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John Cleese and Graham Chapman dig into some art (GIF by the author via YouTube)

Given that so much of Monty Python’s humor was predicated on testing and twisting codes of civility and decorum, it’s surprising their Flying Circus didn’t alight more frequently in that most stuffily decorous setting, the art museum. That said, in a memorable visit from the first season, John Cleese and Graham Chapman (in drag as mothers with a taste for corporeal punishment, naturally) take bites out of a Turner seascape.

In a skit from the second season, the subjects of the most famous paintings at London’s National Gallery go on strike. Mad about the way the galleries have been rehung, figures from John Constable’s “The Hay Wain” (1821), Jan van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrait” (1434), and a host of paintings that aren’t actually in the National Gallery’s collection (including the Mona Lisa, Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus,” and Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Marat”) join the picket line. In an ensuing faux-news report, a Sotheby’s Old Masters sale bombs because the human figures in the works up for sale literally exit their painted environments to strike in solidarity.

In typically whimsical fashion, the very first episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus features a long gag about Pablo Picasso attempting to create a painting while cycling through the English countryside. Needless to say, the stunt does not go as planned.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

3 replies on “Monty Python Goes to the Art Museum”

  1. Wonderful! I love No-Time Toulouse as well…but don’t forget Michelangelo’s (ahem!) Last Supper and the Pope…”What do you mean you don’t like the kangaroo?!”

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