Portraits, Vanity Fair, William Henry Gregory, MP, Statesman No 102, An Art Critic, 1871
Portrait: William Henry Gregory, MP
Paper Size: 230 x 355mm
Print Size: 190 x 305mm
Description: Lithograph printed in colour
New Vanity Fair
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.
Carlo Pellegrini: APE
Carlo Pellegrini (25 March 1839 – 22 January 1889), who did much of his work under the pseudonym of Ape ([ˈaːpe], Italian for "bee"), was an artist who served from 1869 to 1889 as a caricaturist for Vanity Fair magazine, a leading journal of London society. He was born in Capua, then in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. His father came from an ancient land-owning family, while his mother was allegedly descended from the Medici. His work for the magazine made his reputation and he became its most influential artist.
It is not recorded how Pellegrini met Thomas Bowles, the owner of Vanity Fair magazine, but he quickly found himself employed by that publication and became its first caricaturist, originally signing his work as 'Singe' (French for "Monkey") and later, and more famously, as 'Ape' (Italian for "Bee"). Pellegrini's work for the magazine made his reputation and he became its most influential artist, in which his caricatures were to be printed for over twenty years, from January 1869 to April 1889. His 1869 caricature of Benjamin Disraeli was the first colour lithograph to appear in the magazine, and proved immensely popular. It was the first of a highly successful series of more than two thousand caricatures published by Vanity Fair. Although the later caricatures by Sir Leslie Ward are perhaps now more well known, those by 'Ape' are regarded by many collectors as being artistically and technically superior.
Apart from drawing his caricatures for the magazine, Pellegrini also attempted to set himself up as a portrait painter, but this venture met with limited success. Pellegrini met Degas in London in the 1870s, and in about 1876–77 painted his portrait, inscribed 'à vous/Pellegrini' (to you/Pellegrini). In return, Degas painted Pellegrini's portrait, similarly inscribed.
Pellegrini was a member of the Beefsteak Club in London and there met Whistler, who became a great influence on his work; indeed, he even attempted to paint portraits in the style of Whistler. Pellegrini was also a member of The Arts Club from 1874 until 1888.
Pellegrini was extremely careful about his appearance, and would wear immaculate white spats with highly polished boots. He grew long Mandarin-like fingernails, would never walk when he could ride, and had a limitless fund of amusing stories and eccentricities. He spoke broken-English, flaunted his homosexuality (at a time when it was dangerous to do so), and would often bring macaroni dishes to elegant dinner parties. He would refuse invitations to country houses out of fear of strange beds, and had a habit of keeping a cigar in his mouth as he slept.
He died of lung disease at his home, 53 Mortimer Street, near Cavendish Square in London. He is buried in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London.