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 Charles Allan Gilbert  (1873 - 1929)

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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut      Known for: illustration, female-figure, coastal painting

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Charles Allan Gilbert
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
C. Allan Gilbert (1873-1929)

American illustrator and film animator Charles Allan Gilbert (better known as C. Allan Gilbert) was born in Hartford, Connecticut on September 3, 1873.  As a child, he was an invalid (the circumstances of which are unclear), with the result that he often made drawings for self-amusement.

At age sixteen, he began to study art with Charles Noel Flagg, the official portrait painter for the State of Connecticut, who had also founded the Connecticut League of Art Students.  In 1892, he enrolled at the Art Students’ League of New York, where he remained for two years.  In 1894, he moved to France for a year, where he studied with Jean-Paul Laurens and Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant at the Academie Julien in Paris.

Returning from Paris, Gilbert settled in New York, where he embarked on an active career as an illustrator of books, magazines, posters and calendars.  His illustrations were frequently published in Scribner’s, Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly and other leading magazines.  It was earlier while he was still a student at the Art Students' League, that he completed All Is Vanity, the drawing that became popular (and is still widely reproduced) when it was initially published in Life magazine in 1902.  The famous drawing is a double image (or visual pun) in which the scene of a woman admiring herself in a mirror, when viewed from a distance, appears to be a human skull.

In the course of his career, Gilbert illustrated a large number of books, among them H.G. Wells' The Soul of a Bishop (1917), Gouverneur Morris' His Daughter (1919), Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (1920), and Booth Tarkington's Gentle Julia (1922).  He also published collections of his own drawings, including Overheard in the Whittington Family, Women of Fiction, All is Vanity, The Honeymoon, A Message from Mars, and In Beauty's Realm.

As an early contributor to animated films, Gilbert worked for John R. Bray in 1915-16 on the production of a series of moving shadow plays, called Silhouette Fantasies.  These Art Nouveau-styled films, which were made by combining filmed silhouettes with pen-and-ink components, were serious interpretations of Greek myths.

During World War I, Gilbert served as a camouflage artist for the U.S. Shipping Board (the Emergency Fleet Corporation), alongside other well-known artists and illustrators, including McClelland Barclay, William Andrew MacKay, and Henry Reuterdahl.  As did they, he also illustrated posters for American wartime programs such as Liberty Bonds (or Liberty Loans).

Throughout his life (and still today), Gilbert was so strongly identified with his drawing All Is Vanity that he is sometimes mistakenly credited with two other popular double image artworks, Gossip: And the Devil Was There, and Social Donkey, both of which were apparently made by another illustrator of the same time period, George A. Wotherspoon.

Gilbert continued to live in New York in the later phase of his life, but he often spent his summers on Monegan Island in Maine.  He died in New York of pneumonia at age 55 on April 20, 1929.

Anon, “Enter the Silhouette Movie: C. Allan Gilbert, Painter of Beautiful Women, Perfects Shadow Photography of Whimsical Charm to Tell Tale of Inbad” in Evening Ledger-Philadelphia (December 11, 1915), Amusement Section, pp. 1ff.

Bachman, Gregg, and Thomas J. Slater, eds., American Silent Film: Discovering Marginalized Voices. Carbondale: South Illinois University, 2002, pp. 261–262.

"Charles Allan Gilbert" in John W. Leonard, ed., Who’s Who in America. Vol 7, 1913, p. 800.

Crafton, Donald, Before Mickey: The Animated Film 1898-1928. University of Chicago Press, 1993.

“'Girl of To-Day' Jury Famous For American Types" in New York Times, December 7, 1913, p. SM5.

Grant, John, Masters of Animation. New York: Watson Guptil, 2001.

“U.S. Shipping Board” in Roy R. Behrens, Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart, Iowa: Bobolink Books, 2009.

Based largely on a Wikipedia biography, with additional material provided by Roy R. Behrens.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Note from Charles Crain:

I observed his print All Is Vanity hanging in a historical bar room in downtown Houston nearly 35 years ago and I was astounded. I am a commercial artist and I realized the potential for expressing philosophical relationships. I had a copy of the print made for my study to see how to create in this manner.

I have looked high and low and have never found anyone that could surpass Mr. Gilbert in the art and skill of this type of drawing. I feel that he is vastly under appreciated.

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