The “All is Vanity” image

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ON THIS DATE
 in 1873, Charles Allan Gilbert was born in Hartford, Connecticut. At age eighteen, he drew a spooky double image of a young woman and a huge, grinning skull. Titled All is Vanity, the image took its name from a phrase in the Bible and offered a pun on the vanity, or dressing table, where the woman sat while admiring herself in the mirror.

It took 10 years for Gilbert to find a publisher for his illustration. Finally, in 1902, he sent it to a five-cent tabloid called Life that sold in railroad stations. The image appeared in posters and other forms over the following years, becoming possibly the most reproduced illusion in history.

Gilbert later illustrated books, including Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1920).

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