Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.
As first predicted by the Economist last week, the UK has now officially been trussed up for less time than the shelf-life of a lettuce. Liz Truss, the shortest serving prime minister in British history, now seems destined to remain known as the Iceberg Lady for ever more – largely thanks to the Daily Star, which ran with the joke in an inspired act of cosplay, dressing up a head of lettuce with wig, goggly eyes and glasses and running a live Youtube ‘Lettuce Cam’ to ascertain whether it could outlast the premier (there was, in the end, no contest). Those pesky Romaine-ers.
The episode puts Rakewell in mind of nothing so much as Louis Philippe of France, who declared freedom of the press upon his establishment of the July Monarchy in 1830, only perhaps to wish he hadn’t – the following year, Charles Philipon founded the satirical weekly La Caricature with a drawing of the king’s head, metamorphosing into a pear (poire, in French, being slang for ‘fool’). Philipon was taken to court for defamation and won – a victory that he and his team of brilliant artists, including Honoré Daumier, treated as a licence to continue their merciless ridicule.
So Truss may perhaps glean some small comfort from the fact that she is by no means the only leader in history to suffer the fruit-and-veg treatment. On the other hand, with Charles Baudelaire able to write in an offhand manner about the ‘damnable tyrannical pear’ as late as 1857, and the images of Philipon, Daumier et al etched in the minds of many subsequent generations, she may not want to be reminded that this is a joke that can stay fresh for a very long time indeed.
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