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Strasbourg 1832 – 1883 Paris

Gustave Doré was an individual and prolific artist of the nineteenth century, known for his highly idiosyncratic lithographs and his melodramatic, grandiose paintings. While his extensive œuvre spans every medium, his acclaim and posthumous renown stem primarily from his talents as an illustrator of classic literary works. Doré lies at the confluence of late Romanticism and early Symbolism, manifesting itself in a self-conscious idiosyncrasy combined with a penchant for the Sublime. He painted naturalistically in an uncategorizable style that differed according to the medium and the desired effect. He imbued his work with an aesthetic timelessness that lives on in today’s collective imagination through Dreamworks’ ‘Puss in Boots’ character as well as Terry Gilliam’s and Tim Burton’s filmography. 

Doré was a child prodigy whose exceptional talent for draughtsmanship was discovered at the age of four. His career began when he was thirteen and he moved to Paris in 1847 to produce caricatures. He was self-taught and used his time to study paintings and works on paper at the Louvre and the National Library. From 1850, he devoted himself to literary illustration, drawing plates for countless classics such as Lord Byron’s complete works (1853), Alexandre Dumas Les Compagnons de Jéhu (1858) and not least his influential Holy Bible (1866). He achieved his first critical acclaim with illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy (1861). His diabolical iconography and chimeric beings caught the public imagination and led the art critic Théophile Gautier to credit Doré with inventing the modern vision of Hell. However, his subjects went beyond the imaginary; inspired by Honoré Daumier’s social commentary, Doré devoted three publications to the social inequalities of urban life, culminating with his famous London: A Pilgrimage (1868/72), which was a key influence on Max Ernst’s (1891–1976) collage-novel Une Semaine de Bonté (1934) and Van Gogh’s (1853–90) Prisoner’s Round (after Gustave Doré) (1890).

The low ranking of the graphic arts led the ambitious Gustave Doré to become a painter and sculptor in the 1870s. His astonishingly large output consisted primarily of landscapes, history paintings and religious scenes. His landscapes are Romanticist, combining the mysticism of Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840), visible in works like Loch Lomond (1875) with the grandiloquence of John Martin (1789–1854). His monumental history paintings and religious works such as Christ Leaving the Praetorium (1867–72) show parallels with the classicism of Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) and Veronese’s (1528–88) theatricality. Bronze dominates his sculptural work which were often humorous and anecdotal such as the Frolic of 1881 (musée d’Orsay) and the Acrobats of 1880 (Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota) a sort of three-dimensional equivalent to his lithographs. Some works like Persée et Andromède (1879) have a surreal floating character while others, notably his larger sculptures, convey a gravitas, like his successful monument to Alexandre Dumas on Place du Général-Catroux in Paris (1882). While his sculptures never exceeded the public acclaim Doré received for his draughtsmanship, they are a testament to his virtuosity in all media.


Top Auction Results for Gustave Doré

Souvenir de Loch Carron, Ecosse
Sold for €481,500 ($664,688)
Paris, Christie’s, 1 April 2004, Tableaux anciens et du XIXe siècle, lot 66

Paolo and Francesca da Rimini
Sold for $605,000
New York, Sotheby’s, 22 February 1989, 19th Century European Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture, lot 121

Sold for $577,500
New York, Sotheby’s, 22 February 1989, 19th Century European Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture, lot 118

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