Gallery of Bible Illustrations
The subject of this sketch is, perhaps, the most original and variously
gifted designer the world has ever known. At an age when most men have
scarcely passed their novitiate in art, and are still under the
direction and discipline of their masters and the schools, he had won a
brilliant reputation, and readers and scholars everywhere were gazing on
his work with ever-increasing wonder and delight at his fine fancy and
multifarious gifts. He has raised illustrative art to a dignity and
importance before unknown, and has developed capacities for the pencil
before unsuspected. He has laid all subjects tribute to his genius,
explored and embellished fields hitherto lying waste, and opened new and
shining paths and vistas where none before had trod. To the works of the
great he has added the lustre of his genius, bringing their beauties
into clearer view and warming them to a fuller life.
His delineations of character, in the different phases of life, from the
horrible to the grotesque, the grand to the comic, attest the
versatility of his powers; and, whatever faults may be found by critics,
the public will heartily render their quota of admiration to his magic
touch, his rich and facile rendering of almost every thought that stirs,
or lies yet dormant, in the human heart. It is useless to attempt a
sketch of his various beauties; those who would know them best must seek
them in the treasure—house that his genius is constantly augmenting
with fresh gems and wealth. To one, however, of his most prominent
traits we will refer—his wonderful rendering of the powers of Nature.
His early wanderings in the wild and romantic passes of the Vosges
doubtless developed this inherent tendency of his mind. There he
wandered, and there, mayhap, imbibed that deep delight of wood and
valley, mountain—pass and rich ravine, whose variety of form and
detail seems endless to the enchanted eye. He has caught the very spell
of the wilderness; she has laid her hand upon him, and he has gone forth
with her blessing. So bold and truthful and minute are his countless
representations of forest scenery; so delicate the tracery of branch and
stem; so patriarchal the giant boles of his woodland monarchs, that the'
gazer is at once satisfied and entranced. His vistas lie slumbering with
repose either in shadowy glade or fell ravine, either with glint of lake
or the glad, long course of some rejoicing stream, and above all,
supreme in a beauty all its own, he spreads a canopy of peerless sky, or
a wilderness, perhaps, of angry storm, or peaceful stretches of soft,
fleecy cloud, or heavens serene and fair—another kingdom to his
teeming art, after the earth has rendered all her gifts.
Paul Gustave Doré was born in the city of Strasburg, January 10, 1833.
Of his boyhood we have no very particular account. At eleven years of
age, however, he essayed his first artistic creation—a set' of
lithographs, published in his native city. The following year found him
in Paris, entered as a 7. student at the Charlemagne Lyceum. His first
actual work began in 1848, when his fine series of sketches, the
"Labors of Hercules," was given to the public through the
medium of an illustrated, journal with which he was for a long time
connected as designer. In 1856 were published the illustrations for
Balzac's "Contes Drolatiques" and those for "The
Wandering Jew "—the first humorous and grotesque in the highest
degree—indeed, showing a perfect abandonment to fancy; the other weird
and supernatural, with fierce battles, shipwrecks, turbulent mobs, and
nature in her most forbidding and terrible aspects. Every incident or
suggestion that could possibly make the story more effective, or add to
the horror of the scenes was seized upon and portrayed with wonderful
power. These at once gave the young designer a great reputation, which
was still more enhanced by his subsequent works.
With all his love for nature and his power of interpreting her in her
varying moods, Doré was a dreamer, and many of his finest achievements
were in the realm of the imagination. But he was at home in the actual
world also, as witness his designs for "Atala,"
"London—a Pilgrimage," and many of the scenes in "Don
When account is taken of the variety of his designs, and the fact
considered that in almost every task he attempted none had ventured
before him, the amount of work he accomplished is fairly incredible. To
enumerate the immense tasks he undertook—some single volumes alone
containing hundreds of illustrations—will give some faint idea of his
industry. Besides those already mentioned are Montaigne, Dante, the
Bible, Milton, Rabelais, Tennyson's "Idyls of the King,"
"The Ancient Mariner," Shakespeare, "Legende de
Croquemitaine," La Fontaine's "Fables," and others still.
Take one of these works—the Dante, La Fontaine, or "Don
Quixote"—and glance at the pictures. The mere hand labor involved
in their production is surprising; but when the quality of the work is
properly estimated, what he accomplished seems prodigious. No particular
mention need be made of him as painter or sculptor, for his reputation
rests solely upon his work as an illustrator.
Doré's nature was exuberant and buoyant, and he was youthful in
appearance. He had a passion for music, possessed rare skill as a
violinist, and it is assumed that, had he failed to succeed with his
pencil, he could have won a brilliant reputation as a musician.
He was a bachelor, and lived a quiet, retired life with his
mother—married, as he expressed it, to her and his art. His death
occurred on January 23, 1883.