Gustave Doré is considered one of the most successful and prolific illustrators of the late 19th century. Born in Strasbourg, he was a self-trained prodigy who arrived in Paris in 1846 as a young man and quickly found a place in society.
His talents as a draughtsman were already apparent during his teens with his first lithographic album published by Aubert in Paris in 1847. For three years, Doré worked as a caricaturist for the editor Charles Philipon. By 1854, he had achieved acclaim as an illustrator with the publication of the first edition of the Œuvres de Rabelais and the Histoire pittoresque, dramatique et caricaturale de la Sainte Russie.
Doré created epic canvases, enormous sculptures and numerous etchings and watercolours, exhibiting paintings in the Salon from 1850 and sculpture from 1870. His production as an illustrator remains unmatched in its scope and ambition and his exuberant imagination is apparent in his dreamlike scenes and fantastical style.
His achievements as an illustrator brought him tremendous public praise and critical acclaim, including the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (1861) and the Officier de la Légion d'honneur (1878). From 1856 until his death in 1883, he worked for publishers in London and Paris. Doré often visited London between 1868 and 1879, but never settled in the city or learned English. The Doré Gallery in London displayed examples of his work in every genre from 1868 onward and he contributed regularly to the Illustrated London News. He travelled widely in Europe, but lived in Paris after 1847.
Although Doré had no students of his own, the products of his visual imagination went on to inspire important creators of popular culture such as Cecil B. DeMille and Walt Disney. Doré also inspired artists like Vincent van Gogh and Terry Gilliam and his work helped shape the realm of comic books and graphic novels.
(Gustave Doré: Master of Imagination, National Gallery of Canada, Sept. 2014.)