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Artworks: cartoons & caricatures: 'Vanity Fair' collection

Since early in the 19th century, the Rothschilds have been almost constantly in the public eye, across Europe and beyond, but the public profile of the family has swung wildly with changing times and in different countries. Caricature provides an effective barometer of those varying moods and attitudes. Caricature highlights moments when the family has been the butt of virulent anti-semitism or has been identified with unpopular causes or movements and attacked as a readily accessible symbol. Equally, it can reflect moods of gentle - even affectionate - pinpointing of eccentricity or idiosyncracy, and it reflects and comments on significant moments in history in which the Rothschilds have been involved. 

Vanity Fair chromolithographs

Vanity Fair was a magazine published in the United Kingdom from 1868 to 1914. Subtitled "A Weekly Show of Political, Social and Literary Wares", it was founded by Thomas Gibson Bowles, who aimed to expose the contemporary vanities of Victorian society. The first issue appeared in London on 7 November 1868. It offered its readership articles on fashion, current events, the theatre, books, social events and the latest scandals, together with serial fiction, word games and other trivia. Thomas Allinson bought the magazine in 1911 from Frank Harris, by which time it was failing financially. He failed to revive it and the final issue of Vanity Fair in this guise appeared on 5 February 1914, after which it was merged into Hearth and Home.

Gibson Bowles invited readers to recognise the vanities of human existence through the magazine’s prose and coloured caricatures. A full-page, colour chromolithograph of a contemporary celebrity or dignitary appeared in most issues, and it is for these caricatures that Vanity Fair of the period is best known. Subjects included artists, sportsmen, royalty, statesmen, scientists, authors, actors, soldiers, religious personalities, businessmen and scholars. More than two thousand of these images appeared, and they are considered the chief cultural legacy of the magazine, forming a pictorial record of the period. They were produced by an international group of artists. Of these, ’Ape’, ‘Spy’ and ‘Lib’ were the most prolific. ‘Ape’ (Italia for 'bee') was the pseudonym of the caricaturist Carlo Pellegrini (1839-1889). ‘Spy’ was the pseudonym of the portrait artist and caricaturist Sir Leslie Matthew Ward (1851-1922), and ‘Lib’ was the pseudonym of Liborio Prosperi (1858-1928). Over four decades, ‘Spy’ produced 1,325 portraits which were regularly published by Vanity Fair. Early portraits were almost always full-length, and had a strong element of caricature and usually distorted the proportions of the body, with a very large head and upper body. Later, as he became socially accepted in the society in which he moved to gain access to his subjects, and not wishing to cause offence, his style developed into what he called ‘characteristic portraits’, being less of a caricature and more of an actual portrait of the subject, using realistic body proportions. Max Beerbohm, Melchiorre Delfico, the Florentine artist and critic Adriano Cecioni, the French artist James Tissot, and the American Thomas Nast also produced portraits for the magazine series.

The portraits were produced as watercolours and turned into chromolithographs for publication in the magazine. Many were subsequently reproduced on high quality paper and sold as prints. Most were printed by Vincent, Brooks, Day & Son, although towards the end of the series some were printed by Bemrose, Dalziel Ltd and Hemschel Colourtype. Such was Ward's influence in the genre that all Vanity Fair caricatures of this period are sometimes referred to as 'Spy cartoons', regardless of the name of the actual artist.

The Rothschild Archive collection of Vanity Fair cartoons

The Archive holds  a small collection of examples from  the series, featuring members of the Rothschild family and notable 'men of the day'. A full list of cartoons, with dates of publication, the subject, the artist, the caption and an image of cartoon will be found online here.

This collection was brought together by the Archive from a  variety of sources. The majority of the cartoons of members of the Rothschild family came from the NMR Secretary’s Department, and were framed for hanging at New Court. Other examples have been gifted to the Archive by private donors.

Cartoons & caricatures: 'Vanity Fair' chromolithographs of Rothschild family members, 1871-1900

000/212, 2 boxes

A small collection of original colour chromolithographs published in Vanity Fair featuring ‘Rothschilds’ (with extracts of accompanying text). Some items are loose, some are framed. Note: The Archive has multiple copies of some items. 

  • Statesman No.85 – “The Winner of the race" by Ape, 27 May 1871. [Mayer Amschel de Rothschild (1818-1874)];
  • Men of the Day No.159 – “Baron Lionel” by Ape, 22 September 1877 [Lionel de Rothschild (1808-1879)];
  • Men of the Day No.306 – “Alfred” by Spy, 31 May 1884 [Alfred de Rothschild (1842-1918)];
  • Men of the Day No.321 – “Racing & Sporting” by Spy, 13 December 1884 [Leopold de Rothschild (1845-1917)];
  • Statesman No.544 – “Natty” by Lib, 9 June 1888 [Nathaniel, 1st Lord Rothschild (1840-1915)];
  • Statesman No.567 – “Ferdy” by Hay, 15 June 1889 [Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898)];
  • Men of the Day No.597 – “Alphonse” by Guth, 20 September 1894 [Alphonse de Rothschild (1868-1949)];
  • Men of the Day No.786 – “Eros” by Spy, 2 August 1900 [Arthur de Rothschild (1851-1903)];
  • Statesman No.727 – “The Aylesbury Division” by Spy, 13 September 1900 [Lionel Walter, 2nd Lord Rothschild (1868-1937)].

Cartoons & caricatures: 'Vanity Fair' chromolithographs of 'notable men of the day', 1898-1911

000/659, 1 box

A small collection of original colour chromolithographs published in Vanity Fair featuring notable men of the day (with extracts of accompanying text). Some items are loose, some are framed. 

  • The Indian Rothschild by Spy, 16 August 1879. [Sir Albert Abdullah Sassoon (1818-1896), Baghdad-born businessman and philanthropist];
  • Barings by Lib, 11 August 1888. [Edward Baring, 1st Lord Revelstoke (1828-1897), British banker];
  • Algy by Spy, 20 January 1898. [The Hon Algernon Henry Bourke (1854-1922), author and poet];
  • Eastern Finance by Spy, 20 April 1899. [Sir Edgar Vincent, 1st Visount d’Abernon (1857-1941), British politician and diplomat];
  • Copper by Spy, 13 July 1899 [Reginald Ward, American copper magnate];
  • The Daily News by Spy, 17 August 1899. [Edward Tyas Cook (1857-1919), journalist and writer]
  • Hoxton Division by Stuff, 5 October 1899. [Dr James Stuart (1843-1913), Scottish scientist and politician];
  • Egyptian Finance by Spy, 7 December 1899. [Sir Ernest Cassel (1852-1921), British banker];
  • Hythe by Spy, 1 February 1900 [Sir Edward Albert Sassoon (1856-1912), British businessman and politician];
  • Canada in London by Spy, 19 April 1900 [Donald Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona & Mount Royal, Scottish-Canadian businessman];
  • Berlin by Spy, 27 March 1902 [Sir Frank Cavendish Lascelles (1841-1920), British diplomat];
  • Washington by Spy, 15 January 1903. [Sir Michael Henry Herbert (1857-1903), British diplomat];
  • Washington Post by Spy, 12 May 1904. [The Rt Hon. Sir Henry Mortimer Durand (1850-1924), British Anglo-Indian diplomat];
  • Joe's Stage Manager by Spy, 17 November 1904. [Sir Arthur Pearson (1866-1921), journalist and publisher];
  • Samuel Hope Morley by Spy, Vanity Fair supplement, 17 August 1905 [Samuel Morley, 1st Baron Hollenden (1845-1929), British businessman];
  • An Encyclopaedia - a work containing information on every department, or on a particular department. of knowledge, generally in alphabetical order. "Twentieth Century Dictionary" by Spy, Vanity Fair supplement, 19 October 1905. [Thomas Gibson Bowles (1842-1922), publisher of Vanity Fair];
  • South Africa by Spy, Vanity Fair supplement, 29 June 1906. [Edward Peter Mathers (1850-1924), British newspaper proprietor];
  • Diplomacy by Spy, Vanity Fair supplement, 1 May 1907. [The Rt. Hon. Sir Nicholas Roderick O' Connor (1843-1908) [Anglo-Irish diplomat];
  • ? - ! by Ritchie, 13 September 1909. [James Louis Gavin (1868-1947), journalist and author];
  • A Good Listener by Spy, Vanity Fair supplement, 22 September 1909. [Raymond Blathwayt (1855-1935), actor];
  • Diplomaticus by Ritchie, 20 December 1911 [Lucien Wolf (1857-1930), journalist, historian and Jewish advocate];  
  • P.W.W. by Spy, Vanity Fair supplement, 27 December 1911. [Philip Whitwell Wilson (1875-1956), Liberal politician and journalist].