An Introduction to the Literary Illustrations of Gustave Doré
Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Doré, or Gustave Doré, was an incredibly talented and influential artist best known for creating iconic illustrations to accompany famous texts. He was a prolific artist, and his body of work is estimated to number 10,000 pieces. His drawings, etchings and paintings have been admired worldwide for centuries. Read more about this prolific artist and his fascinating creative practice. Below, Gustave Doré by Carolus-Duran
Who Was Gustave Doré?
Gustave Doré was born in Strasbourg, France, on January 6, 1832, and died in Paris on January 23, 1883. Doré began drawing sketches of a standard far beyond his years at a remarkably young age. He started his professional life at 15, working as a caricature artist for a French newspaper. He developed his skill set and became highly proficient across various mediums, such as printmaking, illustration, painting, comics, caricature, and sculpture. Doré was a versatile artist, working in different artistic disciplines such as engravings, woodcuts, and sculptures. (Below, illustration from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)
Doré's mastery in wood engraving was evident from his work illustrating tales from the Bible, a massive undertaking involving the depiction of 241 stories. This project was immensely successful, leading to an exhibition and eventual gallery in London and lucrative and successful commissions from publishers. His work was also published in multiple countries in large print runs which captured the imagination of his audiences worldwide, winning him widespread acclaim and admiration. Despite his immense popularity in printmaking, it's essential to note that Doré primarily functioned as a designer. His elaborate engravings required special skills, and the artist employed a team of 40 specialist block cutters to transfer his designs onto wooden printing blocks. Below, Death on the Pale Horse, from Doré's English Bible.
What Are Some Famous Literary Works Illustrated by Gustave Doré?
Doré illustrated many works of literature, including Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and many more.
The Vault Editions team is especially fond of his illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Raven' These illustrations (example below), published in 1884, became one of the most famous visual representations of the poem, capturing its essence of melancholy and insanity.
Let's examine two epic illustration projects, The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost.
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Doré illustrated Dante's Divine Comedy, a 14th-century Italian epic poem written in three volumes. These editions were published between 1861 and 1868 and have been popular ever since. The project originated from an idea by Doré to create illustrated works to accompany what he defined as 'masterpieces of literature'. He could not find a publisher to fund the lavish folio edition for his artistic vision, so he decided to pay the costs of the first book. Fortunately, this release garnered immediate success both artistically and commercially. As a result, Hachette published the second and third parts of the poem as a single volume in 1868, capitalising on the popularity of Doré's initial edition. Below, Charon crosses the river Acheron in Dante Alighieri's Inferno Canto 3 lines 76-78
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Another of Doré's most famous works is his illustrations for John Milton's epic composition 'Paradise Lost', published in 1866. 'Paradise Lost' is a lengthy poem comprising 12 books and over 10,500 lines. It's written in blank verse and tells the biblical story of the tragic fall of humankind when Adam and Eve couldn't resist Satan's temptation to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. As a result, God exiled them from the Garden of Eden forever. The engravings brought life to the poem's vivid descriptions of Heaven, Hell, and the struggles between angels and demons, below, 'Now Storming Fury Rose' from Paradise Lost
Gustave Doré's work inspires countless artists worldwide, and his contribution to the art world is etched in history. If you'd like to discover more of his work, check out some of Gustave Dore's illustrations of London life from 'London: A Pilgrimage' on the British Library website. The publishers, Grant and Co, signed him to a five-year contract which required him to reside in London for three months of the year for an annual salary of £10,000 - around £1,130,000 in today's currency!
Interested in Figure Drawing?
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