Grim Allusions

Two classic French ‘metamorphosis’ postcards from around 1905-1910. Some artists delight in reminding us that, no matter how much fun we’re having, we’re all going to die. Hence the two ladies bidding each other ‘au revoir’ in a sunlit park are oblivious to the shadow of Death who may have other plans for either one (or both) of them. The other card is titled less ambiguously. ‘Tête de Mort’ hints that even the carefree happiness of the two children sledging is overshadowed by the inevitability of the grave.

This device is known as a memento mori – in Latin “remember you will die” and it was a common feature in a great deal of Western art. While the recipient of such cards might well appreciate the skill involved in creating the illusion, it seems pretty grim as gifts go. Most surviving examples are real photograph postcards though so they often fetch good prices. Just remember that you can’t take them with you…

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