Illustration of man hunched over a table writing with a quill. He his seating on a sofa chair, with a basket of trash paper next to him.
Un Revers, [1909]

© The Estate of Sir Max Beerbohm. Courtesy Berlin Associates. Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press

The English artist and writer Sir Max Beerbohm (1872–1956)—or just “Max,” as he came to be known—felt the uneasiness about the power of celebrity that many of us feel today. He longed to be a celebrity himself: to be admired and sought after, to earn money and wield influence. From an early age, he fashioned an instantly recognizable public persona as a sophisticated London dandy in beautifully tailored suits. (This was unchanging, from his first success as a writer and caricaturist in late-Victorian London through his career as a BBC radio personality in the 1930s and 40s.) At the same time, he was aware of the dangers that cultlike worship posed. He worried, too, that unrelenting pursuit of popularity could destroy both art and its makers.

Beerbohm’s way of dealing with this conflict was to become famous for pricking the balloons of those who were famous. He parodied their writings. He exhibited and published caricatures making fun of their physical appearance. He produced essays and reviews that were amusing but sharply critical. He wrote comic fiction about people obsessed with becoming celebrities or being with them. Whatever he admired, he also questioned and mocked, including the concept of celebrity. Today, he offers an example of how art can address the world around us, yet also stand apart, especially through laughter. Contemporary comic writers, social commentators, and graphic novelists who deal in irony, visual humor, and pointed satire stand on his shoulders (though he would have asked them politely to stand somewhere else).

This exhibition is organized by The New York Public Library and curated by Margaret D. Stetz, Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women's Studies and Professor of Humanities at the University of Delaware, and Mark Samuels Lasner, Senior Research Fellow, University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press, with the assistance of Julie Carlsen, Assistant Curator, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, The New York Public Library.

Explore the full exhibition and listen to the audio guide on Bloomberg Connects, the free arts and culture app.

Exhibition Guide

Have a look through the exhibition's printed guide.

Free Event | Curator Talk with Margaret Stetz and Mark Lasner

Headshot photos of Mark Samuels Lasner and Margaret D. Stetz.
Friday, December 1, 2023, 2–3 PM

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

Join the curators of the first major exhibition of Max Beerbohm’s work in nearly 50 years for a behind-the-scenes look.

Margaret Stetz and Mark Lasner, curators of Max Beerbohm: The Price of Celebrity, will join us in the Lenox and Astor Room to discuss selected highlights from the show.

Mark Samuels Lasner, senior research fellow at the University of Delaware Library, Museums, and Press, is a recognized authority on the literature and art of the Victorian period. Margaret D. Stetz is the Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women's Studies and Professor of Humanities at the University of Delaware.


Explore the Exhibition

Access the exhibition in full via the digital galleries below. Item numbers correspond to numbering on the labels in the gallery and to the accompanying printed guide.

Learn More About Max Beerbohm at the Library

Interior of the Berg Collection featuring a study table and card catalog cabinet.

The New York Public Library is an invaluable resource for scholars, students, and creators in New York and worldwide. With more than 46 million objects in our research collections and the unparalleled expertise of our librarians, anyone can come and find what they need for their workfor free. Learn more about research at NYPL.

Access materials related to Max Beerbohm: The Price of Celebrity in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, and explore the Max Beerbohm Collection of papers.

Curatorial Acknowledgements

With many thanks for permission from the copyright holder, the Estate of Max Beerbohm, represented by Berlin Associates, where we were assisted by Marc Berlin and Maddie O’Dwyer.

We also thank the lenders: the University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press (especially Lori Birrell, Director of Special Collections and Museums; Jan Gardner Broske, Collections Manager and Curator, Museums; Michael McShane, Graduate Assistant in the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection; and Thomas Pulhamus, Senior Assistant Librarian and Digital Technology Librarian); The University of Tulsa, McFarlin Library (especially Melissa Kunz); Princeton University Library, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (William Noel and Molly Dotson); The University of Texas, Harry Ransom Center (especially Stephen Enniss, Ester Harrison, and Cathy Henderson); Houghton Library, Harvard University (especially Thomas Hyry, Leslie A. Morris, and Carie McGinnis); The Frederick R. Koch Foundation (especially John Olsen). And our special thanks, too, to James B. Sitrick and Anne Sitrick.

We are also grateful for assistance from Margaret Ford, International Head of Group, Books & Science, Christie’s, London, as well as from Peter Nahum.

Deepest thanks are due to our design team, including William Watson (Castro-Watson), Corey Yurkovich (Office CY), and Michael Dyer (Remake).

Many people at The New York Public Library were invaluable in making this exhibition possible. They include Tony Marx, President; Brent Reidy, Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries; Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions; Becky Laughner, Manager of Exhibitions; and Carolyn Vega, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Curator of English and American Literature. Additional thanks are due to curators Michael Inman, Charles Carter, Maggie Mustard, Madeleine Viljoen; librarians Jessica Cline and Kyle Triplett; the Exhibitions team (especially Carl Auge, Ryan Douglass, Jake Hamill, Natalie Ortiz, Tereza Chanaki, and Petra Dijur); the Registrar (especially Deborah Straussman, Caryn Gedell, and Martin Branch-Shaw); the Conservation team (especially Mary Oey, Hanako Murata, Emily Muller, and Addison Yu); the Copyright team (especially Kiowa Hammons and Dina Selfridge); the Digital Imaging Unit (especially Steven Crossot and Doran Walot); the Communications team (especially Katharina Seifert, Charles Arrowsmith, Sara Beth Joren, Laurie Beckoff, and Maya Sariahmed); the Public Programs team (especially Aidan Flax-Clark); and the Visitor Experience team (especially Diogo Cardoso).

Large-type Labels

Large Print logo

Access the exhibition's large-type labels.

A physical copy can be found at the information desk in the Astor Hall information desk.

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