Wilfrid M. de Freitas - Bookseller

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Vanity Fair Prints

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The History of Vanity Fair

			Vanity Fair Cover

The Magazine

In 1868, Thomas Gibson Bowles founded what would become the foremost Society magazine of Victorian and Edwardian Britain, Vanity Fair. Subtitled "A Weekly Show of Political, Social, and Literary Wares", it offered articles on current events and issues of the day, reviews of the theatre and the new books, reports on social events and the latest scandals, together with serialized fiction, word games, and other minutiae of the day.

After Bowles sold his interest in the magazine in 1889, it changed hands several times, although succeeding publishers continued to honour the founder's vision of a witty, insightful and slightly irreverent chronicle of Britain and the British. Vanity Fair continued publishing its unique brand of social journalism until early 1914, when it merged with Hearth and Home and its name passed from use.

The Caricatures

One of the most popular features of the magazine was the weekly caricature. From January 30, 1869 (Benjamin Disraeli) to January 14, 1914 (Joseph Chamberlain) with few interruptions, subjects chosen from among the gliterati of the day, were depicted with humour, candour and even a bit of flattery by the artists. Lawyers, clergymen, actors and sportsmen, were mixed with businessmen, scientists, authors and social climbers to produce a unique cross-section of society in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Although mostly British, subjects were also chosen from Europe, America, and virtually all areas of the world.

There were over 2300 caricatures drawn by more than 90 artists, many of whom were top illustrators of the day, while others were known mostly for these portraits (see Carlo Pelegrini ("Ape") at right). Still, for all the variety, a Vanity Fair print is unmistakable. Other contemporary journals, most notably The World, tried to duplicate them, even hiring some of the same artists, but none could capture the delicate balance of portrait, setting and wit that characterizes these images. It is this distinctive style and the wide range of people depicted that continues to appeal to collectors a century later.

Carlo Pelegrini or Ape

For detailed information on the caricatures and a fuller history of the magazine, see In 'Vanity Fair' by Roy T. Matthews and Peter Mellini. London: Scolar Press; Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982.

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Wilfrid M. de Freitas - Bookseller
P.O. Box 232, Westmount Station
Westmount (Montreal), Quebec, Canada H3Z 2T2
Tel: (514) 935-9581
E-mail: Wilfrid@deFreitasBooks.com

Last updated: 3/14/20
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