Charles Dana Gibson was born on September 14th, 1867 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, USA into a happy family of modest means. His father was Charles DeWolf Gibson, a Civil War lieutenant, his mother Josephine Elizabeth Lovett. The family came from New England ancestors stretching back to the early settlers. Charles had an older brother and three younger sisters.
He took the entrance exam for the Art Students League and passed it. He studied at the Art Students League in New York from 1884 to 1885.
He first worked with paper cut-outs and silhouettes, before turning to pen and ink drawings, the first of which he sold in 1886 to the humorous weekly Life for four dollars. He began to pick up other small commissions and there was a notable improvement in his work.
Gibson became interested in the technique of an English draftsman Phil May, who had developed a very economical pen style. Gibson learned to use a longer stroke, and soon moved into a scintillating technique unique in the world of pen and ink.
Five years later, in 1891, Gibson's drawings were Life's star attraction.
From 1886 to 1889, he worked for the weekly Tid-Bits (which later became TIME magazine) as well as Collier'sWeekly, Harper's Monthly, Harper's Bazaar, Scribners and many other publications.
From the 1890's, Gibson chronicled the lives of his fellow Americans through his patriotic, romantic and often satirical drawings.
For 20 years, from 1890 to 1910, Gibson created a girl character who was tall, slender, poised and modern. She was known as the "Gibson Girl". She wore her hair piled into a Chignon or tucked under a plumed hat. She wore a starched blouse and long, flowing skirts.
She represented the modern, active woman and was sometimes shown in shorter skirts, especially when cycling or engaged in sporting activities.
In the USA, she was thought to be inspired by Irene Langhorne, who married Charles Gibson in 1895. In England, she was personified by the American actress Camille Clifford, who first appeared on the London stage in 1904. Some people also thought her to be similar to Alice, the daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt, and that she might have been Gibson's inspiration.
The Gibson Girl image became immensely popular. She appeared on wallpaper, clothing, and was used by manufacturers of corsets, skirts, shoes and household items. She inspired songs and revues.
Younger women tried to model their clothes, their gestures, their hair and their features on the Gibson Girl specifications. Gibson's girl had a tremendous effect on the fashions of the time.
His pictures carried a message of hope but the dreams could not last, they were dissipated by the explosion of World War I. Gibson threw all his pictorial energy into patriotic propaganda, but at the end of those 4 long years, the world was a different place. His special world has vanished. His skill remained, but it was a disillusioned era. He continued to illustrate to some extent, but then took on the burden of editing Life. In his later years, he retired to his island home in Penobscot Bay and painted.
Charles Dana Gibson died in 1944 at the age of 77.