Although Gibson concentrated on the upper-middle classes in much of his work, he also featured the Gibson Girl in high society settings. His career spanned a period of upward mobility and preoccupation with social status in American society. His illustrations of elevated social milieus appealed to audiences interested in such ambitious striving. Gibson’s gentle social satires were very popular.
Passing Social Judgment
A ravishing beauty walks the gauntlet as a “jury” of social peers renders its verdicts. Her impeccable carriage, simple gown, and poise accentuate her youthful purity, which sets her apart from the elaborately dressed ladies. Their off-putting expressions contrast drastically with their male escorts’ appreciative smiles. By mocking the airs of superiority and pretension that characterize high society, Gibson underscores the Gibson Girl’s natural appeal and ability to handle social situations with ease.
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A spritely Mr. Pipp steals the spotlight from his daughters in this scene, a high point in one of Gibson’s most popular narratives, The Education of Mr. Pipp. Gibson developed Pipp, one of his most beloved characters, from a small, downtrodden German man who reportedly modeled for him in 1898 in Munich. Portrayed as a prosperous, henpecked businessman, this humble figure inspired a cast of characters, including his domineering wife and two glamorous daughters who persuaded him to make the Grand Tour.
The Education of Mr. Pipp XXIV. On the occasion of Mr. Pipp’s Birthday, a Ball is Given at Caroney Castle, 1899. Pen and ink over graphite. Published in Life, August 24, 1899. Gift of the artist, 1935. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (015.00.00) [LC-DIG-cai-2a12816]
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Reaching for Social Heights
Foreign dignitaries in uniform or exotic dress converse and mingle with gowned beauties in glittering company moving to the right. Mr. Tagg leads the way with his reddened nose in the air. With eyes closed, he savors a fantasy disclosed in a tiny thought balloon in the upper right—being presented at court in England. Gibson, who was known to dislike social snobbery, mocks his character’s pretensions by portraying him as faintly ridiculous with self-importance. Gibson esteemed the work of great cartoonists and some admirers of his work argue that he proudly regarded himself as one of them.
In Diplomatic Circles. Mr. Tagg is Fascinated by Washington Society and Decides to Go into Politics: He Enjoys a Vision of Himself at the Court of Saint James, 1904. Pen and ink over graphite underdrawing. Published in Life, August 4, 1904. Gift of the artist, 1935. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (016.00.00) [LC-DIG-cai-2a12845]
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