Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Physogs: The Novel Card Game

Unknown (British)
Photomechanical prints
26.7 x 41.9 x 3.5 cm (10 1/2 x 16 1/2 x 1 3/8 in. )
Credit Line:
Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1999
Accession Number:
Not on view
Physogs, a British game from the 1940s, is a popularized version of physiognomy, the art of judging human character from facial features. Based on sociologist Jacques Penry's How to Judge Character from the Face (1939), the game consists of fifty-six printed cards and a key book describing thirteen distinct "facial-character types": acquisitive-shrewd, dissipated, bad-tempered, determined, suave-obsequious, artistic-imaginative, credulous-impractical, magnetic, excitable-impetuous, self-conscious, crafty-self-centered, pleasant-cheerful, and narrow-minded-stubborn. The face assembled here is "acquisitive-shrewd," described in the book as a person who is "shrewd in money matters" with an "aptitude and desire to collect, possess and own."
Although the art of "reading faces" dates to ancient times, the scientific principles of physiognomy were largely discredited by the early twentieth century. Physiognomy was taken up again in the 1930s by Nazi "race scientists" whose analyses of human character were generally based on crude ethnic stereotypes. Marketed less than a decade later, Physogs reflects both the intuitive appeal and the inherent danger of judging character according to physical appearance.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Indexing the World," May 25, 2004–September 19, 2004.

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