Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Gustave Verbeck

Gustavus “Gustave” Verbeck was born in Nagasaki, Japan on August 29, 1867. His birthplace and birth date were on his Petition for Naturalization which was filed December 19, 1914, in New York City; the document was retrieved at His name, Gustavus, was found in the book, Verbeck of Japan (1900):

…Right here we may glance at Dr. Verbeck’s family. His firstborn baby daughter, Emma Japonica, and Guido, who lived to be sixteen, are no more on earth, but at this writing, June 1900, there survive, five sons and two daughters. William, Channing, Gustavus, Arthur, Bernard, Emma and Eleanor. The grandson, son of William, bears the honored name Guido Fridolin Verbeck. Emma is married to Professor Terry and dwells in Japan. Two sons in the army of the United States follow the flag in the far east, and one, Gustavus, the illustrator is well known to all who love jolly pictures.

When the above passage was written, Verbeck was the fourth of nine children born to Guido, a missionary, and Maria. His father left Holland on September 2, 1852. From New York City he made his way to Green Bay, Wisconsin. He found work as an engineer in Helena, Arkansas. He returned to Green Bay and later settled in Auburn, New York, where he prepared for the ministry. There he met Maria Manion. They married in Philadelphia on April 18, 1859. On May 7, 1859, the newlyweds sailed for Shanghai. From there, Guido would go to Nagasaki.

Verbeck spent his first ten or eleven years in Japan. The American Art Annual, Volume III, said he had some art training there.

His father wrote about his two trips to the U.S.:

Since I was first sent to Japan in 1859, this will be the first time that I leave it at the mission’s expense. In 1873 I travelled at my own expense; and in 1878 I returned home with my family and lived a year with them in California, altogether at my own charges. It was only since my leaving California, in August, 1879, that I became again chargeable to the mission both for myself and family.

The 1880 U.S. Federal Census recorded Verbeck (whose first name was misspelled “Gusstavus”), his mother and seven siblings in Oakland, California at 767 18th Street. All of the children were born in Japan, except one: three-month-old Bernard was born in California.

At some point Verbeck returned to Japan more than once. His name was Gustave on the naturalization petition which said he came back to the U.S., by way of San Francisco, on February 15, 1883, aboard the S.S. City of Tokio. Another petition with the same first name, filed December 21, 1916, had the arrival date as July 15, 1883. The petition stated that Verbeck had resided in New York beginning December 1, 1889. At a later date he moved to Paris.

According to the American Art Annual, Verbeck studied under “Constant, Laurens, Blanc and Giradot.” The Times, December 6, 1937, said Verbeck drew cartoons for several French newspapers. Lambiek said: “…Drawn towards the Cabaret du Chat Noir, Gustave Verbeck designed a shadow-play titled ‘Le Malin Kangourou’, and in 1893/1894, he created several illustrations for the newspaper Le Chat Noir.” In September 1894, art critic Henry McBride stayed at Verbeck’s apartment, located at 131 Boulevard Montparnasse.

A passenger list at listed Verbeck as a steerage passenger in compartment number two for single men. He arrived in New York City on November 5, 1894, aboard the S.S. Bourgogne, which sailed from the port of Le Havre, France. His occupation was painter.

On his return to the U.S., Verbeck produced illustrations for several periodicals including the American Magazine, Harper’s, McClure’s and the Saturday Evening PostThe Monthly Illustrator, May 1895, published the article, “Technical Tendencies of Caricature”, with his illustrations. Verbeck had six illustrations in the July 1899, Pearson’s Magazine.

Regarding the alternate spelling of Verbeck’s surname the Times explained: “During part of his life, Mr. Verbeck spelled his surname “Verbeek,” the form used by his grandfather, Carl Heinrich Willem Verbeek of Zeist, Holland.”

The Times, January 2, 1927, reviewed Verbeck’s exhibition at the Ferargil Gallery and quoted his autobiographic note in the catalogue:

Born in Japan, came to California, revisited Japan three times, knew native artists, tried their way of drawing with brush, acquired a pronounced Oriental slant in art. In San Francisco at Academy studied still life and sketching under Emil Carlsen. Came to New York and entered DeForest Brush’s class at the League. Became acquainted with Bridgman just back from the Beaux Arts and worked with him from models on Sundays. Met George Luks. We had adjoining studios. Low rental, no furniture, slept on floor.

Next went to Paris three years, worked under Constant, Laurens, Giradot, Blanc and Freytel, at Julian’s and Calarossi’s [sic]. Back in America, exhibited a little, got encouragement but not many sales. Did not know how to get a dealer. Illustrated, painted, moved all over country, lost paintings, painted more.

The New-York Tribune took note of Verbeck’s work on November 21, 1896: “…The only other artistic productions in the corridor are Mr. Verbeck’s ‘Enchantment,’ a roughly painted but artlessly clever sketch…”; and on March 5, 1898: “…Take the nine somewhat fantastic sketches by Gustave Verbeek. They are original, piquant little productions. Some day they will be of greater value to collectors, we imagine, than they are now.” Verbeck’s art in the nineteenth exhibition of the Society of American Artists, at the Fine Arts Building, drew the attention of the New York Herald, March 28, 1897: “In Gustave Verbeek’s ‘Fantaisie Hellenique’ a pretty young lady in vivid red is seen, gracefully reposing on nothing.”

Art collector Pincus Chock exhibited his collection at the American Art Association. Works by Verbeck were noted by the Times, March 6, 1898: “…Among the newest names is that of Gustave Verbeek, a young Dutch-Japanese-American who began to study in Nagasaki and passed several years in Paris, bringing with him to France that color sense and that charming composition which delights us in the colored drawings of the Japanese. There are nine examples of this clever painter…”

Verbeck may have had a room at 106 East 23rd Street, in Manhattan, which was the scene of a suicide. The New York Press, January 17, 1898, reported the incident:

…She was seen in the hall yesterday morning about 9 o’clock. At 3:30 p.m. Gustave Verbeck, an artist, passing through the hall, smelled gas. He knocked at Mme. Valfier’s door and got no answer. He reported the matter to Henry Slocum, the proprietor of the restaurant on the ground floor. The pair went out upon the fire escape in the rear of the house. The window curtain had been pulled down half way, a sheet was over the lower portion of the window and the catch was on.

They called Patrolman Fox, who burst in the door of the room. The tenant was lying dead on the lounge with her head wrapped in a towel. The rubber hose that had been used by her for the gas stove was in her mouth, so wrapped about with the towel that little gas could escape until she was dead….

Verbeck has not been found in the 1900 census. Two volumes of the American Art Annual had listings for him. In volume three was one for painters and the other for illustrators:

Verbeek, Gustave, 1717 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. Pa.Born, Nagasaki, Japan, of Dutch parents, 1867. Early art training in Japan, later in Paris under Constant, Laurens, Blanc and Giradot. Also illustrator.

Verbeck, Gustave, 1717 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. Pa. (See Painters.) 

Volume four had a single entry:

Verbeek, Gustave (P., I.), 21 Manhattan Ave., New York.Born, Nagasaki, Japan, of Dutch parents, 1867. Early art training in Japan; later in Paris under Benjamin-Constant, Laurens, Blanc in Paris.

The New York Times, February 5, 1899, explained how Verbeck and his younger brother, Arthur, were Japanese citizens:

How the Verbeek Brothers Happen to be Full-Fledged Citizens of the Land of the Rising Sun.There are only two full-blooded white men in the world who are natural-born subjects of the Mikado of Japan. Both are at present in this city, and one of them adds to this distinction the fact that he served as an American volunteer soldier in the late war with Spain. They are brothers, and the one who wore Uncle Sam’s uniform is Arthur Verbeek, a Corporal in Company I of the Ninth Regiment, New York Volunteers. He is a young art student, and his brother is Gustave Verbeek, an artist who has just come to this country after a four years’ course of study in Paris.

…The laws of Holland, the birthplace of Prof. Verbeek, provide that after a continuous absence of five years from the fatherland one’s citizenship is forfeited, and, as he had never taken out naturalization papers in the United States, he was a man without a country when he arrived in Japan. The Government there had no naturalization law, and by the command of the Mikado a special law was framed by the Japanese statesmen very much like our own naturalization law, by which act he was made a Japanese citizen.

Both sons had in the meantime voyaged to this country, and Gustave, the elder, one, went to Paris to study art at Julien’s famous atelier. It was in that city that he first learned his true nationality. The American Consul to whom he applied, refused the customary protection, and both he and his brother, who arrived in the French capital a year later, were recorded as Japanese citizens. They applied to the Japanese Consul in Paris for credentials, which were duly forwarded to them by command of the Mikado, and copies of the same papers were filed with the Japanese Consul here when they returned to this country.

Verbeck’s first attempt to be naturalized was reported in the Syracuse Journal, April 18, 1907. He applied for naturalization papers at the United States Circuit Court in New York City.

Mr. Verbeck stated that he was a Japanese subject, and under the law this made him ineligible to American citizenship…Yet Verbeck, while a subject of the Mikado, plainly was the Dutchman his name implied….he got his papers, though not without many misgivings on the part of John Donovan, the naturalization clerk.

“I am a Japanese subject,” was Verbeck’s answer when his nationality was asked.

“A Jap!” cried Donovan, gazing open-mouthed at the man’s fair complexion and generally European appearance. “How can that be? What is your name?”

“My name is Gustave Verbeck,” said the applicant blandly. “My father was a citizen of Holland and my mother French. My father was a missionary, and by living outside the Netherlands more than ten years, he lost his citizenship in that country. I was born in Nagasaki after the ten years were up and that made me a native of Japan. I lived in Yokohama for a while and afterward in Tokio. Although I am a Japanese artist, I wish to become an American citizen, for I have opened a studio in West Twenty-third street, and this country looks good enough for me.”

The Cosmopolitan, September 1900, published his illustrations for “The Beautiful Man of Pingalap.” Verbeck’s work appeared in two issues of Good Housekeeping. In the July 1904, his initials, “G V” appear on “The Frog, the Mouse and the Hawk” and “Why the Mud-turtle Lives in the Water.” The art for “Miss Kitty Manx to Sir Thomas Angora” was signed “G. Verbeek.” Verbeck had credit line in the September 1904 issue for “The Wee, Wee Woman and Her Pig.”

Starting in February 1902 Verbeck illustrated John Kendrick Bang’s “Andiron Tales” for the New York Herald




According to American Newspaper Comics (2012), Verbeck’s first foray in comics was Easy Papa, which appeared in the New York World from May 25, 1902 to February 2, 1903. His comic, The Twinklies, had a brief run from January 4 to 15, 1903. The Upside-downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo was produced for the New York Herald beginning October 11, 1903. When it ended in early 1905, he drew the Terrors of the Tiny Tads, which had a long run in the Herald, from May 28, 1905 to October 25, 1914.

Verbeck produced two other strips and each ran about three months. Stories Without Words debuted May 2 and ended August 1, 1909. For the New York Tribune, Loony Lyrics of Lulu started July 17 and stopped October 23, 1910.

Advertising was another outlet for Verbeck whose illustrations were used with children’s wear (below) and corsets.

Verbeck wrote and illustrated “The Diary of a Boy Inventor” for Boys’ Life, April 1915. A postcard by him is reproduced here.

Books illustrated by Verbeck include The Sprightly Romance of Marsac (1896), The Court of Boyville (1899), Donegal Fairy Tales (1900), Over the Plum Pudding (1901; “The Amalgamated Brotherhood of Spooks”), Nigger Baby and Nine Beasts (advertised in The Smart Set magazine from 1901 to 1906), The Second Froggy Fairy Book (1902) with Anne Penock, Wild Creatures Afield (1902) and Mother Goose for Grown-ups (1908) with Peter Newell.

In the Annual American Catalogue 1899 (1900) was an advertisement for publisher, Drexel Biddle. Verbeck was one of five artists who illustrated the Famous Froggy Fairy Books.

Also published were compilations of strips for The Up-Side Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo (1906) and Terrors of the Tiny Tads (1909). The Upside-Down World of Gustave Verbeek (2010) includes complete runs of Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo and Loony Lyrics of Lulu, plus samples of Terrors of the Tiny Tads, Verbeck’s paintings, drawings and more.

In 1910 Verbeck, his wife Leonore, daughter Dorothea, and a servant resided in Manhattan, New York City, at 541 West 123 Street. The 1910 New York City Directory listed his studio address at 23 West 24 Street. In 1911 his studio was at 60 West 37 Street. The 1915 New York State Census listed him in Manhattan at 125 Sherman Avenue, which would be his address into the 1930s. His occupation was artist.

Verbeck’s monotypes were praised, and one published, in The Sun, May 16, 1915. The following year, monotypes by him were in a group show at the gallery, Coupil & Co. of ParisThe Century Magazine, May 1916, featured his monotypes. Another exhibition of his monotypes was in March 1918.

The Times, January 2, 1927, judged Verbeck’s exhibition, at the Ferargil Galleries, of special merit:

…Mr. Verbeek may seem a little old-fashioned, because his painting is “beautiful” and all on the surface. But what matter! Mr. Verbeek has a distinctive decorative gift, and that, nowadays, is mighty rare.

What Mr. Verbeek does is to weave, with an exceedingly fluent and persuasive brush, the surface beauties of a romantically seen world into rich tapestries of color. In these tapestries you can discover, as through gauze, nude girls joined in their dance by an exhilarating rain; girls in the arms of Galahadish young men. Or there are landscapes in which red and blue and yellow hats of picnicking ladies are woven together by Mr. Verbeek’s subtle brush with shadowy trees, dark green foliage, guitarists furtively plucking music and a young Watteauesque pair dancing.

The fact…that when in Japan he acquired “a pronounced Oriental slant in art” is easily apparent. This is not to say that Mr. Verbeek’s painting is Japanese. It is not. In fact, the little gaps of weakness and uncertainty that now and then destroy the unity of his compositions may, in this instance, be accounted for by the irrefutable (geographical) conclusion of a certain poet—“East is East,” &c. That is, Mr. Verbeek sometimes seems to try two methods of painting a canvas, and when he fails to join up “East” and “West” the twain naturally do not meet. But when he hits off canvases such as “Rain” and “Dance in the Wood” neither East nor West is visible, only painting of a high decorative order.

About six months before Verbeck’s death was an exhibition of his monotypes at Adelphi College in Garden City, Long Island, as reported by the Times, May 23, 1937.

Verbeck passed away December 5, 1937, “…in the Home for Incurables, Third Avenue and 183d Street, the Bronx, where he had been a patient for two months. He had been ill for two years,” as reported in the Times the following day.

—Alex Jay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *