Antiquities, Paintings, Photographs, Film, and Video

An Alternative Beauty Pageant

Tonight is the Miss Universe pageant, in which contestants vied for a title and a Trump Tower apartment by donning swimsuits, evening gowns, and out-there costumes. (Update—Mexico won.)

But beauty queens are just so bland compared to the women that painters, photographers, and sculptors have captured in their work. Here, our nominees for an alternative pageant—one celebrating strength and wisdom over youth and bikinis.

An Old Woman with a Cat
Max Lieberman, 1878

This woman’s hands have seen decades of toil, but are still capable of great tenderness.

An Old Woman with a Cat / Liebermann

Woman, Patzcuaro, Mexico
Paul Strand, 1933

Strand liked to photograph “people who have strength and dignity in their faces.” She has both.

Woman, Patzcuaro, Mexico / Strand

© Aperture Foundation

Head of Athena
Greek, Asia Minor, 160–150 B.C.

Athena lost out to Aphrodite in the world’s first beauty contest, but so what? She still had wisdom and war strategy on her side.

Head of Athena / Greek

Young Italian Woman at a Table
Paul Cézanne, 1895–1900

Her sadness and distant gaze have a melancholy beauty.

Young Italian Woman at a Table / Cézanne

Got a nominee of your own? We’d love to hear about her.

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  1. anonymous
    Posted August 26, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    I nominate Rachel for beauty queen, on the basis of her endurance, creativity, and self awareness. Here is her blog:

  2. Mary
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I have a photograph of my grandma in her 20′s bathing by a lake. she looks so young & carefree. its great to know that the old woman looking at me thru her thick specs still has a twinkle in her eye!

  3. Posted April 21, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you Annelisa. This photos are really more memorable and more expressive than those in the beauty pageant. I love the first photo The Old woman with the black cat, it looks meaningful to me..

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      From you have I been absent in the spring,
      When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
      Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
      That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
      Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
      Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
      Could make me any summer’s story tell,
      Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
      Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
      Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
      They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
      Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
      Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
      As with your shadow I with these did play.

      —William Shakespeare, born April 23, 1564

      Vase of Flowers (detail), 1722, Jan van Huysum. The J. Paul Getty Museum


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