"Self-portrait with New Hat"

Mortimer Praznewski

Praznewski described himself as "the ugliest man in western Poland," which his obsessive self-portraits confirm in lurid detail. At this stage in his brief career he was attempting to distract the viewer with adornments and haberdashery. "New Hat" also includes the red-rimmed strainers from an earlier work, "Self-portrait with Bad Teeth and Ear Strainers." The purpose of the strainers, symbolic or otherwise, is not known.

 

Praznewski saved up sufficient money from his day job as a farrier's assistant to hold a one-man show in the town hall of Lvov in early 1838. It was largely unnoticed, the country at the time being under simultaneous invasion by Russia, Turkey and Ruthenia, and most of the civilian population who hadn't starved to death was otherwise engaged.

 

Profoundly depressed at what he saw as the world's refusal to acknowledge his genius, Praznewski destroyed all but a few of his self-portraits, keeping only those that "showed his good side," as he phrased it in his diary. Shortly thereafter he took his parents' advice and joined the circus.

 

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