Flapper Girl with Fan by Charles Allan Gilbert
On offer is a lovely pastel illustration by C. Allan Gilbert. It depicts a stylish flapper girl in a pretty beaded black dress with a large ostrich plume hand fan.
It is our hunch that was created for the calendar market. It is signed in the upper left corner. This pastel on stretched canvas is housed under glass in the original wood frame. The artist Charles Allan Gilbert is best remembered today for his influential and now iconic trick of the eye optical illusion illustration All Is Vanity.
This illustration comes from the collection of esteemed illustration art collector Norman Platnick.
About the artist: Charles Allan Gilbert
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.
The Legacy of Norman Platnick
In his New York Times obituary, Norman Platnick’s son Will said that his father had three passions in life, his wife Nancy, spiders, and collecting.
Few individuals have the chance to leave a mark like Norm’s in even one field, let alone two. But Norm managed to be both a celebrated scientist, and one of the most influential lay historians of illustration art.
Under his imprint Enchantment Ink, Norm researched, wrote, and published collectors guides to artists like Rolf Armstrong and Earl Christy. We at Grapefruit Moon Gallery rely on these books in our work, and they are now all freely available as PDFs through the Enchantment Ink website.
Norm’s expertise was a gift, his friendship was a treasure, and his legacy is immeasurable. He is missed.