Gustave Doré was born in 1832 in Strasbourg, France. His outstanding talent for drawing was already recognized in school. As a kid, he was already carving pictures in cement. By the age of nine, he began draw his first illustrations to Dante's The Divine Comedy. When he was 15 he was hired as an illustrator for the Parisian satirical magazin Journal pour rire, for which he produced caricatures and cartoons. In 1847, his first book of cartoons based on the Greek tales The twelve labours of Heracles was published - Doré was only fifteen by then. Today, Doré is considered a founding father of the comic strip, to a large extent because of this early work in which he told stories through pictures.
From cartoonist to illustrator of classics
A couple of years after, he illustrated a new edition of Balzac's Les Contes Drôlatiques, "the comical tales", which was published in 1955. In the 1860s, Doré achieved international recognition with his illustations for The Holy Bible and Dante's Inferno. He exhibited a large number of religious works in the Doré Gallery in London and the Salon in Paris from 1866-1868. His Bible illustrations had a significant effect on the revival of religious art in Europe. The outstanding character of his work mainly existed in the richness and imaginativeness of his pictures.
In the same decade, he illustrated major classics of French, British and Spanish literature, such as Michael Cervantes' Don Quixote, John Milton's Paradise Lost and fairy tales by Charles Perrault or Jean de la Fontaine with pencil paintings and wood engravings. He grew to be the highest paid illustrator in France and one of the most famous artists of his time.
After the French defeat in the Franco-Prussion war in 1870, Doré returned to satire. Deeply affected by the loss of the Alsace region, where he grew up, to Prussia, he started mocking Prussians and the socialistic Communards by returning to drawing cartoons.
Before the war, Doré had travelled to London, a city where social divide was very clear. Together with journalist Blanchard Jerrold, Doré published London: A Pilgrimage in 1872. Doré illustrated this work with 180 engravings depicting London life in the 19th century, with a main focus on the social differences: he showed the filthy slums next to the luxurious ballrooms where the high society resided. This publication had a lasting influence in how contitental Europe perceived Victorian London, in Doré's lifetime, but still today.
The artist also undertook several trips to Spain. He felt attracted by the wildness of the country, the Moorish influences in a deeply Catholic country. He had always been interested in bohemian life and affected by the bandits and beggars strolling the Spanish streets. Already in 1861, he travelled to the Iberian peninsula to study for his plan to illustrate Cervantes' masterpiece Don Quixote. This novel, one of the most popular books of all times, knew a large number of illustrated versions, but Doré was determined to outdo all of his predecessors. And his plan succeeded - the publication with his engravings was praised unanimously.
Painter and sculptor
Though Doré is mostly known as an illustrator today, his book illustrations only form about one third of his work. Doré was an avid traveller and a big admirer of mountains. He spent lots of time travelling to Switzerland, Scotland and the Pyrenees. He became a serious watercolour artist in the 1870s, predominantly portraying landscapes in general and mountain views in particular. A real child of the Romantic era, his compositions often showed nighttime or dusk views, which made them strikingly dreamlike and poetic. His (watercolour) paintings were valued highly, which was demonstrated by his numerous exhibitions and his admission to the Society of French Watercolourartists in 1879. From 1877 on, he tried sculpturing, and soon acquired virutosity without ever having training. One of his major works is a three-ton bronze sculpture, Le Poème de la Vigne, a vase-formed construction covered with vines and figures and can be seen in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
Influence on film industry
Doré's highly imaginative work had a incredible impact on the film industry. Almost every film about the Bible refers to his works, and every movie adaption of Dante's Divine Comedy, Don Quixote or Victorian London used his illustrations as a model. His fantasy creatures inspired, among otherss, George Lucas for Chewbacca's appearance in Star Wars (1977). DreamWorks Pictures's Puss in Boots, who first appears in Shrek (2004), is a one to one copy of Doré's Booted Cat Doré drew for Charles Perraults collection of fairy tales. The first movie version of Beauty and the Beast (Jean Cocteau, 1945) is heavily influenced by the illustrations from the same work. And when you compare Paradise Lost's illustrations with Peter Jackson's landscapes in Lord of the Rings (2001) and King Kong (2005), you will recognize the parallels are striking.
Doré never married, but continued to live with his mother after his father passed away in 1849 and lived alone after his mother's death thirty years later. Towards the end of his life, he suffered from melancholy and depression. Infernal visions, love and death had attracted Doré throughout his career - just think about the themes of books he illustrated.It was then that he tackled rather morbid or unsettling subjects, in particular in his sculptures. In this time, he illustrated Poe's poem The Raven - pictures of a man mourning his departed wife. Doré died aged just a couple of weeks after his 51st birthday, leaving us an extensive oeuvre of several thousands of works.