Gibson not only endowed his idealized women with beauty and charm, he also portrayed them as dominant figures in the rituals of courtship and marriage. With winsome self-assurance, the Gibson Girl displayed independence and assertiveness in scenes with her handsome counterpart, the “Gibson Man,” as well as with less charming suitors. This new dynamic in gender relations underscores Gibson’s progressive, positive outlook on women taking greater initiative in fulfilling their own wishes for happiness.
A Nod to Precedent
As she takes the stage, an attractive young singer glances casually toward the tall author whose exasperated gaze toward her offsets her pert poise. Gibson deftly characterizes the two as contrasting studies in dark and light, their interaction overshadowing the line of possible understudies or chorus singers lined across the stage. In this scene, Gibson alludes to the “soubrette,” a lively, coquettish character type that originated in European theater and opera and performed light soprano parts.
Studies in Expression: The Author and the Soubrette, 1902. Pen and ink over graphite underdrawing. Published in Life, February 6, 1902. Gift of the artist, 1935. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (010.00.00) [LC-DIG-cai-2a12822]
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In this amusing scene, Gibson parodies his beauties’ interplay with a male admirer. One of them wields a hat pin as if to fix in place a miniaturized Gibson man like an entomological specimen. He kneels, raising his hands in a pitiful, beseeching gesture. As the embodiment of the New Woman, the Gibson Girl projects a new assertiveness in her interactions with men. No longer does she appear in thrall to a potential partner’s preferences. One in a popular series of seven, this image became one of Gibson’s most famous and enduring.
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An Unsuitable Marriage
The story line is all too clear in this poignant post-World War I drawing. A returning soldier collapses in disappointment at seeing that the girl he left behind has married another. His friend supports him, onlookers send sympathetic looks, and even his former sweetheart appears wistful. In addition to demonstrating his storytelling skills, Gibson also forcefully addresses a theme of recurring importance to him—his opposition to sacrificing love in favor of marriage for wealth and social position.
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Changing with the Times
In this late career drawing, Gibson depicts a new feminine ideal—the slim flapper with bobbed hair. Four suitors of varied ages and demeanors focus upon the languid beauty who has given them tea, accepted their flowers, and returned their attentions with an impassive gaze and no encouragement. Still deploying his bravura pen-and-ink technique, Gibson imbues this 1920s scene of courtship with a dynamic that recalls his earlier classic work, in which the beautiful young woman has the upper hand.
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