The Gibson Girl At 76

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“She had beautiful feet and ankles and held her head like Nefertiti,” Dora Mathieu recalled. “She looked like a woman who wasn’t afraid to live and whose beauty never interfered with a lively brain.” “She” was Irene Langhorne Gibson of Virginia: one of the most sought-after society beauties of the Gay Nineties; a founder of the Protestant Big Sisters as well as the New York branch of the Southern Women’s Educational Alliance; twice a delegate to Democratic National Conventions; and at the age of seventy-six in 1948, when Dora Mathieu met her, the widow of four years of the noted illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. She had been the Gibson Girl personified, the model for many of Gibson’s romantic visions of womanhood and a major influence on his work throughout the nearly fifty years of their marriage. And so it was not extraordinary that Dora Mathieu, then a young artist, was speechless when she was introduced to Mrs. Gibson in 1948 and someone suggested she sketch her. As a girl growing up in Schenectady, New York, Dora remembered that the kitchen wall in her home was adorned with a Gibson drawing, and she felt she could never do equal justice to the regal elegance of Mrs. Gibson. Dora demurred, but Mrs. Gibson insisted—“You’re not going to turn me down, are you?” she said. The result was the sketch above and a friendship that lasted until Mrs. Gibson’s death in 1956. —The Editors