Apper chimps, Chewbacca lookalikes called Lionel and the monstrous ‘Homme Poisson’ (Fish-man). That’s what the Victorians used to have to amuse themselves with – this was, after all, long before the invention of reality TV shows.
These beautifully-painted images were used to advertise freakshows and circuses between about 1880 and 1930 (although mainly in the first decade of the 20th Century), and come from the collection of the late Jaap Best, the Dutch king of this sort of thing.
Some of the freaks are famous – the Jade Goodies of their day. Lionel, for instance was highly regarded as both a raconteur and wit who could speak five languages and as a very hairy man who was called Lionel and looked a bit like a lion. Others, like L’Homme Poisson, may have been acclaimed as “The greatest wonder in the world” at the time, but have since proved themselves to be as memorable as Saskia or Sandy.
Other bodily dysmorphic megastars have been lost entirely in the mists of history, leaving only feverish and absinthe-addled artists’ impressions. Did the spider lady (opposite page) really look like that? Was “Princess Elizabeth” really smaller than a cockatoo? We may never care.
It’s interesting how the obsessions of the time reflect those of today. Look at the fat people! Hang on, this woman is too thin! Hey, is that a well-dressed chimp or what?! Okay maybe not the last one. But still, freak art… Le freak, c’est chic.
To see more freak art and to buy posters of any of these, go to Circusmuseum.nl
These freaky posters is now available on the above website .. Wanna try !!! ;)