Gift of an anonymous donor, "Head of an Unknown Man" is believed by some scholars to be a satirical portrait of either Hippolyte Lucien-Joseph Lucas, a French plastic surgeon, or possibly Pedro Poncho Mendez de Vigo, a minor Spanish general who was shot for suspicion of treason in 1871, although other scholars insist that it could just as easily be the French Count Pelet de la Lozere, third discoverer of Bechuanaland, who was fond of funny gray hats, or the Dutch newspaper publisher and amateur horse gelder Willem Vander Visser 't Hooftenboom, whose elaborately combed and waxed nostril hairs were the sensation of the Geneva World Barber's Convention of 1892-93.
The American art critic and paleontologist John Jennet points out the heavy brow ridges and sloping forehead as evidence that this may have been a poorly-executed representation of Uft Gnurr, last of the Neanderthals, who worked as a day laborer in the chillier parts of Norway until his death from frostbite and sexual frustration in 1878 during his pursuit of the Lady of the Snows, an elusive female yeti. This evidence has been rejected by the Luxembourg School of Art ID, which holds that the enlarged, inflamed and broken-veined nose makes it a certainty that the model is none other than Harold Holdyourwater, the British Fourth Earl of Essex, known in the Whitechapel district of London as Jack the Zitter.
Finally, another US institution, the American Federation of Daily Newspaper and Sunday Supplement Cartoonists, maintains that it is the prototype, or ur-toon, for all future chinless cartoon characters, including J. Wellington Wimpy, Henry, Popeye and Andy Gump. Visitors to the Gallery are invited to add their own suggestions on the chalkboard behind the display.
"Head of an Unknown Man"
France or Holland? Spain?
Probably late 19th or early 20th Century
Painted clay, or something very much like it