Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Perfect Man


Fin-de-sciele ideals of femininity and masculinity usually bring to mind the tight-laced corset and the dandy, but there was another ideal strutting about 1890s that we tend to forget about. He was a German called Eugen Sandow, and they called him "the Perfect Man."


Today, Sandow is considered the founder of modern bodybuilding. Essentially, he measured the Greek and Roman statues of men in museums, and sculpted his own body to look the part, developing what was called "the Grecian Ideal."

Born in Prussia (1867), as Friedrich Wilhelm Müller, Sandow was the name he adopted when he began travelling through Europe as a circus athlete. Sandow ran away to join the circus in 1885 to avoid mandatory military service. He arrived in London in 1889, performing as a strong man, and became an instant success!

There's so much wonderful Sandow propaganda from the 1890s.

An 1890s cigar label
Cocoa for Health & Strength
Photographic card
"Here! Have a picture of my butt!"
Wearing little more than a fig leaf and a pair of tights, Sandow would imitate the poses of the statues he modelled his body after.


Sandow married Blanche Brooks from Manchester in 1896, with whom he had two daughters. Sadly, he was not a faithful husband, and his life came to an unhappy end in 1925.

Modern biographers speculate that he may have died of syphilis, but newspapers reported that it was a brain hemorrhage, brought on by great strain. According to the papers, Sandow had tried to single-handedly lift his car out of a ditch after an accident, two or three years earlier.

Whatever the cause, Sandow died at home, and his aggrieved wife refused to mark his grave.

Further reading: The Perfect Man by David Waller

After a reader asked me who the perfect woman was, I wrote a post to explain.

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4 comments:

  1. Lovely to see Mr Sandow in all his glory! Have you read The Perfect Man by David Waller?

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    1. Great book! I will add a link to that. Thank you!

      This post came about when my husband started to describe the strong man outfit and the kind of work out he will have to do when he starts curling his mustache. He didn't know who Sandow was. I think everybody should!

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  2. Wonderful postcards and picture! Very fun..... and who was the perfect woman? Did she wear fig leaves too?

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    1. Great question and thanks for the idea. I just wrote a whole post about that. http://1890swriters.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-perfect-woman.html

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