The pen-and-ink drawings of illustrator Charles Gibson came to represent the spirit of the early twentieth century in America. His illustrations appeared in a number of popular magazines and they both influenced and reflected attitudes, behaviours and mores in the country. The onset of the First World War was said to have ended the public’s romance with Gibson’s images, for the collective outlook changed from confident optimism to reserved cynicism; the latter outlook made Gibson’s perspective to be out of place.
The present postcard introduced a somewhat different Gibson perspective on life and was one of a packet of six called “After Marriage”. It is immediately recognizable as from his pen, whether it be the apparel of the women, the stance and glance of the man, the horse-drawn carriages, the paper-boy or the disheveled man roasting chestnuts. Even the dog is in character. The emphasis is on the Gibson woman in half widow’s weeds. It is aptly named ‘Half Mourning (Figure 1).
The reverse gives an informative NOTE. – Gibson Post Card Packets: “Heads and Hearts,” “Courtship,” “After Marriage,” “Theatrical.” 7d. each packet (6 cards), posted by T. Shaw Fitchett, Queen Street Melbourne. The card was sent from Thel to Miss B. England, 68 Belgrave Str, Neutral Bay (N.S.W.). A fine NORTH SYDNEY/ 10 AU 06 2 45 P.(M)/ N.S.W postmark on the salmon-red 1d ‘NSW Arms’ stamp completes the picture (Figure 20).
Charles was born into a wealthy New England family from Roxbury, then a suburb of Boston. He was interested in art as a boy, watching his father cut family silhouettes. He started to cut silhouettes at age of 8 and by the time he was 12, he was selling them. Through family connections he was apprenticed to the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens at 14, but after a year in the studio, he recognized that sculpture was not his main interest, and he took up pen-and-ink drawing. His parents enrolled him in the Art Students League.
Due to unforseen family financial problems in 1885 he was forced to leave school. He got a job on a trial basis at ‘Life’, a new magazine competing with the established, ‘Puck’ and ‘Judge’. He drew editorial cartoons featuring political figures, but he was more interested in portraying the ‘social set’ than politicians. His readers enjoyed the way he poked fun at high society’s characters and their peccadilloes. His drawings sold magazines from the outset, and his salary grew dramatically. Soon, he contributed to ‘Time’, ‘Scribners’, ‘Century’ and ‘Harpers’ magazines.
In 1890, Charles Gibson drew the first ‘Gibson Girl’ and featured her in his first independent portfolio of drawings of beautiful women. All the women had the same face, in different poses and with different costumes, and the face was that of his wife Irene Langhorne Gibson. In 1904 his popularity with the ‘Gibson Girl’ was large and he finally came to a dual arrangement with ‘Life’ and ‘Collier’s Weekly’ which provided him a contract worth a staggering amount for $100,000 for 100 illustrations over a 4-year period.
Gibson’s popularity was at its greatest between 1900 and 1910, but never totally waned. In 1920 he actually became the largest part-owner of ‘Life’ magazine, which he sold in 1932, and at the age of 65 he retired and took up oil painting. His paintings were not as successful as his drawings, but the American Academy of Arts and Letters exhibited his work and a New York Times art critic wrote: “Make no mistake about it, Charles Dana Gibson is a painter”. Charles Gibson died in Maine in 1944, of a heart attack.