'Mona Lisa': Postcard Variations on a Theme

Kandy Arnold - August 2, 1999
 

Would-be art collectors who might be daunted by the high price tags of original paintings usually can well-afford these classic images -- if they opt to buy postcard reproductions of the originals. Even the most high-quality contemporary postcards usually sell for less than $2.

Some paintings are so well-known that they have entered the popular lexicon, and are often copied or spoofed by other artists. Leonardo da Vinci's "Portrait of Mona Lisa, called La Gioconda," for example, might also be called the painting that launched a thousand imitators. Because the copyright on the original painting is in the public domain, Mona's likeness appears on everything from spaghetti sauce labels to postcards.

The original painting is housed in Paris' Louvre museum, and a postcard that is a faithful reproduction of the original oil painting may be purchased in that museum's gift shop.

A second "Mona Lisa," said to be painted by da Vinci, resides in the basement of the Portland, Maine, art museum. The jury is still out on whether da Vinci or an imitator painted the Portland museum's "Mona," but the painting's nether placement keeps yeah-vote enthusiasts' high opinions in check. A faithful reproduction of that original oil painting can be purchased in the Portland museum's gift shop.

The authors of "Kovel's Antiques & Collectibles Price List 1999," in the Emerging Markets section, recommend that you collect a set. They write: "Assembling a set provides a challenge to the collector and adds value to the final grouping."

Over the years, a multitude of contemporary artists have had their fun with the Mona Lisa motif, and many of these spoofs have ended up on postcards, giving the collector an affordable and interesting collecting opportunity. Some of these images include:

  • "Two Golden Mona Lisas" by Andy Warhol. The original is synthetic polymer paint over a canvas silkscreened with dual images of La Jaconde.
  • "La Jaconde aux Clefs" by Fernand Leger. An ethereal Mona floats over an orange and gray Abstract Expressionist background. A clip of church keys dangles in the foreground.
  • "Mona Lisa" by Fernando Botero. This take-off mirrors the classic "Mona" pose, smile, and background, but the lady is morbidly obese in Botero's rendition.
  • A Mona Lisa-by-the-numbers postcard by artist Lynn Hershman simplifies La Giaconda to a series of blue lines that sketch the shape and contours of da Vinci's masterpiece. Numbers specify which hues from a paint-by-number kit should be used to fill in the colors.

One of the postcards in a "Mona Lisa" collection include two mice sailing the seas on a sailboat made of a camembert round with a sail attached. The label on the camembert case features the Mona Lisa. Others include simple additions to the original image: the Mona Lisa knitting or Mona in electric blue hair curlers, for instance.

Other cultural icons lend themselves equally well to being collected in postcard form. You might want to seek out images of the Statue of Liberty, for example. According to Kovel's current price list, a vintage Fourth of July postcard bearing the likeness of Lady Liberty and six flags recently sold for $25.

Kandy Arnold is a freelance writer in San Jose, California. She collects Mona Lisa postcards, "tacky" postcards, and Statue of Liberty postcards.

Kandy Arnold is a San Jose, California-based freelance writer. She teaches photography part-time at Chabot College in Hayward, California, and has lectured in journalism at San Jose State University. She collects postcard variations on da Vinci's classic Mona Lisa and other oddities. If you have questions for Kandy, you can send her an email to heron@well.com .

Warhol's take on the classic

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