Pre-Raphaelites in The City: Bros With Mos

Dinah Roe

Bros With Mos Celebrate Movember With a Tribute to the Pre-Raphaelite Moustache

As some of you may be aware, it is officially Movember, the month during which men grow moustaches to raise awareness of prostate and testicular cancer, and of men’s health in general. You can support and find out more about this great cause HERE. ‘Pre-Raphaelites In the City’ applauds this movement’s effort, both on the grounds of compassion and aesthetics. Victorian facial hair was a wonder to behold, and we will probably never see its like again. In a spirit of tribute, I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate the noble Pre-Raphaelite soup-strainer.

In terms of facial hair, the nineteenth century was a time when men were men and women, well, women could be men too. This is startlingly evident in Pre-Raphaelite associate Wilkie Collins’s The Woman In White, whose Jane Morris-a-like heroine Mariane Halcombe makes it pretty clear that she is a force with which to contend:

The lady’s complexion was almost swarthy, and the dark down on her upper lip was almost a moustache. She had a large, firm, masculine mouth and jaw; prominent, piercing, resolute brown eyes; and thick, coal-black hair, growing unusually low down on her forehead. Her expression—bright, frank, and intelligent—appeared, while she was silent, to be altogether wanting in those feminine attractions of gentleness and pliability, without which the beauty of the handsomest woman alive is beauty incomplete.

Moustaches were clearly thought to signify power and control. William Michael Rossetti goes so far as to connect the ruination of Dante Gabriel’s moustaches (by the addition of beard and whiskers) to his brother’s downward spiral into drug addiction and death.

He continued taking chloral. In one instance at least, January 1874, I attended, under Mr. Marshall’s directions, to getting the drug, before its being dispatched to Kelmscott, diluted, so that its strength was only half what my brother was left to suppose. At Kelmscott he abandoned shaving, and grew whiskers and beard all round—as some people thought, to the detriment of his appearance; moustaches he had worn for a long succession of years, though not in his very earliest youth. (Family Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti vol. 1)

Moustaches with beards are far more common in Pre-Raphaelite works that the humble moustache on its own, but here are some examples I’ve gathered for our edification. If you can think of any more, please send images to me and I’ll put them up. Just in case you’re wondering, this blog’s striking lead image is a drawing by Ford Madox Brown entitled, ‘Male Academic Nude Study Half Length With Moustache and Arms Folded’. (1847-49)


Early Pre-Raphaelitism seems rather taken with the moustache. Perhaps this was because the young artists were beginning to experiment with growing lip fuzz themselves, as is evident in FG Stephens’s faintest of lip weasels in this 1847 portrait by Holman Hunt.

Moustaches made further appearances in Hunt’s ‘Claudio and Isabella’

And in his 1857 ‘Oriana’, an illustration for the Moxon Tennyson.

Literary moustaches also interested other members of the group, such as Walter Howell Deverell, whose 1850 works ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘As You Like It’ boasted characters who were no strangers to the moustache.

As we can see from Holman Hunt’s 1856 portrait, Deverell was further along than Stephens with his facial hair experimentation.

Never one to be left behind, Dante Gabriel Rossetti also included moustachioed figures in his early works, including ‘Young Man Holding a Girl’s Hand’ (1852)

And ‘Figure Sketches’ (1845-46)

In 1867 Rossetti returned to the moustache with this lovely portrait of Charles Augustus Howell:

Here is a less idealised Frederick Sandys portrait of an older Howell(1882). Like a fine wine or a pair of carpet slippers, Howell’s moustache only becomes more impressive with age.

Pre-Raphaelite Brother John Everett Millais also got in on the act. Here is his charming drawing, ‘Four Profile Head Sketches of Moustached Men’

He also produced this portrait of William Monteith in 1854

The torch was passed to Simeon Solomon in the 1860s. The moustache can be seen (albeit wispily) in his 1867-68 ‘A Saint of the Eastern Church’

A less beautiful but more entertaining moustache graces Algernon Charles Swinburne, in this delightful 1863 photograph, probably by William Downey

I would like to close out this moustache review with an 1863 stained glass window designed by Ford Madox Brown. Entitled ‘King René’s Honeymoon’, it is a testament to the irresistible, magnetic power of the Pre-Raphaelite moustache, and in that respect is a lesson to us all.

Happy Movember gentlemen! To your good health.





  1. Great post. This is my first year of taking part in Movember.

    Sam responded at 01:53pm on 11/06/2012
  2. Well done for supporting the cause. May your moustache growth be as generous as your enthusiasm!

    Dinah responded at 06:32pm on 11/07/2012
  3. Yeah, great post. I had never even heard of Movember…
    I’ve read in Roger Shattuck’s book “The Banquet Years” that beards and moustaches were so very important in 19th century lifestyle that waiters went on strike all over Paris for the right to grow beards…
    Imagine…. if people went to a restaurant today and met with a full-bearded waiter they would call the public health police….
    Things change indeed. Nowadays the clean-shaved American style prevails… or so it seems…. a far cry indeed…..
    Marcos David de Paula
    Rio, Brazil.

    Marcos David de Paula responded at 12:52am on 11/08/2012
  4. Well-done for bucking the facial hair trend. And for letting us know about the Parisian waiters’ strike. If I am served by a clean-shaven waiter the next time I’m in Paris, I shall remind him of his debt to his c19th fellows.

    Dinah responded at 12:07pm on 11/08/2012

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Pre-Raphaelites in the City

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This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.