All Is Vanity By Charles Allen Gilbert And Grandfather

 I was thinking of my Grandfather the other day.  He's been gone a good many years now and, as happens with the passage of time, many of the recollections are lost but there's always wonderful memories that stick with you,  I have many of them, despite the decades that have passed.

The famous optical illusion, "All Is Vanity",  by Charles Allan Gilbert, always sparks thoughts of my Granddad.  One of my earliest memories is of the Vanity hanging on the wall in his front room.  It was there as long as I can recall and I still remember taking it off the wall when he passed.  I still have it.

Although Grandpop was an interesting character in his own right, most folks don't need to hear family stories, so I'll move on to the subject at hand, being "The Vanity". 

The history behind "All In Vanity" is something that people occassionally ask about whenever they see it hanging on our wall.  Many of them also recall relatives who had the same print as it was pretty popular.

And discussion of the Vanity would be ridiculous without an image, so here it is.

All Is Vanity

"All Is Vanity"
Charles Allen Gilbert – 1892

The first reaction that "it's a skull" is natural.   Most folks never pick up the details until they get a bit closer.  The actual image, of course, being of an attractive woman at her makeup table.  It's a striking illusion and we'll let you render your own meaning from it.

The model, from what I've been able to ascertain from my studies, was Gilbert's mother although Mrs. Huntington may have passed for her some many years ago.  The artist was just 18 years old when he completed this famous work, which is also his best known. 

As great as it is, it wouldn't find extensive recognition until it was sold to Life Magazine in 1902, ten years after.

Charles Allen Gilbert also made contributions to early film animation and later became a camoflage artist for the U.S. Shipping Board, presumably during the Great War.  He is also credited with illustrating quite a number of books.

He passed away, at a relatively young 55, in 1929.   He is still best known, over 100 years later, for the masterpiece, "All Is Vanity".

The brief history being concluded, Grandpop considered it to be one of the greatest works of art of all time, as many of his generation seemed to have done.  We've continued the tradition and it's one of our most highly prized heirlooms.

Phineous Zivick Huntington
February 15, 2010

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