The following is a guest post by Martha H. Kennedy, Curator of Popular & Applied Graphic Art.
The renowned illustrator Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944) is best known for creating the Gibson Girl, that dazzling paragon of feminine beauty—with a flawless face, steadfast gaze, small-waisted yet voluptuous form, that tall beguiling being who radiated grace no matter what. Could the artist who invented this enchanting and widely emulated ideal of American womanhood also be considered a cartoonist?
While selecting works for a new exhibition about Gibson (on view at the Library from March 30 through August 17, 2013), I began to realize just how often his elegant drawings incorporate sharp political commentary with humorous social observations.
A look at The Jury Disagrees (1904) demonstrates Gibson’s remarkable narrative gifts and masterful pen-and-ink technique. How he achieves impeccable depictions of clothing and facial expressions as well as mockery of social pretension with such concise, perfectly placed lines of ink is a wonder to behold.
On reflection, I now wholeheartedly agree that many of the great cartoonists employ the same skills as great illustrators in creating visual imagery that conveys pointed messages in a humorous light. The Jury Disagrees is both an impressive social cartoon and a compelling illustration that tells a story about a young woman.
As further evidence, consider Gibson’s political cartoon, In Her Path (1917), one of many he created during World War I.
What has happened to the Gibson Girl? We see no less a noble female figure, but she has been transformed into a monumental allegorical Miss Democracy symbolically vanquishing German autocracy, which is represented by the caricatured head of Kaiser Wilhelm II. The allegorical figure of Peace alights in the background of this dynamic, powerfully expressive cartoon.
The Library has one of the best collections of Gibson’s original works of art on paper. Our new exhibition, The Gibson Girl’s America, features significant examples of the artist’s matchless social and political commentary in the Graphic Arts Galleries through August 17, 2013.
- Explore the online exhibition, The Gibson Girl’s America: Drawings by Charles Dana Gibson.
- View drawings by Gibson in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
- View images of Gibson, his wife, and his environs in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
- Read a biography of Gibson: Downey, Fairfax. Portrait of an Era as Drawn by C.D. Gibson. A Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons; London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, Ltd., c1936.
- Read about cartooning: Gibson, Charles Dana. “Cartoons and Cartoonists: The Story of Cartoon Making from Hogarth Down To the Present Day.” In: The Mentor, 11:9 (October, 1923), 1-18.