“The Gibson Girl: A Gilded Age Icon” exhibit is now on view here at the mansion. Comprehensive signage will allow visitors to view the exhibit at their own leisure. Exhibit included in regular admission price.
Charles Dana Gibson, the most talented and successful commercial artist between 1890 and 1920, created an ideal American woman, so lovely that she would become for all time the symbol of her own age – The Gibson Girl. Tall, elegant, independent and strong, she was competent either on a bicycle or in the ballroom. She was a national treasure, a definition of style that taught an entire generation of women how to walk, talk and dress.
She was also one of Gibson’s images for satirizing the social scene of the Gilded Age, whether it was the New York horse show where the real exhibit were the glamorous women in the audience; social climbing American families who married off their daughters to fortune-seeking dukes, earls and princes; the nouveau riche attempting to crash the elite “Four Hundred”; the foibles of mismatched marriages, or the aching heart in love. A collection of Gibson’s illustrations representing some of these and other subjects will be on view.
The Gibson Girl was celebrated in story and song; clothes and hair styles were named for her, and her image appeared on pillows, tablecloths, souvenir spoons, ashtrays, matchboxes, fans, screens, dinner plates and even satirized as the perfect wallpaper for the bachelor’s apartment.
Included in the exhibit are dinner plates by Royal Doulton and an original 1901 folio edition, both depicting drawings from the artist’s series titled The Widow and Her Friends. Having lost her husband, the young and attractive Gibson Girl must deal with the trials and tribulations of Gilded Age widowhood. A second 1900 folio edition on view called Americans “contains eighty-four of Mr. Gibson’s best cartoons…”
It was love at first sight when the artist one evening met his own Gibson Girl at New York’s fashionable restaurant, Delmonico’s. She was the gorgeous Virginia beauty, Irene Langhorne, one of five famously beautiful sisters. Theirs was the marriage of “Beauty and Genius” according to the press, and Irene would become the model for many of her husband’s immortal Gibson Girls. Their photographs can be seen in the exhibit.
The exhibit also presents other glamorous women who served as muses for the artist, including Evelyn Nesbit, the subject of the shocking assassination of architect Stanford White, and the Belgian actress Camille Clifford, whose hourglass figure was attempted far and wide.
Antique Gilded Age gowns presented on mannequins by Ventfort Hall staff member Nancy Whelan are also part of the exhibit. She has played a major role in assembling the exhibit.