Le Paquebot Oxus 1906 (Fox)
The Oxus was among the fleet of the Messageries Maritime, a French merchant shipping company that transported passengers and also delivered packages and mail to people living in far-flung places. Launched in 1879, this magnificent steamship sailed with staterooms for 81 First Class passengers, for whom this menu was made. There was room too for 46 Second Class passengers, 36 Third Class passengers and as many as 1200 in steerage. It sailed to Hong Kong, China, Aden and Madagascar. This 1906 menu image of a fox in an apron, holding a tray of roast chicken, was created by the French illustrator and watercolor artist Auguste Vimar. Born in Marseille, France, in 1851, he became an illustrator for children’s books and also contributed some of his wonderful animal images to Le Figaro Illustré. He died in 1916. The wily fox and the little monkey chef were part of Vimar’s contribution to the fashion at that time for fantastical art images – later this style of artwork became known as "magical realism".
This was a hearty lunch menu which included items such as cold mutton, sardines, veal and eggs cooked to order.
Robert Bacon, the former American Secretary of State who served only 37 days in his post in 1909 until President Theodore Roosevelt left office, sailed on the Oxus to Hong Kong and China and described it as a “large and comfortable” ship. He noted in his published letters that armed men stood guard to prevent mutiny by the hundreds of Chinese passengers who were kept below decks and who obviously did not enjoy the luxuries of First, Second or Third Class.
Other menus in this series feature a lion, an ostrich, a tiger and a rhinoceros as waiters.
Courtesy Private Collection.