Vanity Fair: Mr Richard Dowse M.P - Carlo Pellegrini (SPY)
Mr Richard Dowse M.P - Carlo Pellegrini (APE)
Print Size: 21 x 35cm, Matted.
New Vanity Fair, SPY.
If you're looking for a who's who of Victorian life then grabbing an old copy of Vanity Fair is a good place to start. The most successful 'Society Magazine' in the history of English journalism, the publication ran under the promise of presenting “a weekly show of Political, Social and Literary Wares”. For almost fifty years it invited readers to recognise their vanities and each week it would summarise world events, review West End shows and – most importantly – caricature its readers! From artists and authors to scholars and statesmen; the Vanity Fair caricature was an integral part of upper-class Victorian life.
Leslie Ward: SPY
The most prolific caricaturist at the magazine was undoubtedly Leslie 'Spy' Ward (1851–1922). From 1873 until 1911, Spy captured the people and personalities of Victorian society. During his time at the magazine, he produced more than half of its 2,387 caricatures and documented the best-known figures of the day. His work was immensely popular and he was largely responsible for reviving the tradition of the single figure caricature
These days, these types of drawings may feel like a bit of an oddity – they tend to lack the satirical edge we think of when we first think of caricatures. Yet despite this, Spy was undoubtedly one of the best of his era. His images may feel more complementary than insulting, but this is very telling of the time in which they were made.
Spy's era was that of the Victorian Empire. While we may have spoken already at some length about this period, it's not something that can easily be ignored. The Victorians played a huge role in shaping many aspects of Western culture and the social factors behind these developments are hugely relevant when looking at the context of anything that was created during this time. The era was one that was defined by huge class divides. It was a time of reputations and an era where respectability meant everything. Undoubtedly, these factors shaped the world of illustration too.
His early caricatures were closer to the types of satirical drawings we think of today. They have distorted proportions; large heads and exaggerated features. Yet the longer he stayed at the magazine, the more his reputation grew. Over the course of his career his style developed, moving further away from caricature and turning more into what he described as 'characteristic portraits'.
These conventional interpretations brought him great acclaim and his sustained productivity brought him great popularity. He might not have had the originality or artistic talents of some of his contemporaries, but his strong work ethic was worthy enough to justify his success. In 1918 he received a knighthood to highlight his 'good work to the citizens of the British Empire'