Ugly Face Club

DEAR READER: To learn more about this “Most Honourable and Facetious Society,” check out  “The Ugly Face Club: A Case Study in the Tangled Politics and Aesthetics of Deformity,” by the Author, published in Ugliness: The Non-Beautiful in Art and Theory (I.B. Tauris) or this entry onUgly Clubs” in Nineteenth-Century Disability (A Digital Reader), spinning into Journal of Victorian Culture Online and other offshoots.

From 1806 advertisement reprinted in 1912 edition of Ye Ugly Face Clubb’s papers

Otherwise known as the “Most Honourable and Facetious Society of Ugly Faces,” which gathered in Liverpool, England, between 1743-1754


From Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1785): “1. Ugliness; ill-favouredness,” “2. Ridiculousness; the quality of something worthy to be laughed at, or censured.”

UFC Cover detail (1912 edition)

Leonardo da Vinci’s studies of grotesques (c. 1490)

From Charles Le Brun’s L’expression des passions (1698)

From Johann Kaspar Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy (1775-8)

Detail from William Hogarth’s Characters & Caricaturas (1743), author of The Analysis of Beauty

Paul Sandby’s Puggs Graces Etched from his Original Daubing (1753-4), caricaturing Hogarth painting monstrously deformed women in order to conform to his “Line of Beauty” (called “Line of Deformity” by critics)

Detail of John Wilkes, after Richard Houston (1769)

Joshua Reynolds, “‘Blinking Sam’ Johnson'” (1775)

Club of Ugly-Faces, London (1715)

Caricature of Alexander Pope by John Dennis (1729)

Ugly Club of Annapolis, Maryland (c. 1740s)

Ugly Club of Washington College, Kentucky (1869)

Paul Strand’s Blind Woman (1916)

(See also Ugly Laws.)

President of Ugly Club of Piobicco, Italy (2003)


To learn more about how these images relate to one another and the lineage of Ugly Clubs, read “The Ugly Face Club: A Case Study in the Tangled Politics and Aesthetics of Deformity,” by the Author, in Ugliness: The Non-Beautiful in Art and Theory (I.B. Tauris) or this entry in on “Ugly Clubs” in Nineteenth-Century Disability: A Digital Reader.

Last but certainly not least, if you would like to read the slim volume of extant archival papers about the Ugly Face Club published by Edward Howell in 1912 in Liverpool, click here.

Howell states that his edited manuscript is far from complete, noting a particular practice “by the members of Ugly Clubs destroying all documentary evidence of their natural gifts; for even in this MS. many pages are missing, whether by accident or design is open to conjecture.”[1] Inviting this practice from my readers—to materially, collaboratively deform my Galerie de Difformité (and with it, some of the reproduced archival evidence of the Ugly Face Club), I am engaging in a like-minded act to face and deface ugliness–more towards deformity, via Dr. Johnson’s interchangeable definitions (with all their implications)–to, in some small way, collectively cause “a disruption in the sensory field of the observer.”[2]

[1] Edward Howell, ed., Ye Ugly Face Clubb, Leverpoole, 1743-1753 (Liverpool: E. Howell, 1912). p. 9.

[2] By asking readers to metamorphose the physical object of the book that is a kind of body, I am asking you to participate in a creative act that might be viewed, from one cultural stance, as an act of defamation, in contrast to what otherwise might be considered communal, spiritual, or healing (in the vein of Navajo or Tibetan sandpaintings), not to mention a number of other connotations. As Galerie de Difformité looks forward and back like the two-headed Janus, it masquerades as a funhouse of mirrors, reflecting distortions (less of bodies than of perceptions) of whoever enters. As further acknowledgement within this footnote: “a disruption in the sensory field of the observer” comes from Lennard J. Davis, “Dr. Johnson, Amelia, and the Discourse of Disability in the Eighteenth Century,” in “Defects”: Engendering the Modern Body, eds. Helen Deutsch and Felicity Nussbaum (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), p. 56.


What of the Five Missing Portraits???


* The portraits on this page (above) were connected in a presentation for the Associations of Art Historians in in Warwick, UK, in April 2011.

Published on December 21, 2010 at 7:01 pm  Comments Off on Ugly Face Club  
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