Gustave Dore created the most popular illustrations and engravings in the history of human civilization. He reminds me of the top character actors of all time—you know their work, but you don’t know their names.
Gustave Dore (1832-1883) was a child prodigy from Strasbourg. When he was fifteen years old—and looked much younger—he visited Paris with his family and walked by the window of a publishing house with engravings displayed in its windows. Dore went to the publishing company alone the next day to show his sketches to the publisher, Charles Philipon, who was dazzled by them. Monsieur Philipon signed Dore to a lucrative contract on the spot.
Within one year, Gustave Dore was the highest paid illustrator in France. Within twenty years he would be the most famous living artist in the world. The engravings by Dore are etched into the memory of the collective subconscious of the world.
Gustave Dore never had an art lesson. Yet he illustrated books by Rabelais, Balzac, Coleridge, Tennyson, Milton, Dante, Cervantes, Lord Byron, and Edgar Allan Poe.
Besides illustrating books, and engraving in both wood and metal, Dore was famous as a painter and sculptor.
In 1861, against everyone’s advice, Gustave Dore published a giant folio of Dante’s Inferno, featuring 76 full-page engravings. The finished book was priced at seven times the most expensive book ever published, but it sold like hotcakes—to the astonishment of all but Dore. There have been over 200 editions of those engravings published since.
In 1866, Gustave Dore created the most popular Bible illustrations ever—238 of them. The following year the Dore Gallery began its 25 year run on Bond Street in London. He then created the most famous set of Biblical paintings the world has ever seen.
Gustave Dore published his folio masterpiece, London: A Pilgrimage, in 1872. It featured 180 engravings, the rights to which he was paid over $100,000 by Harper & Brothers of America. Dore worked five years on that project. Vincent Van Gogh proclaimed this set to be his favorite artwork.
In 1882, Gustave Dore was paid 30,000 francs to illustrate The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe. This was to be his final work. He died in Paris at age 51.
In 1896, an exhibition of his paintings toured the Western World. The last stop was Chicago, where his work caused a sensation. The Gustave Dore Exhibit broke all attendance records for the Art Institute of Chicago. 1.5 million people came to see his paintings over eight months, sixteen thousand per day. The final hour of the exhibition saw 4,000 people pour in. The Art Institute had never drawn more than 600,000 people before in any year.
Gustave Dore achieved the most fame during his lifetime for his over 400 oil paintings and hundreds of watercolor landscapes. But his lasting legacy is his engravings and illustrations.
More than 4,000 published books have used the engravings of Gustave Dore. His illustrations have been used over 10,000 times in books.
The engravings by Dore have also been used extensively by Hollywood, featured in such films as The Ten Commandments, King Kong, Great Expectations, and Amistad. Gustave Dore was a genius.
The gallery may be viewed larger if you utilize the “slide show” feature on the opening picture.