Gustave Dore

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DORÉ, GUSTAVE (1832–1883), French artist. Gustave Doré was a major force in nineteenth-century European art. The French fine arts establishment ignored his paintings (some said he was colorblind), so Doré appealed directly to the public. Creating his own genre, the Doré literary folio, Doré elevated popular art to the level of fine art, appealing to French, English, Spanish, Italian, and German sentiments through each country's literary classics. Critics said Doré was too popular, too talented, too prolific, too dramatic. Known as "the last of the romantics," he embodied the basic artistic conflicts of raw talent versus instruction, illustration versus painting, black and white versus color, religious versus secular, realist versus Romanticist. In the early twenty-first century most viewers recognize the style and otherworldly quality of his art but not his name. The legacy of his largely monochromatic art is to be rediscovered by succeeding generations and reinterpreted through colorization.

Born in Strasbourg on the German border, Doré's artistic talent was apparent early in drawings from the age of four. By age twelve, he was carving his own lithographs into stone. He was fifteen when his family visited Paris, where Doré marched into the office of publisher Charles Philipon (1800–1862) with original drawings that would lead to a contract, making Doré the highest paid illustrator in France. The "boy genius" became the toast of Paris. During his teen years, he produced thousands of caricatures for periodicals before turning to more serious literary art, with engravings for the works of François Rabelais, Honoréde Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare, and Charles Dickens.

Both success and failure made Doré restless for new artistic media. Perceiving a cold shoulder from the Paris Salon, he conceived a series of literary folios (often 13" × 17" and weighing twenty to forty pounds) with his large dramatic engravings (referred to as black and white paintings). At his own expense, he published his 1861 Dante's Inferno, which won him the Legion of Honour. Other folios followed: Baron Munchausen, Fairy Tales, Don Quixote, and in 1865 what became the most popular set of illustrations ever made, 230 folio engravings for The Doré Bible, so famous that Mark Twain (1835–1910) casually mentioned it in Tom Sawyer. Doré's growing fame benefited from a timely new invention, the electrotype, a zinc molding plate allowing unlimited engraving reproduction with no quality loss.

The popularity of Doré's folios spread throughout Europe and the world: Milton: Paradise Lost, Tennyson: Idylls of the King, LaFontaine: Fables, Ariosto: Orlando Furioso, Chateaubriand: Atala, Coleridge: Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Poe: The Raven, a historical work Michaud: History

of the Crusades, and his masterpiece social commentary Jerrold: London, a Pilgrimage (only Doré could so dramatically visually contrast the pampered life of the wealthy with the squalor of poor beggars). Many of his powerful engravings are etched into our collective memory. But Doré still longed for respect in the fine arts. With the British lauding those paintings the French had ignored, a gallery of Doré paintings opened in London. He then turned to watercolor landscapes and works of sculpture. But he basically worked himself to death by the age of fifty-one, from his frenzied pace of artistic output. As late as the 1890s, an exhibition of his paintings toured the United States, breaking many attendance records.

Doré was the most prolific and popular illustrator ever, with more than ten thousand engravings of all types, and many thousands of book editions reprinting his engravings. But he also produced more than four hundred oil paintings, some twenty by thirty feet, such as his religious canvases Christ Leaving the Praetorium, Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, and The Dream of Pilate's Wife. His highest selling paintings have been literary nudes; his Andromeda and Paolo & Francesca each sold for more than $500,000. In addition, Doré painted several hundred watercolor landscapes, produced thousands of mixed media sketches, and chiseled nearly a hundred works of sculpture, such as The Doré Vase (an enormous wine bottle with hundreds of mythological creatures), The Human Pyramid, and his Paris monument to Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870). At the end of the twentieth century he finally gained fine arts recognition, even in France. Major exhibition books of Doré fine art displays in England, France, Germany, and the United States have revealed the full scope of Doré the artist.

But his literary folio engravings are the pinnacle of his artistic oeuvre. It did not take long for them to be colorized in hundreds of watercolors, chromolithographs, hand-painted magic lantern slides, and oil paintings by artists such as Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). Doré's name faded after 1900, but his influence on theater, music, literature, and film never diminished. Films influenced by his art include King Kong (1933), Snow White (1937), Great Expectations (1946), The TenCommandments (1956), Star Wars (1977), Amistad (1997), and Shrek 2 (2004). By the early twenty-first century Doré's art had been adapted into more than 130 pop culture formats.

See alsoDaumier, Honoré; France; Painting; Romanticism.


Malan, Dan. Gustave Doré: Adrift on Dreams of Splendor. St. Louis, Mo., 1995.

Malan, Dan. Gustave Doré: A Biography. St. Louis, Mo., 1996.

Zafran, Eric, with Robert Rosenblum and Lisa Small. Fantasy & Faith:The Art of Gustave Doré. New Haven, Conn., 2005.

Dan Malan

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Doré, Gustave (1832–83) French illustrator, painter and sculptor. He is best known for his engraved book illustrations, many of them grotesque fantasies, such as Inferno (1861), Don Quixote (1862) and the Bible (1866). His drawings of London slums (1869–71) inspired Van Gogh.