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Doré, (Louis Auguste) Gustavelocked

(1832–1883)
  • David Kerr

Doré, (Louis Auguste) Gustave (1832–1883), illustrator, was born on 6 January 1832 in the rue Bleue, Strasbourg, France, the second of the three children of Pierre Louis Christophe Doré (d. 1849), an engineer, and his wife, Alexandrine Marie Anne Pluchart (d. 1881). His parents were both French.

A child prodigy, Doré received little formal artistic training, but his talents as a draughtsman were already apparent during his school years (at Bourg-en-Bresse, 1843–7, then at the Lycée Charlemagne in Paris, 1848–50). His first lithographic album was published by Aubert in Paris in 1847. After three years working under contract as a caricaturist for the editor Charles Philipon (1800–1862), he added book illustration to his repertory. He had achieved acclaim as an illustrator by 1854 with the publication of his first edition of the Œuvres de Rabelais and the Histoire pittoresque, dramatique et caricaturale de la Sainte Russie. He exhibited paintings in the Salon from 1850 and sculpture from 1870, but, to his great distress, was unable to match his precocious success as a graphic artist in the ‘high arts’. As a young man Doré would perform acrobatic feats to astound his friends; he used his extraordinary artistic talents to astound a wider public, but often in a similarly facile manner. The speed with which he drew was legendary and his output was as noteworthy for its quantity as for its quality. He painted epic canvasses of gigantic proportions (Le Christ sortant du prétoire, 1867–72, priv. coll., Vienna, measures 6 metres by 9 metres). His sculpture was equally enormous, and even his etchings and watercolours were outsized (in the Salon of 1877 he exhibited a life-size watercolour portrait of his mother). Doré aspired to be the Michelangelo of the nineteenth century, and was deeply embittered by the lukewarm critical reception that his paintings and sculpture received. Time has done little to invalidate the judgement of contemporary critics, however, and it is as an illustrator that Doré is remembered today.

Doré's production as an illustrator remains unmatched for scope or ambition. Among his major works are editions of Rabelais (2nd expanded edn, 1873), Balzac (Contes drolatiques, 1855), Dante (Divine Comedy, 1861, 1868), Charles Perrault (Fables, 1862), Cervantes (Don Quixote, 1863), Milton (Paradise Lost, 1866), La Fontaine (Fables, 1867), Tennyson (Idylls of the King, 1867), Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 1876), and Ariosto (Orlando Furioso, 1879). Doré also illustrated a host of minor works in a variety of genres. Of mixed quality, his illustrations achieved real power when he chose texts that suited his extravagant imagination and taste for excess. His editions of Dante, Rabelais, and Cervantes probably include his finest work. Too often, however, his output is marred by an overreliance on his facility and visual memory. Many of his figures lack individual character. London: a Pilgrimage, with a text by Blanchard Jerrold (1872), offers examples of the strengths and weaknesses of Doré's manner. The dark visions of East End poverty are magnificently evocative, but, as Jerrold himself complained, over and above the sundry inaccuracies of detail there is little that is specifically English about many of the figures that Doré drew from memory in his Parisian studio. Jerrold's criticism notwithstanding, Doré's vision of London, with its sharp contrasts between the sumptuous world of the affluent and the apocalyptic misery of the underclass, perfectly captured the public mood of horrified fascination with the burgeoning metropolis. Of the series of social investigations undertaken by journalists and graphic artists in the Victorian era, London: a Pilgrimage had the greatest immediate impact and has had the most enduring appeal for both the public and for later artists. Van Gogh's admiration for the London illustrations led him to paint a version of Doré's haunting image of dehumanized convicts circling a bleak exercise yard.

Doré's achievements in the field of illustration earned him polite critical applause, official honours, including the chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (1861) and officier de la Légion d'honneur (1878), and enormous public acclaim. His work was particularly popular with the British public. From 1856 until his death he worked as much for London as for Paris publishers. From 1868 the Doré Gallery in New Bond Street displayed examples of his work in every genre, and he contributed regularly to the Illustrated London News. Doré often visited London between 1868 and 1879, but never settled in the city or learned any English. Although he travelled widely in Europe, except for a brief exile in Versailles during the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870–71), he always lived in Paris after 1847. He never married. Youthful affairs with actresses (including, it seems, Sarah Bernhardt) notwithstanding, his one close emotional relationship was with his mother. As an adult, he continued to sleep in a small chamber off her bedroom in the family home in the rue St Dominique. He died there on 23 January 1883 and was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery two days later.

Sources

  • B. Jerrold, Life of Gustave Doré (1891)
  • A. Renonciat, La vie et l'œuvre de Gustave Doré (1983)
  • S. Nicolosi, Gustave Doré: biografia, saggi, giudizi critici (1989)
  • P. Kaenel, Le métier d'illustrateur 1830–1880: Rodolphe Töpffer, J.J. Grandville, Gustave Doré (1996)
  • B. Roosevelt, Life and reminiscences of Gustave Doré (1885)

Archives

  • AM Oxf., sketchbook
  • Somerville College, Oxford, letters to Amelia Edwards

Likenesses

  • G. Dorée, self-portrait, watercolour drawing, 1872, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg, France
  • Nadar, photograph, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France