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Gustave Dor' (1832-1883): The Most Popular Illustrator of all Time
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Gustave Dor' (1832-1883): The Most Popular Illustrator of all TimeArtist Spotlight
by Giovanna Adams
Before Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac, Gustave Dor� was considered a widely known and sought after illustrator of his time. In terms of both the number of engravings (10,000+) and number of editions (4,000+) he produced, he was extremely popular. In a forty-year period from 1860 to 1900 a new Dor� illustrated edition was published every eight days! His 238 Bible engravings were by far the most popular set of illustrations ever done, with nearly 1,000 editions. Dor� was also a talented oil painter and sculptor. He made more than 400 oil paintings and created the monument to Alexandre Dumas that sits in Paris today(1). His engravings were used in many classic films, including King Kong, Great Expectations, and The Ten Commandments, as well as recent films like Amistad, Seven and What Dreams May Come.
Gustave Dor' was born in Strasbourg in January 1832. He was a child prodigy. He made his earliest drawings at five years old. By the age of 12 he was carving his own lithographic stones, and making sets of engravings with stories to go with them(2).
When he was 15, his family visited Paris for the first time. While exploring Paris, Gustave walked by a publishing company and marveled at the engravings. However, feeling that he could do them better, he feigned illness the next day and had his family go exploring without him so that he could show his engravings to the publishing company. That same day, publisher Charles Philipon, after tracking down Gustave's father, offered Gustave a lucrative contract. Philipon published Dor�'s first book that very year. It was a satire entitled "The Labours of Hercules"(3). The 1847 book is now extremely rare. The book was entirely by Gustave; he wrote the text, did the drawings and engraved them all on stone. By age 16, Gustave Dor� was the highest paid illustrator in France, making more per page than most illustrators at the height of their careers. All this for a young man, who never had an art lesson in his entire life(4).
As a teenager, Dor� created more than 2,000 satirical caricature engravings. In 1854, he launched out into the field of literary engravings. During the 1850s he produced dozens of literary works. A series of children's classics followed, from Don Quixote to Baron Munchausen to Fairy Tales. But Dor� was still relatively unknown outside of France. All that would change in December of 1865, when Dore�s work was published in England(5). Shortly thereafter he began a serial of the Bible. The Dor� Bible became so well known that it is even mentioned on page 46 of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (6).
Dor� continued to produce a steady flow of work in the 1870s. His work became more diverse, from a travel folio of Spain to a historical folio of the Crusades to literary classics of Rabelais, Ariosto, and The Ancient Mariner. In 1882, Dor� took his only U.S. commission ever for Edgar Allen Poe's �The Raven�. Dor� died in early 1883, just as he was finishing the Raven engravings. He had just turned 51(7).
During the course of his entire artistic life, Gustave Dor� moved into a new artistic field about every five years. Dor�'s greatest disappointment in France was the fine art establishment's refusal to accept him as a painter. Dor� admittedly had difficulties with color shading. Some have conjectured that he was actually color-blind. French artists were afraid he would come to dominate their field as he had illustration(8). But Dor� found in England the full artistic respect he sought. The Dor� Gallery was open in London for 25 years and then it toured the U.S. While Gustave Dor� may not be a name that everyone is familiar with, when it come to art his work is known by everyone. Whether it be in cinema, museums, or on the printed page Dor�'s art is known throughout the world.
1) Roosevelt, Blanche (1885). Life and Reminiscence of Gustave Dor�. New York: Cassell & Co., Ltd.
2) Valmy-Baysse, J. (1930). Gustave Dor� - L�Art et la Vie. Paris: Editions Marcel Seheur
3) Deze, Louis (1930). Gustave Dor' - Bibliographie et catalogue complet de l'oeuvre. Paris: Editions Marcel Seheur.
4) Farner, Konrad (1963). Gustave Dor� der Industrialisierte Romantiker, (2V), Dresden: Verlag der Kunst.
5) Renonciat, Annie (1983). La vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Dor�. Paris: ACR Edition.
6) Fantasy & Faith: the Art of Gustave Dor�. New Haven: Yale University Press.
7) Delorme, Rene (1879). Gustave Dor�. Paris: Librairie d'Art. (80 illustrations, earliest photogravures of Dore paintings)
8) Farner, Konrad (1963). Gustave Dor� der Industrialisierte Romantiker, (2V), Dresden: Verlag der Kunst.
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