The Enduring Value of British “Vanity Fair” Lithographs
The caricatures capture a piece of Victorian and Edwardian era culture.
When people learn that I buy and sell Vanity Fair lithographs, they automatically think of the Vanity Fair magazine published in the United States. There were several iterations of Vanity Fair magazine, the first being an American publication which existed from 1859 to 1863. It was followed by the contemporary American magazine published from 1913 to 1936, which was revived in 1983.
The first issue of the British Vanity Fair was published in London on Nov. 7, 1868. It was founded and edited by Thomas Gibson Bowles. At the time, Vanity Fair was described as a weekly show of political, social and literary wares. Each issue contained a full page color lithographic portrait of a well known sovereign, statesman, or man of the day (some women were included), caricatured in a uniquely good-natured manner which became famous as the “Vanity Fair Style.” Working under the pseudonyms of “Spy” (Sir Leslie Ward, 1851-1922) and “Ape” (Carlo Pellegrini, 1838-1889), two artists in particular became notorious for their caricatures. Other fine artists also contributed portraits to the publication, including Max Beerbohm, James Jacques Tissot, Harry Furniss, Frank Paton, Walter Sickert and Alfred Thompson.
The last issue of the British Vanity Fair was published in 1914. Through its 45 year history it produced some of the most memorable caricatures of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Its wonderful, full color portrayals of prominent lawyers, judges, politicians, military figures, authors, actors, scientists and sportsmen of the day provide a valuable record of late 19th century personalities and their so-called vanities.
There are more than 2,000 interesting and colorful caricatures. These caricatures are actually chromo-lithographs, meaning they were produced using color lithography. The printing is from a stone or metal plate and can be used to print text or artwork onto paper or other suitable material. Lithography originally used an image drawn with oil, fat, or wax onto a limestone plate.
The subject matter range of the lithographs ranged from doctors and scientists to fox hunters and jockeys to judges and even aviators. Generally, they measure 11 inches by 15 inches, with some doubles measuring 16 inches by 20 inches. Though they depict life a century ago, these lithographs are still in high demand. A lithograph of cricket player E.W.Dillon currently sells for $2,995, proving their enduring cultural value.