Charles Allen Gilbert

produced the famous All is Vanity illustration in 1892. The illustrator was 18 years old at the time. The painting remained unsold for many years until a decade later, when Gilbert finally sold the original to the LIFE Publishing Co, a tiny cartoon tabloid sold in railroad stations for a nickel.

The Vanity’s first appearance in LIFE in 1902 was an instant success. All is Vanity was soon mass-produced in a larger size, and sold to an enthusiastic American public.

There has been no decrease in Vanity’s popularity since the first publication. Vanity currently enjoys a global appeal, and the prints can be found in many countries around the world.

After so many mass printings, Vanity can be found in a wide variety of printer styles, quality, age, size, and color. Prints closest to the original will be prints with the best detail, and authentic quality. Like an old copier that spits out duplicates of a document, details are often lost; a copy of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, etc.

Many people have Vanity prints of their own that have been handed down, or purchased in garage, and estate sales. There is a simple test that you can use to determine the age and quality of your print. Study the skull’s forehead in your print. In the very earliest prints, there are several vertical artifacts which look like eraser smudges. They are in fact, not smudges, but were put there by the artist to indicate a chandelier that is reflected in the mirror. See detail below.

Vanity Detail

If your Vanity print has this detail, it is probably a early printing, and may have come from the first mass reproduction by LIFE in 1902. This is about as good as you can get in antique Vanity prints.

If your print does not have the chandelier detail, it is probably slightly more modern than the oldest mass productions.

Often other illusion paintings are erroneously attributed to Gilbert such as Gossip, and Satan Came Also, and Society: A Portrait, but these prints are the work of one of Gilbert’s contemporaries, George Wotherspoon.

One way to assure that you get the finest quality All is Vanity print available is to purchase your reproduction from SandlotScience. Our original predates the first mass production, and the quality is super-fine.

You can purchase a museum-quality, archival print of All is Vanity from our master, or a handsomely framed print from our master at CafePress.

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