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Vanity Fair Portfolio

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Over a span of nearly fifty years (1868-1914), the society magazine Vanity Fair established its reputation as one of the most popular and respected periodicals in English journalism. Founded by Thomas Gibson Bowles (1842-1922) in 1868, the weekly magazine was designed to appeal to the "Smart Set" of British culture-an educated audience with refined and diverse interests. In addition to its news summaries it included such features as travel reports, financial advice columns, serialized novels, word games, and gossip columns. In its second year of publication, Bowles decided to include in each issue a caricature of a prominent figure of the time. These color lithographs became the most recognizable feature of the magazine and are considered valuable collector's items today.

From stern judges to fashionable ladies, a wide variety of subjects graced the pages of Vanity Fair . Among the dapper sportsmen and English businessmen are also royal and ambassadorial figures from India , Africa , and China . To sit for one of these portraits was considered an honor, though often the likenesses were less than flattering. Carlo Pellegrini (alias "Ape") was the artist most closely associated with the magazine from its inception. Leslie Ward ("Spy") became known for his methodical renderings of Britain 's most famous people later in the 1870s. But perhaps the most recognizable images from Vanity Fair were the playful portraits drawn by Max Beerbohm ("Ruth") in the early years of the twentieth century. These cartoon-like drawings illustrated his skill at simultaneously capturing the physical presence and personality of each subject.

This selection of Vanity Fair prints is part of a larger collection compiled by the late Cecil Y. Lang, Professor of English at the University of Virginia from 1967 to 1991. Noted for editing the letters of Victorian poet Matthew Arnold, Lang used the prints as a resource in identifying some of the individuals mentioned in Arnold 's correspondence. Lang donated his collection to the University Library in 2002. The gift comprised 900 of these remarkable portraits, each showcasing a noteworthy personality of the Victorian era.


Dana Wheeles

Department of Art History

University of Virginia