Today is the birthday of American artist Charles Dana Gibson, best known for his creation of The Gibson Girl. By some accounts, he's also responsible for the invention of the Gibson martini. Were he still alive, he’d be 143 years old today.
Gibson was born September 14th, 1867 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, today the heart of Boston’s population -- back then, probably not. His parents were DeWolf Gibson and Josephine Elizabeth Lovett. The patriarch was a somewhat gifted artist and encouraged his son to draw. Gibson honed his skill at Manhattan’s Art Students League. In 1886, he sold his first sketch to Life magazine (of a dog chained to a post), for which he became a contributor for the next three decades.
As Gibson’s reputation grew, his works appeared in The Century, Colliers, Harper’s Weekly and Scribners. By 1889, he’d acquired enough money to travel to Europe. In England he met illustrator George du Maurier, known for (among other things), his skill at drawing beautiful women. His subsequent illustrations reflect du Maurier's influence, although they are quite distinct.
Irene Langhorne Camille Clifford Evelyn Nesbit
In 1895, Gibson married southern belle Irene Langhorne. She was widely known for her beauty and Gibson was at least the 67th suitor to propose marriage. She is thought to have been the primary inspiration for Gibson’s iconic representation of female beauty of the day, the Gibson Girl – although he also drew famous models like Camille Clifford and Evelyn Nesbit.
Gibson Girls were tall, long-necked, curvaceous, gracile, haughty and relatively independent women… topped by piles of beautiful hair. The Gibson Girls were extremely popular and appeared on saucers, ashtrays, tablecloths, pillow covers, chair covers, souvenir spoons, screens, fans and umbrella stands.The mass merchandising made Gibson quite wealthy.
In 1898, he illustrated then-current editions of The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau. In 1913, he appeared as himself in the film Saved by Parcel Post. In 1899, he’d co-written a play, The Education of Mr. Pipp, with Augustus E. Thomas. In 1914, it was adapted into a silent film directed by the prolific William F. Haddock.
Gibson took over Life Magazine after the death of James Ames Mitchell in 1918. It was the end of an era in other ways as well. The Gibson Girl’s reign was toppled by the rise of the flapper. Gibson moved on to oil painting. He retired in 1936 and he and his wife lived most of the rest of their lives on his private island of Isleboro, Maine -- 700 Acre Island. He died on December 23rd, 1944.