Artist Transforms Victorian Portraits into Superheroes

Nikola Budanovic
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Alex Gross has long been an important part of the contemporary art scene in the United States, and while his work is often exhibited in galleries across the country, Gross remains ever-popular for his illustrations across the web.

Among one of his most-captivating art projects is a selection of Victorian cabinet card paintings re-imagined as pop-culture superhero icons.

Cabinet cards became increasingly popular during the 1860s, replacing the former carte de visite as the prime form of portraiture, with the main advantage of this style being a larger in size than its predecessor. However, by the mid-1920s, cabinet cards too were abandoned as new photography technology developed.

Batman. Photo by Alex Gross


Amidala (Idolene Hackney). Photo by Alex Gross


Arya, Game of Thrones. Photo by Alex Gross


Batman & Catwoman. Photo by Alex Gross


Batman and Robin. Photo by Alex Gross


Batwoman. Photo by Alex Gross


Black Panther. Photo by Alex Gross


C3PO. Photo by Alex Gross


Captain Marvel. Photo by Alex Gross

Cabinet cards were first popularized in the United States by Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady, who marketed it to his clients under the name “Imperial Carte-de-Visite”, exploiting the established image format and spreading cabinet cards all over the war-torn country.

The format itself is an important part of the history of photography and as such has earned a place in the shrine of Gross’ trademark superheroes in every-day situations.

In an interview for Vivianite – The Painters Blog, Gross expressed personal admiration for the Victorian period and its imagery, which has a great deal of influence in his art.

In the same interview, the artist draws the connection between vintage family photos and his work. As history and genealogy play an important role for him, Gross likes to emphasize the personal connection between an artist and his art by using real-life photographs and re-imagining them through surreal and pop imagery.

Cat Woman (Julie Newmar). Photo by Alex Gross


Daredevil (Netflix). Photo by Alex Gross


Darth and Family. Photo by Alex Gross


Electro. Photo by Alex Gross


Fifties Superman. Photo by Alex Gross


Han Solo. Photo by Alex Gross


Kid Flash. Photo by Alex Gross


Magneto (Film). Photo by Alex Gross


Mr. Incredible. Photo by Alex Gross


Night King. Photo by Alex Gross


Poe Dameron. Photo by Alex Gross


Psylocke. Photo by Alex Gross


Superboy and Robin. Photo by Alex Gross


Supergirl. Photo by Alex Gross


The Dark Knight Joker. Photo by Alex Gross


The Dark Knight Batman. Photo by Alex Gross

These cabinet-cards reworked with pop-culture icons — featuring your cult favorites such as Star Wars, Batman, or the Marvel Universe characters — instead of distant relatives from the past are sure to strike a note.

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Gross seems to create an alternative reality for his subjects, giving them new life and placing them in unexpected roles. By fusing the old photographs of unknown people and globally recognized characters, the artist blurs the line between reality and fiction, giving birth to something new and unsettling.