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The Woman with the Fegee Mermaid

"The Woman with the Fegee Mermaid" is copyright    1999 by James G. Mundie. All rights reserved.  Reproduction prohibited.

Pen and ink, 9 x 7 inches, 1999

This piece depicts not a genuine prodigy, but rather the world's most famous "gaff" or fake. P. T. Barnum created quite a stir in the 1840's when he advertised the acquisition of a genuine mermaid caught off the coast of faraway 'Fegee.' In newspapers and on huge banners he showed beautiful bare-chested mermaids cavorting in the waves, and huge crowds lined up to see the titillating attraction. Even when the supposedly lovely creature was unveiled and proved to be the upper half of a gruesomely petrified monkey attached to the lower portions of a large fish, the crowds still flocked to see it. They appreciated the ruse, and came back with friends in tow.

Barnum was not the first to exhibit such a taxidermy creation (he got his mermaid from Boston showman Moses Kimball with whom he entered into a contract for its display), but he was the most successful in promoting it. Perhaps hoping to mimic his success or pay tribute to the great man, generations of showmen after Barnum acquired their own Fiji mermaids, so that now a collection of oddities isn't complete without one.

Here I have contrasted the beautiful and the hideous by placing Barnum's mermaid in a situation borrowed from a Raphael painting. The woman who once calmly held a unicorn must now contend with an entirely different sort of mythical creature.

[To purchase this drawing, please contact
Stanek Gallery
242 North 3rd Street, Philadelphia PA 19106]

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All Images and Text James G. Mundie 2003 - 2018