The Rowers of Vanity Fair/Brooks FV
Brooks, Frederick Vincent
“A Master Craftsman” (WH), September 18, 1912
Born, some sixty years ago, to a sturdy Radical whose father was a Chartist, Mr. Brooks was in due course sent to the High School, Bishop’s Stortford, then under Dr. Godfrey Goodman, where he became head boy of the school, when Cecil Rhodes and Dr. E.A. Beck (present Principal of Trinity Hall, Cambridge) were there. He is still, like Father O’Flynn, “learned in Divinity, also Latinity.”
A more serious part of his life has been spent in hardy exercises, which may account for his present outrageous health. He rowed, and was for many years captain of the old West London Rowing Club, for which he helped to win the Thames Cup at Henley in 1876. He also won sculling races until he grew well known on the river as “Daddy.”
He has swum with success, and has run without it; has taken much part in amateur theatricals; and his Sir Peter Teazle, played to Miss Compton’s Lady Teazle, is still remembered.
In 1868 Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles invented this Journal -- the first of its kind -- and a month or two later its first cartoon appeared, that of Mr. Benjamin Disraeli. Mr. Brooks has been connected with Vanity Fair ever since, and is still, as a lithographer, producing its counterfeit presentments of eminent men.
Is given to literary effort; has often contributed to the columns of VANITY FAIR and other journals; has been entrusted with the articles on lithography and sun-copying in the new edition of the “Encyclopaedia Britainnica,” and having considerable arbitration experience, he might with advantage have been included in the National Arbitration Committee on Trade Disputes.
He is not only a master-craftsman and a good speaker, but is a man altogether full of information, whose word is always believed, for he is as “straight” as he is modest.
A fair raconteur, a listener of quality, as Charles Lamb says of his father in his “Essays of Elia,” he is just such a companion as Mr. Isaac Walton would have chosen to go a-fishing with.
Frederick Vincent Brooks (1848-1921) rowed for the West London R.C. in the Diamonds in 1874 and the Thames Challenge Cup in 1874-76.
Vincent Brooks, his father, was a pioneering lithographer on whose expertise Bowles built Vanity Fair. In 1856, Brooks began reproducing old master paintings for the Arundel Society, an effort described as “the most important non-commercial application of chromolithography” in the country at the time. Eleven years later his firm acquired Day & Son, lithographers to the Queen, who had just brought chromolithography to the periodical press by publishing the Chromolithography Journal. Yet as of the founding of Vanity Fair in late 1868, the new technique had not been used with portrait caricature in England, since the well-established Punch used only wood engravings. Thus in announcing Vanity Fair’s forthcoming “Pictorial Wares of an entirely novel character” in January 1869, Bowles could as well have been describing the work of Vincent Brooks, Day & Son, the best and most expensive lithographers available, as the new portraits chargés of Carlo Pellegrini. By “exploiting the process of chromolithography and wedding it to a new kind of visual humour,” concluded art critic Bernard Denvir, Vanity Fair “helped to bring about a revolution in taste, preparing the way for the acceptance of less strictly representational art forms and breaching the fortifications of academic realism” with “a new kind of accessible imagery; coloured, vivacious, topical, cheap.”
Frederick Vincent Brooks was nineteen or twenty when Vanity Fair carried its first caricature, Pellegrini’s rendering of Benjamin Disraeli for the January 30, 1869 issue. If Brooks was working for his father at the time, as Vanity Fair’s 1912 biography says, then he had a longer running connection with the magazine than did anyone else (including “Spy,” Leslie Ward, who first came to work in 1873 and left in 1911). His connection might well have been shorter, had the owners and editors not clung to the weekly lithograph and eschewed other forms of illustration, well after photography had become widespread in the popular press.
Artists who recorded nineteenth-century rowing sometimes strayed from photographic fidelity, presumably because they either knew no better (not being oarsmen themselves) or enjoyed artistic license (say, to show crews close together just to fit them in the frame or to make the race seem more exciting than it was). Woodgate complained some had originally been drawn as they lay unmanned, and therefore were shown two planks too high out of the water when oarsmen were painted in after the fact. Unlike the Illustrated London News, the Graphic, or other Victorian journals, Vanity Fair never published any etchings or other renderings of rowing, though it did carry a photograph in 1908 of Leander beating the Belgians in the London Olympics. Nevertheless, under Woodgate’s pen, Vanity Fair gave no quarter to the inaccuracies in other journals’ pictures:
Vanity Fair(July 16, 1896)
The river cripple, who abounds at Henley, may generally be known by his attire: a starched shirt, a high collar, tie in a bow -- worn while rowing -- flannels, and a belt. The latter seems de rigeur with these creatures, and is their trade-mark. Needless to mention, no Rowing Club man uses a belt, and, moreover, when seated at oars or sculls, loosens his waistband or buttons to allow free swing to his body. A picture in The Daily Graphic depicting the “Grand” final is very true to life as regards Henley bounders, starched and belted. It is apparently taken from a photo of some scene on the course, and the racing crews afterwards inserted by hand. The eights are impossible, and never were in a photo; but the men in small boats and ashore are perfect samples of Henley louts. There is just one Rowing Club man in the distance, in workmanlike costume; all the rest look as if just off the shop-board.
Vanity Fair (July 11, 1906)
Talking of Henley, I trust I am not supercritical if I reason gently with Mr. Matania, whose picture appeared last week in the Sphere. He represents two “fours” with coxswains. Four-oar boats at Henley are steered by the foot of one of the crew, and not by coxswains. There was an exception this year in a sporting military match, Sappers v. Gunners; but this was in Thursday, and Mr. Matania depicts Tuesday.
Again, the launch following the crews is represented as a crowded pleasure steamer with a cabin. The long, low racing launch, on which the umpire and one or two friends stand, is not thus fitted. A punt with large fixed wooden rowlocks is an unusual innovation. That there were no pleasure craft whatever on the towpath side when the race took place is strange; and where are the posts and booms?
- ^ R. Burch, Colour Printing and Colour Printers, p. 211, reprinted in E. Harris & R. Ormond, Vanity Fair: An Exhibition of Original Cartoons, p. 7.
- ^ B. Denvir, “The Loaded Image,” Art & Artists (Sept. 1976), pp. 36-37.
- ^ Beauty and the Boats: Art & Artistry in Early British Rowing - illustrated from the Thomas E. Weil Collection (2005), pp. 46-47.
- ^ W.B. Woodgate, “Aquatic Recollections,” in British Sports and Sportsmen: Yachting and Rowing p. 340. See also G. Winter, “Rowing Prints for the Collector,” Apollo (April 1937), pp. 187-88.