Douglas Gorsline, American (1913 - 1985)

Douglas Gorsline

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.

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