Gustave Doré

Dates1832 - 1883

An Alsatian, Gustave Doré was born in Strasbourg near the Rhine. He was the second of three sons in a wealthy, musically talented family, and began drawing caricatures of others at a young age. While his mother was immediately convinced of the young Doré's talent, his father, an engineer, pushed the boy to pursue a more practical education. While on a trip to Paris at age fifteen, he was impressed by the shop of Auber and Philipon, established publishers of caricatures and comic magazines. Calling upon his formidable charm and self-confidence, the boy drew his own versions of the shop's work, presented them to the publisher himself when his parents were otherwise occupied, and landed a three-year contract to work in Paris. So began his largely self-taught career as an illustrator. He also worked as a painter and sculptor, though to his dismay, never with the same acclaim.

Doré's father died of pleurisy when the young man was seventeen, which, along with his mother's continuing faith in his abilities (or what some consider her social climbing and greed), pushed Doré to find commercial success as an artist and to support the entire family. He was prolific, and created not just the illustrations to the classics for which he is most known, but also illustrations for novels, comic books, and other journalism. His work ethic, good looks, and personality gained him acceptance into high society, including an audience with the Empress Eugenie. Many notable artists, writers, and musicians were his friends, including Rossini, Dumas, and Nadar (who also photographed him). He never married.

Dramatic, chiaroscuro illustrations of the Bible and literary giants such as Rabelais, Balzac, Cervantes, Dante, and Milton made Doré's name. He had a particular gift for illustrating nature and fairy tales. An enthusiastic traveler, in his later career he spent much time in England, where he illustrated Tennyson and others, and opened his own successful Doré Gallery. Among his numerous projects, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, published in England 1875, dates to his later, darker years. He considered it one of his "best and most original" works. The book was a great commercial success, even in the United States. He died at age fifty-one of a heart attack.