February 13 - April 26, 2007
Vanity Fair was first published by its founding editor, Thomas Gibson Bowles, on November 7, 1868. Bowles took its title at the suggestion of a friend, Colonel Fred Burnaby, from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and perhaps from William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel of the same name. He was a privileged, well-connected man, and his ambition for Vanity Fair was the desire to establish a periodical defining the social and cultural life of London in Victorian England. The caricatures came about within a few months of the initial publication and, as a particularly popular feature of the magazine, they were reprinted annually as albums. They captured a wide range of personalities and professions, and a comparison of them is interesting since Vanity Fair created the caricature of “man of the day” that was distinctive from their other two categories of “statesman” or “sovereign.” Bowles claimed these portrayals had no elements of “comicality”; rather, he asserted that they depicted an exaggeration of the person’s existing characteristic. However, some portrayals and their comments could be construed as defensive of their subject, such as the caricature of John Ruskin, or affectionate, such as the one of Lord Lytton. As their popularity increased, English celebrities accepted the idea of an appearance in Vanity Fair as bearing some social notoriety. All of the selected caricatures in this exhibition are men. There were a very few caricatures of females, such as Mrs. Georgina Weldon, who came to public attention when she impressively acted as her own lawyer in a petition for a divorce from her husband who attempted to have her imprisoned for insanity, or the scientist Marie Curie along with her husband, Pierre.
These prints were chromolithographs, made by a process that was much improved a few years before the magazine began. Several artists contributed these prints; however Carlo Pellegrini, who signed as “Singe” or later in English as “Ape,” and Leslie Ward, as “Spy,” were mostly responsible for these caricatures. Pelligrini was the magazine’s first caricaturist. Following in the 16th-century Italian tradition begun by the Carracci brothers of depicting personal features in a caricature, he created a distinctive style of caricature for the magazine. Other notable artists for Vanity Fair were Max Beerbohm, the American Thomas Nast, and James Tissot, whose prints reignited his career after his move to London in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian War. Bowles wrote the accompanying commentaries under the pseudonym Jehu Junior until 1889 when he sold the magazine. After nearly 50 years of caricatures in Vanity Fair, the feature ended in 1914 at the beginning of World War I, and the body of this work remained as a record of historical personalities of the Victorian-Edwardian era.
Matthews, Roy T. and Peter Mellini. In ‘Vanity Fair.’ Scolar Press: London. 1982.
Savory, Jerold J. The Vanity Fair Gallery. A. S. Barnes and Company, Inc.: Cranbury, NJ. 1979.
Gift of Jerry and Mary Bywaters