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Charles Dala Gibson: Creator of The Glamorous Gibson Girl


Creating the iconic symbol of a poised, self assured, vibrant, beautiful and independent American woman who was the visual embodiment of the “New Woman”, the American graphic artist and illustrator, Charles Dana Gibson, is remembered as one of America's most prolific and popular artists, who had a profound effect on American life and culture.

Famous for his Gibson Girl drawings, the artist was born on September 14, 1896, into a prominent Roxbury, Massachusetts family. After studying for two years at the Arts Students' League in New York City, he was forced to leave and venture out into the commercial art world for the financial reason.

Gibson made the rounds of the New York publishers and sold a small drawing to the humour magazine ‘Life' in 1886. Afterwards, his pen-and-ink drawings continued to be featured there for the next thirty years. In time, he acquired many more clients and was earning enough to rent his own studio. In 1889, his illustration appeared in ‘The Century' magazine and by then he had saved enough money to finance a trip to London and Paris.

While in England Gibson met the famous illustrator, George du Maurier, whose lyrical style of pen-and-ink illustration inspired him to create his iconic Gibson Girls drawings. Modeled after his wife, Irene Langhorne, and his friend and writer, Richard Harding Davis, these illustrations of the Gibson Girl and Gibson Man brought him worldwide fame, respect and considerable wealth in the 1890s.

Gibson's facile pen-and-ink style, characterized by a fastidious refinement of line, was widely imitated and copied. His confident line work illustrating social commentary made his drawings recognizable and immensely popular. 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.

After color printing and photography in magazines became more popular than black and white illustration, the popularity of Gibson's drawing style faded. Therefore, in 1905 he withdrew from illustrative work to devote himself to portraiture in oil, but within a few years, he again returned to illustration.

Gibson also illustrated books, notably “The Prisoner of Zenda”, and published several books of his drawings. “London as Seen by 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 Heir Friends” (1901), “The Social Ladder” (1902), and “Our Neighbors” (1905).

After retiring in 1936, Gibson spent most of his later years at his island home off the coast of Maine. And at age 77, Charles Dana Gibson died on December 23, 1944, in New York City, New York, and was interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.



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