The Gibson Girl was created by Charles Dana Gibson, one of the many illustrators selling their work to publishers of periodicals in Manhttan in the 1890s.
He was born in the Roxbury section of Boston on 14 September 1867, one of five children to a former lieutenant of the Union army in the Civil War and his energetic and generous wife. His father was an amateur artist who encouraged the boy's talent and taught him what he knew. Gibson was fortunate enough to be sent at high school age to the Art Students League in New York City where Thomas Eakins and William Merrit Chase taught. In two years he was forced to leave and find work to ease the financial strain his education imposed on the modest means of his family. He made the rounds of New York publishers and sold a small drawing (a dog chained to a post) to the old Life magazine in 1886. This was the beginning of a 30-year association with Life.
In time he acquired many more clients and was earning enough to rent his own studio. In 1889, when this illustration shown above appeared in The Century magazine for March he had saved enough money to finance a trip to London and Paris. The technique shown in this drawing is what I would call slash and scratch. It was all that most illustrators ever mastered in black and white, and is to be found as well in the work of most cartoonists of the period. It is a far cry from his famous, and so often poorly imitated, brilliant later style shown directly below.
While in England Gibson met the very famous writer, illustrator and wit, George du Maurier whose lyrical style of pen-and-ink illustration set him high above the rest of his peers. However good du Maurier was in depicting beautiful women, Gibson surpassed him. He became supercharged as a result of finally meeting his idol and returned to New York revitalized and truly reinvented himself with his "Gibson Girls."
This is a scan of an original Gibson drawing of 1903 entitled "The Weaker Sex," which the artist gave to the Library of Congress in 1935. Click on it, and the images above, to enlarge.
The incredibly beautiful teenage showgirl, Evelyn Nesbit, was the subject of this famous Gibson drawing entitled "Women: the Eternal Question," and published in 1905 when Nesbit was probably only 18. Evelyn Nesbit was the nubile object of prominent but profligate architect Stanford White's affection and the obsession of his murderer, the infamous Harry Thaw.
Next: Gibson imitators, and how they missed the mark.