Charles Dana Gibson’s creation, the “Gibson Girl,” possessed a flawlessly beautiful face, was tall and slim-waisted yet voluptuous, and radiated physical grace and self confidence. Each drawing displayed here exemplifies a different aspect of Gibson’s iconic ideal of white, middle-class American womanhood. Modeling how to dress, stand, sit, present oneself, and interact with others, the Gibson Girl set the standard for feminine beauty and behavior from the 1890s until World War I. In his work, Gibson drew from professional models, family, and friends. These reportedly included his sister, Mrs. Josephine Gibson Knowlton; his wife, Irene (née) Langhorne; actress Camille Clifford; and dancer Evelyn Nesbit.
This simple, frontal view of a young woman’s head with her perfectly proportioned features, steadfast gaze, and upswept hair presents the unmistakable look of a Gibson Girl. This classic image of a self-possessed young woman was a gift to the Library from the artist. The use of fewer, bolder pen strokes in this drawing compared with early dated works suggests that Gibson created it no earlier than 1893, when he moved gradually away from a fine-lined drawing technique after working that year in Paris.
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Gibson created this drawing more than a decade after his marriage in 1895 to Irene Langhorne, a native Virginian. Viewers may detect some resemblance to the artist’s wife in this half-length image. The young woman’s demure expression, modest dress, and regal air befit a beautiful southern belle. The drawing was published multiple times in book review and advertising sections of Scribner’s and Collier’s Weekly, and as a frontispiece for editions of Mrs. Burton Harrison’s popular novel entitled A Daughter of the South.
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A Model Even in Mourning
A young widow emerges from a moment of reverie, reaching down to gather folds of her dress and rising from her chair. Her upright carriage and elegant black dress make her a model of composure and beauty. This scene from Gibson’s visual chronicle of a widow’s recovery from loss reveals his sensitivity to her plight. He also demonstrates his virtuoso drawing technique in rendering her dress, skillfully alternating lush passages of black ink with areas of both broad and finely applied pen strokes.
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