The concept of the figurine, a miniature full-figure sculpture, was new to America when Enid Yandell created The Gibson Girl in 1895. Yandell, a Louisville native who studied and often worked in
France, was credited with popularizing the form in the States by American newspapers. An 1896 Courier-Journal article describing excavations near Thebes of
small-scale terra-cotta figures dating to 600-200 B.C.E. compares Yandell’s similarly small-scale portraits to them. The Gibson Girl was exhibited in 1896 at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
This three-dimensional version of The Gibson Girl was named after the sketches of Charles Dana Gibson,
whose pen and ink drawings appeared weekly on the pages of Life magazine. The first of his “Gibson Girls” (as they came to be known) made her debut in 1890. Dressed in a stiff shirtwaist and flowing skirt showing just a hint of bustle, her soft hair piled up into a loose chignon, she always appeared poised and well-bred. She was proficient in a variety of activities, ranging from domestic scenes and social events to outdoor sports, equally as comfortable riding bicycles as riding horses, even donning short skirts to take up golf when it was introduced to the United States at the turn of the century. The “Gibson Girl” embodied America’s modern ideal woman, with her new (often daring!) feminist values of self-reliance and self-assurance, all the while maintaining her sense of femininity.
Enid Yandell was actually portraying her younger sister, Elsie, quietly reading a book. As well as depicting her sister’s character, this figurine also displays symbols of Elsie’s interests and accomplishments in the finely detailed accessories beneath her chair. Among these, the Muses are represented by musical instruments, a stylus, more books, and a laurel wreath.
Who knew that a “Gibson Girl” lived right here in Kentucky, too?