An acclaimed master of pen-and-ink drawing, Charles Dana Gibson (1867–1944) came of age when the expansion of women's roles and increasing social mobility were changing America. After training at the Art Students League in New York City and in Europe, Gibson began to create satirical illustrations based on his observations of upper-middle-class life for such mainstream magazines as Life, Collier's Weekly, Harper's Weekly, Scribner's, and Century. In the 1890s he created the “Gibson Girl,” a vibrant, new feminine ideal who was the visual embodiment of what writers of the period described as the “New Woman.” The Gibson Girl pursued higher education, romance, marriage, physical well-being, and individuality with unprecedented independence.
From the 1890s until World War I, the glamorous Gibson Girl set the standard for beauty, fashion, and manners, bringing her creator unrivaled professional and popular success. Gibson's artistic skills and prolific output meshed beautifully with the then high-volume demand for magazine illustrations. His bold style and virtuoso technique exerted enormous influence on his peers and succeeding generations. The drawings in this exhibition are selected from the exceptional collection of Gibson's work at the Library of Congress and trace the arc of the artist's career, highlighting the rise of the Gibson Girl from the 1890s through the first two decades of the twentieth century. The exhibition also presents a selection of the artist's lesser-known political images, spotlighting the concerns he addressed in his later work. Ultimately, The Gibson Girl's America illuminates how women's increasing presence in the public sphere contributed to the social fabric of turn-of-the-twentieth-century America and brings renewed appreciation to an artist whose illustrations help capture the spirit of this transformative era.