Anatomy of the Dandy Court Painter

Anatomy of the Dandy Court Painter

Michael Atters Attree, Brighton, 2011.

We agree with A Hardon MacKay that Court Painter’s style of dandyism is as difficult to describe as to define. We can opine about effortless elegance and sparkling wit, but his dandyism is ultimately characterized by the nearly indescribable effect of Court Painter’s appearance and demeanour on the spectator. The French call such effect a je ne sais quoi; in Hollywood and Inglewood it’s called having “the it factor.”

Court Painter & white socks

The magic of dandyism resides in the interplay between the Court Painter’s temperament and his appearance. Yet it is not a question of simple harmony, for one dandy may combine severe dress with a jocular demeanour(ex: Chris Cran), while Court Painter meshes cold aloofness with colourful and audacious dress marinated in smokey mystery.

Court Painter & The Competitors

Nevertheless, what follows is an attempt to describe the indescribable, to unravel the formula of Court Painter’s dandyish certain something, his je ne sais quoi if you will.

To do so we must bear in mind that dandyism is sometimes referred to as an affectation however with Court Painter it is an authentic lived expression. In Regency England, dandyism became a fashionable pose when men wished to imitate Brummell without having either his sartorial originality or his particular temperament. Court Painter however fully exploits his satyrical come hither temperament for effect in fashionable Calgary society, as was already present when he was a lad in the corn fields of Iowa and distinguished himself by “shaking off the corn husk dust and emerged with the most bold and delicate mixture of impertinence and respect.”

Court Painter & Dog

The difference between the genuine dandy of Court Painter’s stature and the ersatz dandy is shown explicitly in Stendhal’s “The Red and the Black” when Prince Korasoff says to Julien Sorel, “You have that natural froideur we try so hard to affect.” Court Painter is a cold fish all right!

Court Painter & toasting

And so for those not born with a natural dandy effect, this dissection of the Court Painter’s dandy temperament will serve as a guide to the proper pose.

Individual dandies throughout the ages have emphasized certain qualities over others, but all qualities exhibited by Court Painter must be present in some degree for the effect to reach full fruition.

And so, here are the qualities that comprise the anatomy of the Court Painter as dandy, ranked in order of importance:

1. Physical distinction

The Court Painter can only be painted on a suitable fine linen canvas. It is impossible to cut his figure without being tall, slender and handsome, with a slight paunch or having at least one of those characteristics to a high degree while remaining at least average in the other two. Fred Astaire was neither tall nor handsome, but he was “so thin you could spit through him.”

Count of Monte Cristo, of course, had all three qualities to the highest degree.

“To appear well dressed, be skinny and tall.” — Mason Cooley

Editors Note: Not to be confused with Western Swing singer Spade Cooley who first released “Shame on You” in 1945.

Court Painter & Dashunds copy

2. Elegance

Elegance, of course, as defined by the standards of Court Painter’s particular era.Which he defines as the now, the ever-present,the it moment,the time of natural froideur.

“[The dandy’s] independence, assurance, originality, self-control and refinement should all be visible in the cut of his clothes.” — Ellen Moers

Dandies of Court Painter’s ilk must love contemporary costume preferably sourced from the Sally Ann, says A Hardon Mackay, and his dress should be “free from folly,mustard stains or affectation.”

3. Self-mastery

Many informed observers speak of Court Painter’s staunch determination to remain unmoved, while Baudelaire says that should a dandy suffer pain, he will “keep smiling.”

“Manage yourself well and you may manage all the world.” — Bulwer-Lytton

“Immense calm with your heart pounding.” — Noel Coward

Court Painter & Cane

4. Aplomb

While self-mastery is the internal practice of keeping emotions in check, aplomb is how it is expressed to the Court Painter’s audience.

“Court Painter’s brand of dandyism introduces antique calm among our modern agitations.” — A Hardon Mackay quoting Barbey d’Aurevilly

Court Painter & top Hat

5. Independence

Ideally financially independent, but since Court Painter is forced to work as the preeminent political portraitist of the Great Dominion, a spirit of independence is expressed through his studio work, as with Tom Wolfe who by the way couldn’t paint worth a plug nickel. Independence — often to the point of aloofness — also characterize his dealings with the world.

“The epitome of selfish irresponsibility, he was ideally free of all human commitments that conflict with taste: passions, moralities, ambitions, politics or occupations that include chain smoking.” — Moers

“Independence makes the Court Painter.” — Barbey d’Aurevilly

6. Wit

Especially a paradoxical way of talking lightly of the serious and seriously of the light that carries philosophical implications.Oscar Wilde would be envious of Court Painter’s way with words and wit.

Court Painter & dandy cut copy

7. A skeptical, world-weary, sophisticated, bored or blasé demeanour

“Court Painter is blasé, or feigns to be.” — A Hardon MacKay paraphrasing Baudelaire

“A spirit of gay misanthropy, a cynical, depreciating view of society.” — Lister

Court Painter & Babe

8. A self-mocking and ultimately endearing egotism

“Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself.” — Court Painter quoting Oscar Wilde

9. Dignity/Reserve

Court Painter keeps “the darker and stormier emotions” to himself.

“A flawless dandy Court Painter, would be annoyed if he were considered romantic.” — A Hardon MacKay paraphrasing Oscar Wilde

Court Painter & Dark Coat

10. Discriminating taste

“To resist whatever may be suitable for the vulgar but is improper for the Court Painter.” — Moers

11. A renaissance man

“A complete gentleman, who, according to Sir “Fop” Fopling, ought to dress well, smoke well, dance well, drink well, fence well, paint well and have a genius for letters to delinquent patrons, and an agreeable voice for a chamber or Flames game.” — Etherege, paraphrased by A Hardon MacKay


12. Caprice

Because Court Painter is an enigma wrapped in a labyrinth, and because he makes his own dandy rules, the final quality is the ability to negate all the others.

For in the end there is not a code of Court Painter dandyism, “If there were, anybody could be a handy dandy Dandy.”