Sullivan Goss
AN AMERICAN GALLERY
Celebrating 27 Years of 19th, 20th and 21st Century American Art
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DOUGLAS GORSLINE

(1913-1985)

American Urban Painter, Illustrator and Author

By Sara Sheppard

Beginning as an urban street painter, Douglas Gorsline was a talented artist who continually evolved his style. His illustrations for Random House publishing included the popular children’s book The Night Before Christmas. Gorsline’s wide range of works reflected the change he experienced in his life.




Table of Contents

I. BIOGRAPHY

Douglas Warner Gorsline was born in Rochester, New York in 1913. He studied at the School of Fine Arts at Yale University from 1930-1931, but found that the school did not fit him well as an artist. The art program at Yale was too strict, and he found the program constraining (Gorsline, Marie). The Arts Student League in New York suited his style better, and Gorsline studied there from 1932-1935. It was at the Arts Student League where Gorsline was influenced by the realist style of painting; this would become the style of painting he was first known for (Gorsline, Marie). This was also where he met his future wife, Elizabeth Perkins, who was also studying at the Arts Student League. Perkins was the great-granddaughter of William M. Evarts, the former Secretary of State under President Hayes and daughter of Maxwell Evarts Perkins. (Elizabeth Perkins: Connecticut Bride). Maxwell Perkins was very supportive of Gorsline, and set up his first portrait with Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938). After Wolfe died it was Maxwell Perkins who encouraged Gorsline to illustrate Look Homeward, Angel; both the portrait of Wolfe and the illustrations brought Gorsline attention from the public (Gorsline, Marie). After Elizabeth Perkins returned from studying art in Europe, she and Douglas were married in Connecticut on September 26, 1936. During their marriage they had two sons, John and Jerry, together. They would be married for twenty-three years until their divorce in 1959.

Gorsline’s early influence came from Kenneth Hayes Miller (1876-1952), a prominent leader in the urban genre style. This would be the style that Gorsline was first known for, and his street drawings and paintings reflected the American Scene paintings happening in the 1930s. Art historian Bruce Robertson writes, “The society of the city is seldom cohesive or stable’ it has few of the traditions of family and neighborhood, except in working-class ethnic enclaves” (35). Gorsline’s paintings from this time reflected the feeling of being in the moment, and portrayed the life of city dwellers. However, Gorsline lost interest in his style and felt he had done all he could with it. He changed his style to movement of all kinds and transitioned into his later style of painting (Gorsline, Marie).

Gorsline was a talented illustrator as well as a painter, and during the 1940s he switched his emphasis to commercial art, especially book illustrations (“Douglas Gorsline Papers”). He illustrated books by Thomas Wolfe, as well as the Clement Moore book The Night Before Christmas. Gorsline specialized in illustrating historical subjects, seen in his illustrations of William Henry Jackson, Pioneer Photographer of the West and The Vicksburg Veteran. Gorsline wrote two books of his own; Farm Boy was a novel while What People Wore was a costume book of American fashion trends. The Musee-Gorsline acknowledges, “In the early 1950s, however, in the midst of his success and while working on his costume book, he came to seriously question the basic tenets of his art and the direction he had taken as an artist” (“Douglas Gorsline”). While he was questioning his direction he stopped painting and exhibiting for a short time.

When Gorsline emerged back into the art scene he had developed into his later style. This style was highly influenced by Etienne Jules Marey (1830-1904) and Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) who were chronophotographers. Their work involved movement of all kinds, and Gorsline looked to chronophotographs for inspiration. He met Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) who was also inspired by Marey and his photographs, and had grafted motion onto cubism (“Douglas Gorsline”. It was during this time as well that Gorsline divorced his first wife, Elizabeth, and was briefly married to the script writer Nel King. Gorsline met his third wife, Marie Carson, during the late 1950’s. She was from a Philadelphia family with roots in Pittsburg, and they became a couple in the early 1960’s (Gorsline, Marie).

Marie and Douglas moved to France in 1964, where he continued his work as an artist. He was the first American to be invited to China in 1973, and traveled there to talk about art. Douglas and Marie were finally able to marry in 1977. Gorsline lived in France until his death from a stroke in 1985. In 1994, Marie Gorsline opened the Musee-Gorsline in honor of her late husband. This museum holds his work, as well as other artists, and shows Marie’s dedication to her husband even after his passing.

II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

“I feel that the simple black line can be adapted to any circumstances in our changing visual attitude toward reality.” – Douglas Gorsline

Douglas Gorsline was an accomplished painter, writer and illustrator. He has been labeled a realist, and his early works and style reflect this label. While studying at the Arts Student League in New York, Gorsline came under the influence of Kenneth Hayes Miller (1876-1952), John Sloan (1871-1951) and John Steuart Curry (1897-1946), all three of whom were his teachers. Gorsline started his art career during the American Wave movement, which sought American themes and ideals in the arts (American Scene 8). Living in New York, Gorsline was exposed to the Fourteenth Street School composed of Kenneth Hayes Miller (1876-1952), Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) and Isabel Bishops (1902-1988). The Fourteenth Street School was the core of the New York Urban movement and many of the subjects used by this movement came from the Fourteenth Street area of New York (American Scene 11). As a teacher at the Arts Student League, Miller was one of the most influential artists of his time, and used his position as a teacher to influence New York’s future artists. The Urban movement was concerned with the people of the city and used these street themes to depict everyday subjects; this was the style in which Gorsline first worked.

As a student of Miller, Gorsline painted street scenes from New York, but he often focused on women in the streets, as did Isabel Bishop. Gorsline’s women were given character, and were often shown bewildered by the city (American Scene 33). “His prints has the same full found forms, hatched lines, and planned compositions as Miller’s, but, like Bishop and Marsh, he was sensitive to the emotions and character of his subjects” (American Scene 33). Gorsline’s “Express Stop” from 1948 articulates his focus on the moment in his art; a man reads over the shoulder of a woman holding a newspaper. His art from this period reflects city life and the fact that people are brought together by chance, but nothing much holds them there (Robertson 35). Eventually Gorsline became uninterested in this style as he felt he had done everything he could with it. This was common among the Urban painters of New York, as the changing times and city took art to new places. During the 1940s he began working as a book illustrator and focused his attention towards that direction.

During his lifetime Gorsline illustrated over two dozen books, including illustrations for Thomas Wolfe and Clement Moore. His own books, Farm Boy and What People Wore were also illustrated by him. He was a member of The Society of American Etchers, and often used his sketching for historical illustrations.

Gorsline developed a later style in the 1950’s, after reexamining his own artistic direction and being unhappy with it. He became interested in movement of all types, and was influenced by Etienne Jules Marey (1830-1904) and Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904). Marey was a contemporary of Muybridge, and developed a camera that would explain human motion. Muybridge was known for his use of multiple cameras to capture motion. Both artists were chronophotographers, and studied the motion of humans and objects. Gorsline believed movement was truth, and sought a direction that would allow his subjects their true actuality and features (“Douglas Gorsline”). Gorsline also looked to Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), who was working in a cubist style as well as with movement. After his investigation of these styles and artists, Gorsline’s later work derived from elements of both cubism and realism, and he often used “cubist compositions as a means of approaching the real” (“Douglas Gorsline”). This can be seen in his painting “John with Guitar” from 1959, in which he painted his son. The movement of the subject is unavoidable and reflects the work of both Marey and Muybridge. There is also an essence of Cubism in the painting. Gorsline worked in this style during the mid 1950s, and was mainly experimenting during the 1950s and 1960s (Gorsline, Marie).

Douglas Gorsline’s style began as an Urban street painter during the height of the American Wave in New York. He became known for his paintings of women in the street and the character of his subjects. As he progressed his style changed to include movement and elements of Cubism in his art. He continued to work until his death in 1985.

III. CHRONOLOGY

  • 1913 Born in Rochester, NY
  • 1930-1931 Attends School of Fine Art, Yale University
  • 1932-1935 Attends Art Student League, New York
  • 1936 Marries Elizabeth Perkins
  • 1939 Illustrates The Web and the Rock
  • 1947 Illustrates Look Homeward, Angel
  • 1948 Illustrates The Compleat Angler
  • 1949 Illustrates Pride and Prejudice
  • 1950 Writes and illustrates Farm Boy
  • 1952 Writes and illustrates What People Wore
  • Mid 1950s Starts to develop in his later style of painting
  • 1955 Illustrates “The French Broad” in the Rivers of America series
  • 1959 Divorces Elizabeth Perkins Gorsline
  • 1959 Marries Nel King
  • 1961 Illustrated Citizens of New Salem
  • 1962 Begins a long association with Sports Illustrated magazine
  • 1962 Illustrates They Had a Horse
  • 1964 Designs a commemorative postal stamp
  • 1964 Moves to France
  • 1964 Illustrates William Henry Jackson, Pioneer Photographer of the West
  • 1971 Illustrates The Vicksburg Veteran
  • 1973 First American artist invited to China
  • 1977 Marries Marie Carson, his third wife
  • 1985 Dies in Les Laumes, Dijon, France
  • 1994 Gorsline Museum is inaugurated
  • IV. COLLECTIONS

  • Art Gallery of the University, Rochester, NY
  • Douglas Gorsline Museum, France
  • Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, CA
  • Ken Trevey Collection
  • Memorial Art Gallery, NY
  • Print Club of Albany, NY
  • The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, MO
  • V. EXHIBITIONS

  • 1938 Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
  • 1939 Arden Gallery, NY
  • 1940 Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
  • 1940 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
  • 1940 Babcock Gallery, NY
  • 1941 Corcoran Gallery
  • 1941 Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
  • 1942 Art Institute of Chicago, IL
  • 1944 Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
  • 1945 Art Institute of Chicago, IL
  • 1945 Corcoran Gallery
  • 1945 Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
  • 1962 American Academy of Arts & Letters
  • 1963 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
  • 1963 National Academy of Design
  • 1964 American Academy of Arts & Letters
  • 1965-1966 20th Century American Art, San Diego Invitational, CA
  • 1968, 1970 “Maintreams”
  • 1970 “Maintreams”
  • 1972 Butler Institute of Art
  • 1995 University of California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA
  • 2007 Douglas Gorsline Museum, France
  • VI. MEMBERSHIPS

  • National Academy of Design
  • The Society of American Etchers
  • VII. Awards

  • 1942 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
  • 1942 Receives award at the Library of Congress
  • 1946 Receives award at the Library of Congress
  • 1962 Receives Childe Hassam purchase award at the American Academy of Arts & Letters
  • 1963 Receives Henry Ward Ranger Fund purchase award at the National Academy of Design
  • 1963 Tiffany Foundation Grant
  • VIII. Bibliography

    1. 1. American Scene: Urban and Rural Regionalists of the 30s and 40s. Minneapolis: Minnesota University, University Gallery, 1976.
    2. 2. "Douglas Gorsline." Musee Gorsline. 16 June 2008 .
    3. 3."Douglas Gorsline Papers." de Grummond Collection. University of Southern Mississippi. 16 June 2008 .
    4. 4. "Elizabeth Perkins: Connecticut Bride." New York Times 27 Sept. 1936. 16 June 2008. . Path: Archives.
    5. 5. Gorsline, Marie. E-mail interview. 10 June 2008.
    6. 6. Robertson, Bruce. Representing America: The Ken Trevey Collection of American Realist Prints. Seattle: The University of Washington Press, 1995.

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