power.
Skimming through Leutzes Oeuvre on the web made me stop at a painting, depicting a Union General of the American Civil War with ludicrously sized sideburns. His name: Ambrose Burnside.