Updated: Mar 5
Charles Dana Gibson first illustrated the Gibson Girl in the late 1800's. She quickly gained popularity and was considered the New Woman of the times. She was active, fragile, and voluptuous. She was the depiction of ideal femininity. Gibson Girl illustrations were widely distributed and could be found everywhere from products to magazine covers and tattoo shop walls. Many of his illustrations often made social commentary of some kind or another. My personal favorite of his illustrations that became an iconic tattoo is the Eternal Question.
Gibson illustrated the Eternal Question using model Evelyn Nezbit. He drew her from a profile view with her hair designed in the shape of a question mark. Holding reference to Freud’s great question of what do women want? which was a subject that he struggled to understand. And to Nietzche‘s eternal reoccurrence theory which is basically everything goes in cycles and repeats itself eventually given infinite time and finite matter. The illustration itself is a play on coming of age. It was custom in the time that a girl wore her hair down until she was 16 and then she would start putting it up as a sign that she was now a woman. The image illustrates, in a way, the resurrection of youth and adulthood with the hair put up and also falling back down.
Cap Coleman’s rendition — based off a Rolf Armstrong version — was considered his Mona Lisa of tattooing
According to Albert Perry’s classic 1933 book, Tattoo Secrets of a strange art, people Would often get this tattoo because women are uppermost on mans mind. Whether he loves or hates her she has managed to get under his skin and in it too. With her hair forming an “interrogation mark” the meaning behind getting this tattoo is to represent Love Forever. The image takes on an even deeper meaning when considering the history behind the model of it.
Evelyn Nesbit, who posed for The Eternal Question, was the most famous of the Gibson Girl Models. she was celebrated for her beauty, considered the first pinup and, unfortunately, ended up having an association with the original Trial of the Century. Join us next time as we take a look at her life from rags to riches and an all American true crime story.
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