“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” - Albert Einstein
For Art Sunday today, a painting by Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883). Doré was the second of the three children of Pierre Louis Christophe Doré, an engineer, and his wife, Alexandrine Marie Anne Pluchart. He was born in Strasbourg on 6th January 1832. He was a child prodigy and as such received little formal artistic training, his talents as a draughtsman already apparent during his school years. Something that characterised this artist was the prodigious speed with which he drew and his output, which was as noteworthy for its quantity as it was for its quality
Doré’s first lithographic album was published by in Paris in 1847. He worked as a caricaturist until gaining fame as an illustrator in 1854 after working on a book by François Rabelais. Other commissions included illustrations for works by Honoré de Balzac, Dante Alighieri, Miguel de Cervantes and John Milton. In 1863 he was asked to illustrate the works of Lord Byron. This was followed by other work for British publishers including a new illustrated “Doré’s English Bible” (1865).
In 1867 Gustave Dore had a major exhibition of his work in London. This led to the foundation of the Doré Gallery in New Bond Street. In 1869, Blanchard Jerrold, the son of Douglas Jerrold, suggested that they worked together to produce a comprehensive portrait of London. Doré signed a five-year project with the publishers, Grant & Co, that involved him staying in London for three months a year. Doré was paid the vast sum of £10,000 a year for the proposed artwork. The book, “London: A Pilgrimage”, with 180 engravings by Doré, was eventually published in 1872. Although a commercial success, many of the critics disliked the book. Several were upset that Doré had appeared to concentrate on the poverty that existed in London. Gustave Doré was accused by the Art Journal of “inventing rather than copying”.
“London: A Pilgrimage” was a financial success and Doré received commissions from other British publishers. Doré’s later work included illustrated editions of “Paradise Lost”, “King Arthur: The Idylls of the King” and “The Works of Thomas Hood”. His work also appeared in the Illustrated London News. Gustave Doré continued to illustrate books until his death on 23rd January 1883.
The painting above of 1862, is a detailed and painterly rendition of one of the drawings Doré made for an illustrated edition of Perrault’s (1628 – 1703) classic “French Fairy Tales”, which were reprinted in 1862. Doré chose to illustrate the more gruesome and bloody original fairy tale rather than the sanitised versions we are more familiar with nowadays. It depicts the near end of the tale where the already satiated wolf prepares to bite off Little Red Riding Hood’s head. Terror was a common theme in children’s tales in the past, where a strong moralising subtext was supported by striking a fear of retribution for sins committed. Romantic artists like Doré were attracted to such high drama and may explain why the artist chose a medium (oil on canvas) uncharacteristic of him to depict this scene. We are lucky to have this painting in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.