Barbie in Fine Art

A student sent me some fun links with images of Barbie that reference famous works of art. I recently saw something along these lines with drawings of Barbie, but I like that the actual dolls are used as models for most of these images. Check them out:

Barbie as Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Nefertiti, etc.
Barbie as a Warhol print

Photographer Mariel Clayton has a whole series of Barbie photographs that reference famous works of art (see the “Hystoria” section on her website). She has kindly given me permission to reproduce a few images here. They are all quite fun, but I think that her recreation of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring is my favorite.

Mariel Clayton, after Vermeer’s The Milkmaid from c. 1660

Mariel Clayton, after David’s Death of Marat from 1793

Mariel Clayton, after Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring from c. 1665

Mariel Clayton, after Whistler’s Arrangement in Gray and Black: The Artist’s Mother (also called “Whistler’s Mother”) from 1871

Do any other professors find themselves talking about Barbie in art history courses? Whenever I teach about ancient art, students always bring up Barbie in comparison with the Venus of Willendorf. I enjoy comparing how the standards and ideals for representing the female figure (and perhaps beauty) have changed since prehistoric times, but I think it’s interesting that students best understand (or relate to?) this concept in conjunction with Barbie.

  • heidenkind says:

    Wow, that's amazingly creepy. The surrealists would LOVE IT.

    I've never heard a student compare the Venus of Willendorf to Barbie! I can totally see the connection, though.

  • Miss B. says:

    ha ha.

  • courty lynne. says:

    Loved this!!

  • kelsey cook says:

    You found so many more than I did!

    I love Whistler's Mother.

  • [c] @ penbrushneedle says:

    Having just read your TWO latest posts at once, I can't help wondering whether Barbie would make a good Diana of Ephesos 😉

  • e says:

    That was VERY interesting.
    That artist really likes to push the boundaries, doesn't she? A lot of it was quite erotic and violent. Still, it's an interesting concept.

    I like Whistler's Mother a lot.

  • M says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone! I'm glad that everyone likes the images.

    Yes, e, many of Clayton's other images of Barbie are violent and erotic. (I think that's why heidenkind said her art was "creepy," and why the Surrealist artists would love it. I agree that her art seems to fit with Surrealism in many ways.) Clayton definitely makes people think about Barbie from a new perspective, doesn't she? Overall, though, I like her art history images the best (but of course, I'm terribly biased).

    c@penbrushneedle: Ha ha! I didn't make that connection beforehand, but I did think that the juxtaposition of these two posts was rather interesting.

  • Girl With Chalk says:

    Very very cool! Thanks for sharing!

  • H Niyazi says:

    Fun post M! This also reminds me of the modern repurposing of toys to remake famous movies, which you commonly see on youtube with Lego and such.

    Adding to Heidenkind's observation about the Surrealists, I also think Warhol would have been a fan of playfully repackaging icons of high culture using commercially mass produced items like Barbie dolls.


  • H Niyazi says:

    Apologies for the double post but literally seconds after mentioning Lego and art, this turned up in my inbox: someone used pre-printed Lego blocks to do a rendition of a Vermeer work.

    I'd like to see them try it with a van Eyck or Bosch 🙂


  • Valerie says:

    I love Barbie! I prefer the Barbie of my youth (bubble hair, cat eyes, striped swimsuit) but have never lost affection for this icon. Thanks for the links – these are so funny, and creative.

  • M says:

    H Niyazi: Yeah, I think Warhol would have liked Barbie dolls a lot too. I was glad to see that one of the links redid Barbie in a Warhol-esque fashion. It seemed so appropriate.

    And thanks for sending the link about the Vermeer made out of Legos! Very interesting!

    Valerie: Thanks for your comment! I think artists like Clayton appeal to people for the exact same reason that you mention: people love Barbie and have a lot of affection for her. Plus, she's associated with a lot of great childhood memories for many people, which adds to her appeal.

  • M says:

    My friend just sent me a link, showing how Barbie's fashion (i.e. dresses) are inspired by famous works of art. See here. Very fun! I especially like the Van Gogh dress.

  • Kelsey Cook says:

    Here is another attack/addition to historical paintings.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.