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Gustave Doré

Paul Gustave Doré, a Frenchman born on January 6th, 1832, became one of the foremost illustrators of his age. Working mainly with wood and steel engraving methods, his work featured in a great number of notable works during his career. An artist of great reputation, Doré, who also sculpted, came from a Strasbourg family and had his first illustrated edition published at the tender age of only fifteen.

Doré began his literary illustrating career working in the French capital - Paris - and was soon commissioned to embellish works by many noted writers, among them such as Balzac and Milton, along with the legendary Dante and Rabelais.

A major and now revered opportunity came his way in 1853 when he was invited to illustrate an edition of the works of Lord Byron, the legendary romantic poet, a commission that led to much acclaim and many further important opportunities.

Among these - many from British publishers enchanted by this talented French artist - was a commission to illustrate a new version of the Bible, one that has since become almost legendary and held in great regard by illustrators of later years.

Doré's style - a mixture of the gothic and fantastic, as well as classically influenced touches, lent itself perfectly to the Biblical scenes, and the edition was an absolute success.

Among the better known of Doré's illustrated works, and one eminently collectable today, is his 1863 French rendition of Don Quixote, the famous work of Cervantes, is held aloft in literary illustration circles one and a half centuries later.

It is the Doré interpretation of the Knight Quixote, and his squire Sancho Panza, that pervades popular renditions to this day, even so far as leading to it being copied for both film and stage versions of the story, and interpreted without much change for later published editions of the famous story.

Meanwhile, the overwhelming success of the Doré English Bible had led to his work being shown in a major exhibition in London, and as a result a Gallery for the artists work - the Doré Gallery - was opened in Bond Street, London, shortly afterwards.

An impressive edition of The Raven, the Edgar Allan Poe epic, earned the artist a fee of 30,000 francs from the publisher, a simply massive amount for 1883, the year it was commissioned, while an earlier work - London: A Pilgrimage - had been produced in conjunction with writer and publisher Blanchard Jerrold, this being an epic work that featured no fewer than 180 of Doré's superb engravings of the city.

The work took five years to produce - it was published to critical acclaim in 1872 - and secured Doré another impressive fee of 10,000 pounds a year for his contribution.

While a commercial success, London: A Pilgrimage met with much concern among the critical acclaim, as it's portrayals of the poverty stricken inhabitants of the city were seen as distasteful in some quarters.

Indeed, the Art Journal, a highly regarded review of the art world at the time, went as far as accusing Doré of inventing many scenes, and other criticisms expressed concern that Doré had looked for the worst aspects of the city and played down the better points.

Despite the mixed reviews 'Pilgrimage' was a great financial success and its fine artistry led to a raft of further commissions, among them Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Milton's epic Paradise Lost and Dante's The Divine Comedy, all of which were expertly illustrated and beautifully interpreted. He also produced works for newspapers of the time, among them the respected Illustrated London News, and would continue illustrating until his death on January 23rd, 1883.

Doré's influence lives on and his work remains highly regarded and collectable in all forms.