American graphic artist Charles Dana Gibson
Author George Grantham Bain
Collection Library of Congress
American graphic artist Charles Dana Gibson
Charles Dana Gibson (September 14, 1867 – December 23, 1944) was an American graphic artist, best known for his creation of the Gibson Girl, an iconic representation of the beautiful and independent American woman at the turn of the 20th century.
Gibson was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts to Charles DeWolf Gibson and Josephine Elizabeth Lovett. He was the great-grandson of U.S. Senator James DeWolf and the great-great-grandson of U.S. Senator William Bradford. A talented youth, he was enrolled by his parents in New York's Art Students League, where he studied for two years.
After studying for a year at the Art Students' League in New York City, Gibson began contributing to the humorous weekly Life. His Gibson girl drawings, modeled after his wife, followed and had an enormous vogue. Gibson's facile pen-and-ink style, characterized by a fastidious refinement of line, was widely imitated and copied. His popularity is attested by the fact that Collier's Weekly paid him $50,000, said at the time to have been the largest amount ever paid to an illustrator, for which Gibson rendered a double-page illustration every week for a year, usually of comic or sentimental situations of the day.
In Victorian times, illustrators for popular magazines had as much influence on people as movies and television do today. Just as we now look for fashion ideas and moral inspiration from celebrities, actors, or musicians, so the Americans of the 1890's and first two decades of the past century found their hopes and ideals expressed in the pen-and-ink drawings of Charles Dana Gibson. Many writers have attempted to describe the Gibson Girl, but Susan E. Meyer, in her book America's Great Illustrators did it best and most simply:
"She was taller than the other women currently seen in the pages of magazines, infinitely more spirited and independent, yet altogether feminine. She appeared in a stiff shirtwaist, her soft hair piled into a chignon, topped by a big plumed hat. Her flowing skirt was hiked up in back with just a hint of a bustle. She was poised and patrician. Though always well bred, there often lurked a flash of mischief in her eyes."
The flash of mischief was not lost upon readers. It was a characteristic they loved, that seemed to exemplify the American spirit of resourcefulness, adventurousness, and liberation from European traditions. His father was a Civil War lieutenant who dabbled as an amateur artist, and his mother was a warm-hearted spontaneous woman who lavished affection and encouragement on her five children. During a childhood illness, Gibson's father taught him how to make silhouettes of people, animals, and trees, and eventually Charles became so adept at it that when he was twelve, his parents entered his work in an exhibition that gained him his first recognition as an artist.
The development of the Gibson Girl from 1890 and her nationwide fame made Gibson respected and wealthy. In 1895, he married Irene Langhorne, born in Danville, Virginia, a sister of Nancy Astor, the first woman to serve in as a Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons. The elegant Langhorne sisters, born to a once-wealthy Virginia family devastated by the Civil War, served as the inspiration for the famous Gibson Girls. He became the editor and eventual owner of Life after the death of Mitchell in 1918. The popularity of the Gibson Girl faded after World War I, and Gibson took to working with oils for his own pleasure.
Charles Dana Gibson’s images of America, especially American women, from the 1890s through 1910, defined the age contemporaneously and retrospectively. Her poise (above), . . . . is one of 56 drawn illustrations Gibson created for Robert W. Chambers’ 1911 novel, The Common Law. The story chronicles the tribulations of a young woman, Valerie West (the young lady pictured at the middle left of the above scene), who was left penniless after her mother dies. She supports herself as an artist’s model and becomes involved with two painters: the wealthy talented and young Louis Neville, the first artist for whom she first modeled, and the unpredictable hot-blooded Spanish painter, Querida. On this drawing, under Gibson’s signature, is written, “At the Five Minute Club.” Chambers described the club in his novel as, “. . . a semi-fashionable, semi-artistic affair—one of the incarnations of the latest group of revolting painters and sculptors and literary people, diluted with a little society and a good deal of near-society. . . . Its devotees were the devotees of Richard Strauss, of Huysmans, of Manet, of Degas, . . . .”
In this illustration at the tea table of the Five Minute Club, Valerie West drew the assembly around her as they admired her poise and beauty. At this first introduction to the club, she and Neville found themselves appalled by the assembled members, where they saw those with little talent applauded others of the same. Chambers and Gibson were long-time friends, having met while students at the Art Students’ League in New York. Chambers went on to study art in Paris and later produced illustrations for some of the major publications of the day. By the mid-1890s Chambers was focused on writing popular fiction. Over the years Gibson produced illustrations for many of Chambers’ stories and books. When Chambers wrote this story about artist studio life in New York, it was based on his own first-hand knowledge. Fascinatingly, even before Gibson’s images of American women were described by his name in the popular press of the new century, independent-minded working women were often described as a “Chambers Girl.” So popular was this novel that in 1916 Selznick Enterprises released a now lost silent movie of this story with Clara Kimball Young and Conway Tearle in the lead roles (with her real father, Edward M. Kimball playing Neville’s father); in 1923 the story was produced again with Tearle reprising his role and Corinne Griffith as Valerie West; and in 1931 it was remade with Constance Bennett as Valerie West and a young Joel McCrea as Neville.
(Joyce K. Schiller, Curator, Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies at the Norman Rockwell Museum at rockwell-center.org)
They are only collecting the usual fans and gloves
Published in Sketches and Cartoons, 1898
Humorous character study
The Eleventh Inning
The Majority of Men are Heroes
The Leading Features of a Liberal Education
In 1905 he withdrew from illustrative work to devote himself to portraiture in oil, which he had already taken up; but within a few years he again returned to illustration. He also illustrated books, notably The Prisoner of Zenda, and published a number of books of his drawings. London as Seenby C.D. Gibson (1895–97), People of Dickens (1897), and Sketches in Egypt (1899) were editions of travel sketches. The books of his famed satirical drawings of “high society” included The Education of Mr. Pipp (1899), Americans (1900), A Widow and Her Friends (1901), The Social Ladder (1902), and Our Neighbors (1905).
After World War I (during which Gibson led his fellow artists in creating soul-stirring patriotic art) and the death of his mentor John Ames Mitchell, Gibson took over Life himself, as editor. Unfortunately - or perhaps it was fortunate from Gibson's point of view, because now he had the time to paint in oils, which his busy schedule had long precluded - the end of World War I brought a change in the country's attitudes, and John Held's flapper drawings took the place of the Gibson Girl in the public's heart. Gibson dedicated himself to his paintings, depicting his surroundings and family near his home in Maine, and he earned critical acclaim for his efforts. By the time of his death in 1944, the world was much different indeed, but Gibson's spirit certainly lived on, especially in the rash of 1890's nostalgia movies produced in Hollywood in the early 1940's.
Follow this link for more illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson: