Jane Austen Illustrators: Douglas Warner Gorsline

Title Page of Pride and Prejudice, John C. Winston Co, (1949)

Douglas Warner Gorsline (1913-1985) was an American book illustrator and fine artist whose line drawings and full color paintings were included in the 1949 edition of Pride and Prejudice, published by The John C. Winston Company of Philadelphia. The book was part of a series of the ten greatest novels in the world selected by author W. Somerset Maugham

Illustration by Douglas W. Gorsline, Pride and Prejudice, (1949)
Elizabeth continued her walk alone 

Here is a short biography on his early life and career by Thomas L. Johnson, Ph.D, the curator of an exhibit on his work entitled People Reading: Selections from the Collection of Donald and Patricia Oresman. 

 

Illustration by Douglas W. Gorsline, Pride and Prejudice, (1949)

Born in Rochester, New York in 1913, Gorsline received his training as an artist at the Art Students League in New York City and the Yale School of Fine Arts. Although his paintings and watercolors included many landscapes and portraits, he became best known for his work as an illustrator. He illustrated more than seventy-five books, including two of his own: Farm Boy (1950) and What People Wore (1952). Among others he illustrated were three in the Rivers of America series; a dozen titles for young readers issued by Random House between 1952 and 1980; and works by such authors as Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, (1948), Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1950) and Thomas Wolfe, The Web and the Rock (1939), and Look Homewrd, Angel, (1947).  

Illustration by Douglas W. Gorsline, Pride and Prejudice, (1949)

The illustrations in Pride and Prejudice are representative of his earlier work, and include four half page color illustrations, one full page color illustration and numerous black and white line drawings of scenes of Regency era figures and items. His style of line drawing is both classical and innovative. His work shares the artistic accuracy to fashion and equipage of the era with his predecessors Hugh Thomson and C. E. & H. M. Brock by capturing Jane Austen’s characters and scenes with sensitive detail, but Gorsline diverges from their interpretation of the energy and emotion in the plotline with his own unique characterization. His figures are beautifully rendered, but show little expression or connection to the actual scene. Often we see only the backside of a figure which displays the clothing beautifully, but does not enhance or support the narrative beyond adding visual beauty for the reader. 

Illustration by Douglas W. Gorsline, Pride and Prejudice (1949)

Meryton was headquaters of the militia regiment

Gorsline’s successful color illustrations relate more accurately to a specific scene such as the group pictured above entitled, “Meryton was the headquarters of the militia regiment”. This is not a direct quote from the novel, but the artist’s statement of fact in his on words. This same artistic observation is applied to all of the illustrations that Gorsline has contributed. Some think that this style is impersonal and static, others appreciate the challenge and creativity to interpret the artists intensions. I believe that Gorsline’s approach is to remove the reader one step from the text by engaging us to apply our own ‘minds eye’ of a character or scene into his illustrations. 

Illustration by Douglas W. Gorsline, Pride and Prejudice, (1949)

They sat down to a game of whist

As art and book illustration evolved through the 20th-century, Gorsline’s work forged the genre forward with an innovative and contemporary approach. This more ‘representational’ style of illustration is quite lovely as a whole, but individually it can lack a connection to the subject which may appear distant. Hopefully readers imaginations can see beyond the obvious and enjoy the line, color and intension he wished to portray. This style of art definetly becomes more of a personal experience then a collective reaction. 

Illustration by Douglas W. Gorsline, Pride and Prejudice, (1949)

They now waked on in silence

Douglas Gorsline received numerous awards during his lifetime, and his works were widely exhibited and collected. His book What People Wore, includes over 1,800 illustrations and is still widely used as a definitive resource by artists today. In 1973 he became the first American artist to be invited by the People’s Republic of China to paint and discuss art. Later in his career, having been strongly influenced by the French artist Marcel Duchamp, his style evolved into cubism and realism. He lived in France for the last fifteen years of his life and died in Dijon in 1985. In 1994 the Gorsline Museum was inaugurated at Bussy-le-Grand in the Côte-d’Or region, and houses many of his personal papers and artwork.

Illustration by Douglas W. Gorsline, Pride and Prejudice, (1949)

They five set off together 

One thought on “Jane Austen Illustrators: Douglas Warner Gorsline

  1. This is a lovely post! Douglas Gorsline is one of my favorite illustrators. His ‘The Night Before Christmas’ is fabulous! I found you by digging for more information about him as I just acquired the 1947 Grosset & Dunlap edition of ‘Little Men’ which he illustrated. I would love to own this one as well! Thanks for the fantastic write up!

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