Friday, October 4, 2019

You're So Vain, You Probably Think This Blog is About You

I found this print at an estate sale a couple weeks ago for $1.  I've seen the image before, but never knew much about it. The title is "All is Vanity" and it's by Charles Allan Gilbert.

It's known as a "memento mori" (Latin for "remember you will die") and the title has a dual meaning: Vanity in the woman gazing at herself as well as the vanity dressing table at which she sits. The title comes from Ecclesiastes 1:2 ("Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.")

The illusion, of course, is of a skull which needs no explanation or elaboration. I love how the perfume bottles form the teeth of the skull and how the candle forms the septum of the nose cavity. 

The print also reminds me of a post I did a couple years ago on turn-of-the-last-century postcards that featured a popular superstition of the time in which if a woman looked into a mirror at midnight on Halloween, she would see her future husband.  If that's the case, this woman is in trouble.

The print I have was published by Art-Lore, Inc. of New York City.  I couldn't find any information on this company, however, it isn't a particularly old print.  This can be determined by the presence or absence of a chandelier reflected in the mirror which appears above the woman's head in the original prints:

Apparently, later printers interpreted those as a smudge or eraser swipe and removed them.

Gilbert did the illustration as a 19-year-old art student attending the Art Students League of New York.  He later worked for a number of magazines including "The Saturday Evening Post", "Life", "Harper's", "Atlantic Monthly" and other magazines.

He also did advertising illustrations such as this ad for Ivory Soap.

During the mid 19-teens, he worked for John Bray creating an early animation series entitled "Silouette Fantasies".  Sadly, none of the original footage survives except for a few severely decayed stills.

During World War I, he worked as a camouflage artist for the United States Shipping Board.

He died of pneumonia at the age of 55 in 1929.


  1. I always thought this was a warning about the deadly junk in the cosmetics industry. For example, the practice of eating American Beauty Berry which is toxic and made women pale.

    1. I'd never heard of that. Those crazy Victorians.

  2. of course, being an art student, we studied memento mori, and this is a classic example. i've always loved the clever placement of objects to make the skull image work, too. i've never heard the cosmetics industry angle... it does work. arsenic for that gorgeous pale skin, anyone?

  3. Wow only 19 thats crazy! This was also used by Def Leppard for their Retro Active album from 1993.

  4. Mad Magazine had a version of that, showing a couple junkies in a dark room shooting up, the light of a candle or lamp creating the skull.

    1. Here ya go. Found the magazine and scanned it.

    2. Wow! Thanks! Pretty heavy stuff for Mad Magazine.


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