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 William Hamilton Gibson  (1850 - 1896)

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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut      Known for: illustrator-nature, landscape

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Ad Code: 4
William Hamilton Gibson
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from Paul S. Boyer, Ph. D.

William Hamilton GIBSON

"It does seem rather strange to me that whatever I undertake to do, always ends in success, and in unexpected success."

William Hamilton Gibson has been called one of the three most influential naturalists of the 19th Century, and an accomplished writer and artist. Born in the hamlet of Newtown, western Connecticut, of "way-back Puritan" ancestry, he attended the local Gunn School in Washington, Connecticut, and later the Polytechnic in Brooklyn. He briefly sold life insurance, and then worked as a lithographer for Appleton's in New York, quickly moving into sketching for that firm and others.

In the spring of 1873, he made a trip to Washington, DC, making sketches for "Picturesque America", a handsome ancestor of the "coffee-table" book. In 1876 he published a book for boys, "The Complete American Trapper; or the Tricks of Trapping and Trap-Making."

His illustrations for an article by Mrs. Helen S. Conant ("Birds and Their Plumage", Harper's Magazine, August 1878) attracted critical acclaim, and lead to continuous artistic success. There followed articles for "Harper's" and other monthlies, and an extensive series of handsomely illustrated books expressing a love of nature and a nostalgia for the countryside of his native Connecticut. Along with Thoreau and Burroughs, he came to be regarded as one of the three most influential nature writers of the time, stimulating an appreciation of the native wildlife (particularly insects) and flora (from fungi to orchids). He enjoyed alerting his readers to overlooked wonders of nature close at hand.

Gibson was best known to the public for his pen-and-ink sketches, remarkable for their detail and biological accuracy, published in magazines and in his books as wood and steel engravings. Few among his admiring public were aware that his interests extended also to painting: he was an early and active member of the Watercolor Society, and favored watercolor and gouache. Because of the limitations of color-printing technology in his day, few of his color paintings were ever reproduced in publication.

In addition to his artistic and literary accomplishments, Gibson was in demand as a speaker, and lectured on the structure of orchids and their pollination by insects, using ingenious models of his own contrivance.

In 1896, at his home in Washington, Connecticut, Gibson died of a stroke, which his friends believed to have been brought on by overwork. Whatever the validity of their opinion on medical grounds, it was surely an accurate description of Gibson's habit of enthusiastic, continuous, and very productive labor. Only a few years after his death, a rather exhaustive biography was published by John Coleman Adams (1901). It is possible that Adams's book was seen as definitive enough that it discouraged later writers, and it may, somewhat ironically, have led to the undeserved neglect of Gibson's work for over a century.

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