The last Peepshow

The calendar rolls on towards the sacred holiday of Easter — today is Holy Wednesday, marking (among other things) the shame of Judas, his 30 pieces of silver — while in the parallel secular world, swarms of marshmallow chicks and bunnies infest homes and public places. I bring this year’s coverage of the annual Peepsocalypse to a close with a report on two masterworks from the crowded world of Peeps dioramas: marshmallow tributes to, and affectionate parodies of, two pop-chart-topping art works, Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.

The centerpiece compositions:

(#1) “‘The Scream’ by Peepward Munch”, created by Lisa Johnson, a first prize winner: Seattle Times “Meet the winners of our 2016 Peeps contest”, from 3/25/16

(#2) “NightPeeps”, created by Melissa Harvey (2009); from a Washington Post story “10 years of winning Peeps dioramas” of 3/15/16

In what follows, I will assume basic familiarity with the Just Born company’s marshmallow confection Peeps and with the two paintings parodied here; both are extensively covered in postings on this blog.

Parody magnets. The Scream and Nighthawks are parody magnets: they attract parodists, because they are extraordinarily famous, so that they can be easily referenced in pop culture; and because they are especially intense or extravagant. Other parody magnets (most covered on this blog), qualifying in one or both of these ways:

The Last Supper, American Gothic, The Mona Lisa (La Gioconda), Whistler’s Mother (Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1), The Birth of Venus

The diorama competitions. The sad news from the WaPo, ” Pour One Out, Washington Post Cancels Peeps Contest” of 3/8/17:

We are so sorry to break it to anyone who lives for The Washington Post’s annual springtime Peeps contest, but the colorful marshmallow diorama competition has gotten the ax this year.

The Post editors announced on March 7 that their paper would no longer host the decade-old campy event that shows sugary marshmallow scenes ranging from jubilant to macabre. They have also discontinued the Post Hunt, an annual event in Washington that is something between a puzzle and a scavenger hunt, as they could not find a sponsor.

“For 10 years The Washington Post featured a Peeps contest, in which people from all over created dioramas depicting scenes that reflected the country as they saw it, but populated with marshmallow bunnies and chicks,” the editors wrote. “Hard journalism this was not, but for us the contest offered its own sweet rewards. As fewer submissions began to come in, though, echoing the decline in readership of this feature, we knew that it was time to let bunnies be free again, and we have ended the Peeps contest run.”

The editorial explained that the Hunt was over “for now” but did not specify whether it would be back in 2018 or beyond, saying only that they wished “to thank all the many people who puzzled along with us and devoted to it so much energy and support.”

The Washington City Paper stepped into the breach; see “Peep Thrills: The Winners of the 2018 Peeps Diorama Contest” — their second annual — from 3/22/18.

The Peeps of commerce (rather than art). Resurrected today on Facebook, Orson Welles shilling for Peeps:

(#3) A Cris Shapan joke ad for Peeps; see my 5/24/18 posting “Crude japery”, with a section on Cris Shapan (Clarington Shpoo)

Late in his life, Welles took on pretty much every offer to do ads and commercials that he got — Newskweek called it “late-career slumming” — though the Just Born people seem not to have approached him for his services. He did, however, work for:

Findus frozen peas, Jim Beam bourbon, Carlsberg beer, Domecq sherry, Paul Masson wines, Vivitar compact cameras, Caesars Palace Casino, G&G Nikka Japanese whiskey, The Muppet Movie, Perrier, the Dark Tower boardgame, Stove Top Stuffing, Revenge of the Nerds, and Nashua photocopiers

He thought of it as a respectable form of whoring, and he did it to get money for his movies.

Unfamiliar art. Back to art, now without Peeps. Munch and Hopper are both very well-known artists, and Munch’s The Scream and Hopper’s Nighthawks are such iconic artworks that we can scarcely look at them with fresh eyes; they’ve been absorbed into the background pop culture of the educated classes. Meanwhile, for some time now on Facebook, Joelle Stepien Bailard has been (re)posting images of artworks from largely unknown artists and from familiar artists in uncharacteristic, early, and little-known works.

Munch beyond The Scream. Munch is a gold-mine here — all sorts of surprising material, in particular this gem:

(#4) Munch, Rue Lafayette (1891) — yes, in Paris, in a demipointilliste style

From the Nasjonal Museet (National Museum of Norway) site:

Rue Lafayette from 1891 is a product of Munch’s short period of interest in impressionism.

In 1889, when Edvard Munch received a bursary from the Norwegian state, he went to Paris, where he familiarised himself with the period’s contemporary painters. The big city and modern life. Rhythm, pulse and movement.

In the second half of the 19th century, Paris underwent major changes in its urban planning. Old buildings and districts were torn down to make way for long, broad, straight avenues and boulevards. These rapidly became part of the city’s visual identity and a popular subject for many of the period’s most influential artists, who were interested in depicting life in the modern metropolis.

Impressionist impact: The vantage point, the dramatic perspective and the diffuse form in this picture owe a lot to impressionist painting. The paint is applied in rhythmical, speckled and slanting strokes creating a radiant, vibrant overall effect. Here Munch has combined a punctual brushstroke with a concise style that points beyond the subject matter that is actually registered.

Munch’s room: In spring 1891, Munch occupied rooms at Rue Lafayette no. 49. Presumably it is the view from his own rooms that he has taken as the basis for this painting. To the left we glimpse the Rue Drouot and the Rue Faubourg-Montmartre. The impression of bustling, pulsating life out on the street is offset by the sombre figure on the balcony. The painting shows Munch’s strong interest in impressionism during this period. It remained, however, an interlude, and in the years that followed he preferred to explore other directions.

Hopper beyond Nighthawks.Hopper’s precisionist style seems to have been with him from the beginning, but his works weren’t always enigmatic pieces conveying alienation. Even his two most famous paintings after Nighthawks are different in tone. From Smithsonian Magazine, “These Sketches Will Take You Into the Artistic Mind of Edward Hopper: At the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, a new exhibition and a novella delve into the inexplicable sense of mystery in Hopper’s paintings” by Constance Bond on 4/1/14:

Imagine a solitary man, an artist, who, for more than a half-century, observes the fleeting moments of life as he haunts the streets and movie houses of Greenwich Village or rides the elevated train throughout Manhattan, peering down into the windows of office buildings as he rumbles past. Life unfolds all around him, but he doesn’t linger on the story; he’s more interested in the depth of feeling that these moments evoke in him. This artist was Edward Hopper (1882-1967), a shy and secretive man who, with his wife Jo, lived in a spare walk-up apartment and adjoining studio near Washington Square, rarely traveling except for summers spent in New England. Along the way, Hopper produced such icons of American art as Nighthawks (1942), the definitive American painting of a late-night diner; Rooms for Tourists (1945), the mysterious Victorian house that has influenced several generations of noir filmmakers;


and Office at Night (1940), which continues to intrigue us with its sense of drama frozen in time.


Office at Night is owned by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis where — in the words of education director Sarah Schultz — it’s “one of the museum’s crown jewels.” And right now, this enigmatic painting is getting a lot of attention. For one thing, it is the centerpiece of a major exhibition, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and now at the Walker. Entitled “Hopper Drawing: A Painter’s Process,” the exhibition presents 22 of Hopper’s major oil paintings alongside the many chalk drawings that the artist made for each of them.

The Hopper surprise is a work much earlier than these three:

(#7) Hopper, Notre Dame de Paris (1907)

Hopper was in his 20s then. I don’t know any of the story of the painting, but it’s now become relevant as yet another of the (apparently) thousands of artists’ representations of Notre-Dame, now being circulated as homages to the great burned cathedral.

I haven’t been able to find a Munch work depicting the cathedral — something of a surprise, given Munch’s period of Impressionist infuence and the ubiquity of Notre-Dame as a subject of Impressionist art.

Return to Easter. This all started with Holy Week and its accompanying secular holiday season, involving Easter baskets, Easter eggs, chocolate, chicks, bunnies, spring clothes, hams, lamb, and all that. On the secular holiday, today’s Bizarro, with a holiday portmanteau:

(#7) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.

A young woman fights her way through a nor’easter + Easter. A storm  — “noun northeaster (also nor’easter): a storm or wind blowing from the northeast, especially in New England” (NOAD) — blowing up Easteriana: chocolate bunnies, chicks (presumably Peeps), and Easter eggs (including a very special egg, Humpty Dumpty).

But then there’s Holy Week. Today, Holy Wednesday, aka Spy Wednesday (with obsolete spy ‘ambush, snare’), when Judas Iscariot is said to have taken 30 pieces of silver from the high priests to betray Jesus Christ to the Romans, so Silver Betrayal Day would have been a better name. Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, aka Maundy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper (approximating, or being, a Passover meal). Then Good Friday, the day of crucifixion. Saturday, when Jesus lay in the tomb. And finally, Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection.

There’s music for today. Besides church music for Holy Week, popular music. Specifically, “30 Pieces of Silver”: an Odell McLeod c&w song recorded by many, but for me, always a Hank Williams song:

(#8) Recorded for the Mothers Best Flour Show on radio, March 1951

Tis a sad but true story
from the Bible it came
and it tells us how Judas
sold the Savior in shame.

He planned with the Council
of high priests that day.
Thirty pieces of silver
was the price they would pay.

Thirty pieces of silver
30 shekels of shame

Very briefly on Williams (whose life story overall is short and sad), from Wikipedia:


Hiram King “Hank” Williams (September 17, 1923 – January 1, 1953) was an American singer-songwriter and musician. Regarded as one of the most significant and influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th century

2 Responses to “The last Peepshow”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    On Orson Welles: Aric Olnes wrote “We will sell no Peep before its time” — an allusion to Welles’ pretentious 4/2/79 commercial for Paul Masson wines, concluding (to the noble music of Beethoven) “We will sell no wine before its time” —

  2. [BLOG] Some Saturday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky starts with another Peeps creation and moves on from […]

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