Mésalliance in life and art

Hugh Hefner and Crystal Harris got married in December. She had had to sign a prenup.
Hugh Hefner and Crystal Harris got married in December. She had had to sign a prenup.

He’s an old (but wealthy) fart
So, for her he is a start.
Yes, this blog’s about art,
And to matters of the heart
Now will this post depart.

(My first experience in English poetry, don’t be too critical)

What do you feel when looking at this photograph?

Men: “lucky old bastard” (envy), “old fool” (pity), “nice plane” (inadequacy), “too bad two bunnies are out of focus” (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)

Women: “lucky bitch” (envy), “stupid barbie” (pity), “cool shades”/”gorgeous hair”/”show me the wedding ring!” (inadequacy), “is he able?” (curiosity), “no, that’s not worth it” (melancholy), “would she be birthing a child from him?” (Real-Housewives Disorder).

Well, anyone can tell you that women are more emotional than men.

Yet, whatever the strongest feeling, anyone sane, upon seeing these two smiling faces would think of f***ing slavery (statistics show it’s temporary, for 3 to 5 years only), where both words proudly stand for their literal meaning like Hugh Hefner’s on three Viagras. The French word “mesalliance” has been invented to soften the blow of the English “ill-matched pair”. These two people are smiling because they see nothing wrong about what they are doing, and they are happy about their personal gain from this enterprise. They are a celebrity couple, which means the notions of love, honesty, devotion and loyalty are not applicable. Well, this is the world for you today. Presidents can get frivolous with interns, secretaries, striptease dancers, teenage models and acrobats, to name a few professions. It is OK, and in some countries the crowds even hurrah these adventures, hailing the virility of their leaders. How come the humankind went down so fast to the Stone Age values? Shall we now watch not debates but fights among candidates, and let the strongest and cruellest win (and get a Miss Universe to bed as a bonus)?

Mesalliance is nothing new, but it has always been looked upon with a bit of unease. Not today. Today any shrink would tell you men are interested to follow any old+young story because they imagine themselves in place of the old guy. Thank you, but no, Hugh Hefner is the last man I would be imagining myself to be. I don’t want my children to be as mentally and morally damaged as his kids seem to be, that’s for sure. And I can’t imagine myself with Crystal. Primarily, for hygienic  reasons.

Just some 100 years ago, the view on f***ing slavery “mesalliance” (pardon my French) was very critical, but mass media fuelled by money from luxury brands has made it an “attractive” option for both sexes. Cinderella today is not about marrying the young prince, she’s about becoming his step-mother. And zillions zealously follow this new fairytale.

So, how did visual artists of the past treat ill-matched pairs?

I am not sure I can remember any mesalliance paintings before Lucas Cranach the Elder, that is before 1520-30s. Perhaps, he was first to unload his pile of sarcastic fun about it.

He was poignantly good, and over 40 different versions of his ill-matched pairs are known. His view, perhaps, describes the current situation best of all and is the closest to Hugh & Crystal photograph you see here. We don’t see what she’s doing with her hands, but metaphorically, just like in Cranach paintings, her hand is obviously rummaging through Hugh’s pockets.

Men here are so ugly that no one wants to self-identify with them or envy them. No one pities the girls as well, the girls know what they do and some of those who were pitying Crystal are even happy for them. Where’s the logic? It is the same story!

In the 16th century, Cranach was running this profitable moralising line for a couple of decades, and many Dutch painters picked it up later.

But the two most powerful paintings on mesalliance I’ve seen are Francisco de Goya‘s and Pukirev’s.

In Goya’s painting the old man is so weak he can barely hold the candle. He is incapable as a man, but the young buddy behind the bride (mirroring her posture) will, perhaps, provide some consolation to the young lady. We can’t see her emotions, we can’t read her thoughts, but.. we can pity the old fool. Today, no man feels any envy or inadequacy related to this man, even though  he is not different from Hugh.  Where’s the logic again?

Goya’s Ill-matched pair

And my favourite is this one. The Mesalliance by Vassily Pukirev, painted in 1862. This painting made him famous, and then, alas, he didn’t paint anything that would be even remotedly as powerful.

Get yourself a bigger picture here, it’s impressive.

As it often happens, this great piece of art was based on a personal tragedy. The bride was a girl the artist loved and wanted to marry, but, being a fresh graduate without any means he had been rejected by her parents. He painted himself standing behind the bride with a dejected look on his face. All the other “guests” do not care much, they are just curious. The bride is so sad, her candle is barely held, her skin is so white she can faint any moment. Her new “owner” is proud, but cautious.

Isn’t it ironic that this painting made the artist famous and relatively rich?

But, coming back to our feelings. Men, whom I’ve asked about their feelings while looking at this painting, say they do not envy the old guy, do not pity him, and do not feel inadequate. Most pity the bride, but in a very light-hearted way. Women feel deep pity, profound sorrow; become sad, very angry, and mad angry.

You see, a totally different spectrum of emotions to the celebrity couple photograph of Hugh & Crystal. We still can feel the right thing, but today’s media substitutes our natural reflex with envy and inadequacy. This way, we’d buy more of cool shades, stupid captain hats, dream of personal planes and multicarat wedding rings.

Pray tell me, who are the most ill-matched celebrity couple? I’d love to see them pasted over Crahach or Pukirev )

UPD, after studying Cranach’s old men, one can only marvel at modern dental care.


  1. As for H.H. and Crystal, I feel nothing. I know ‘ideal pairs’ (peers mostly) but they can’t offer each other anything valuable, even a good quarrel, and both are unhappy. Some cheat and it’s hard to blame. Believe it’s possible to judge only being a part. So would agree with Moderndayruth – it’s a shame when the decision is taken by the 3rd party or bride/groom only, but it’s perfectly fine if both are happy. And only they know what makes them happy (official right to sleep together, money, glory, being with the baby’s father etc), if the reason is not valuable enough for us personally it doesn’t mean it’s bad or wrong. People have to be brave enough to get what can make them happy today, tomorrow or forever – one life, no more chances. And let’s agree years bring not only money and the youth can offer not only sex. Just put priorities being honest with yourself…consciously or not) The top priority(ies) will form smth we call ‘love’ -roughly) Don’t say they are truly happy or Crystal loves him, but can’t deny it being not Crystal. Just don’t know. Maybe I would (also) fall in love with him?)) –Well, not likely but rather cause of his lifestyle, not age… 87y.o.?! God, no –kill me or cut it twice!))

    1. Well, I do feel something about it (otherwise I won’t do the post). I feel that voluntary prostitution (see exhibit No.1 – Crystal) becomes largely accepted, and often lauded. And I don’t feel good about it, even though it has no personal relationship to me, that is, until I become 87, of course.

      1. Personally I know no one who would laud Crystal or ‘voluntary prostitution’, hope it’s not that bad) Just believe that since most people have a choice, it’s a bit too difficult to judge not being the insider. My friend’s friend is a happy mother of 2 new born children with the 60+ one and yes he is not poor. If it’s not my kind of scenario it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Not a big deal to find rich and young and even famous in one pack, especially for Crystal, but she chose that one. My friend says that Tatiana never had any problems with male attention as well. There must be something else there.

        1. “Personally I know no one who would laud Crystal or ‘voluntary prostitution” (It is media and teenage girls reading cosmopolitans)

          “There must be something else there” – Blackmail, coercion, extortion, racket. Joking )

  2. The ‘Misalliance’ is great, love the way it’s built in particular. The painting is not about the wedding itself only, but the whole society with variety of relationships and rules inside, everything is here and everything takes its own place. And it’s obvious what is in the center. Pity, that innocent and naive, in her white dress with beautiful lace, this girl inevitably will become a part of this system today and probably will reproduce it tomorrow standing somewhere behind… Thanks God most people have a choice now)

      1. True. Funny, recently I was ashamed -I haven’t seen the movie. By the one who appeared not to have read the book))

  3. You see, the difference is that in Pukirev painting/ case it was not bride’s will, the decision was up to her parents (but then who knows, taken away the artists sensibility, what the objective truth was); Hefner’s bride made a choice herself , she’s not some teenage bride sold to slavery in the 3d world… I say: live and let live, to me all that’s matter of consent of two adults is perfectly fine – and exclusively their own business.

    1. Hefner’s bride is more a biz partner in a deal than a bride ) The problem is that we are being sold happy marriage by the media while in fact it is a sex & money deal, because the young lady can’t live without shades/planes/glamour, etc. in exchange for sex. She is selling herself into 3-year slavery as a perfectly consenting adult. Muslim women cover themselves up from toe to top also as consenting adults, and they agree to be the second, third, etc. wife also as consenting adults.Pukirev is closer to slavery, Crystal is closer to prostition ) None of them has anything to do with true marriage..

    1. Hi, thanks – I have to google this couple ) Let me see them first ) Revolting is a very good word… Somehow, when I was talking about Cranach’s pairs I missed it. But some of his couples are indeed revolting!

      1. Not sure if love or money know no limits in that marriage. Not sure which one is the creepiest part with them: the 26-year age gap or the fact that he “discovered” her when she was just 12 while he was 38. She comes from a very poor family of 14 siblings.

        1. Some people do fall in love with huge gap in their ages. I personally met a lady who was 60 and her husband 30… she did look 10 years younger than she was, and he was about 20 years older than he appeared… however the fact was that they had a gap of 30 years. She was not rich by any means.. actually he was the bread winner in the family.. .. so is not all for money or financial benefit. Some do find true love. I admit Celine Dion and Rene did not really match as a couple in the physical way… however one cannot deny that what those two had, was true love, respect, and harmony.

          We can’t simply judge others for their actions based on our own prejudice.

          However, on the case of the ‘infamous’ marriages/relationships of Hugh Hefner and others like him…. those are relationships with deadlines… as artmoscow defined.. “a business relationship”, they both get what they want.. (and I have my doubts about Hefner still interested in sex anyway).. but is a mutual arrangement.. and both win. Now to call that ‘prostitution’.. nah.. then every person who sells a product is a prostitute.. She is a commodity, he is paying to display her around him… is a business as any other. Prostitutes offer a service, that does not involve any other responsibility but to provide sexual favors for money.


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