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Gustave Doré

March 9, 2014

There is an exhibition of Gustave Doré in the Musée d’Orsay this winter, and then it moves on to Ottawa, Canada (yes, the capital city that many Harvard students can’t name) this summer. I am very excited about this exhibition, but also have the opportunity soon to view some original prints in a bound edition from 1880 that a friend inherited from his great grandfather.

Gustave Doré (1832-1883): Master of Imagination
From June 13 to September 14, 2014
Organized in collaboration with the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Gustave Doré (1832-1883): Master of Imagination is the first comprehensive retrospective devoted to this major artist. It will include prints, drawings, paintings, and sculptures. A hundred works, ranging from spectacular panoramas to intimate studies on paper, will be brought together to illustrate Doré’s great artistic diversity. NGC chief curator Paul Lang worked with Edouard Papet, chief curator at the Musée d’Orsay, and Philippe Kaenel, professor of art history at the University of Lausanne and an expert on Doré.

Today, Gustave Doré is probably better known as an illustrator; his notable works include Perrault’s fairy tales, La Fontaine’s Fables, Dante’s epic poems, and his incredibly successful edition of the Bible. He worked mostly at the more intimate scale of the book, but he also created paintings and sculptures of monumental proportions.

Doré also revived history painting in order to bear witness to the disasters of the Franco-Prussian War from 1870-71 and the consequent loss of his native Alsace. An incisive caricaturist, Doré contributed to the birth of the comic strip and the graphic novel.

Visitors will be surprised by how familiar they are with Doré’s works. His influence on film and photography is a testament to this. For example, the Victorian London in Oliver Twist by Roman Polanski pays tribute to his illustrated book London, A Pilgrimage.


18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2014 1:20 pm

    Doré is one of my favorites — and I have also collected his prints for years. The exhibit sounds grand, although I was bit put off by the Terry Gilliam-style promotional video for it:

  2. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    March 9, 2014 2:21 pm

    Although I had seen them before, I became interested in them when you blogged about them some time ago. I especially look forward to seeing the prints of his Edgar Allan Poe and other horror story illustrations. I hope there will be some large prints as well as book size prints.

  3. May 5, 2014 9:20 pm

    I have the original engraved wood blocks for “Adam and Eve Driven out of Eden” and “Cain Slaying Abel”…. Just thought I would mention that here in case anyone may be interested in buying them. Also an original Bible in pretty rough shape.

  4. May 5, 2014 9:35 pm

    Amazing! I have recently seen an original Dore Bible in two volumes, in great shape. It has been in the family of friends of mine since 1880 or thereabouts.

    But i am hoping to see woodblocks at the Ottawa exhibit. Perhaps a museum or gallery be interested in the woodblocks? The include such incredible detail.

  5. May 5, 2014 9:41 pm

    PS Beautiful paintings on your site! Maybe I will drive through St Bonaventure this summer.

  6. May 5, 2014 9:43 pm

    Yes, the blocks are jaw-droppingly lovely in detail, as you would imagine. You would be surprised probably, but I think precisely because they are a rarity or perhaps because they are seen as “just a tool”, the art market is devoid of such objects. Yes, some museums are interested in them – as a gift. But the owner – not me, but a friend who knows nothing about art, so I am helping him – would like to see about selling them first.
    You’ve seen his Bible in two volumes? Hm. I don’t have my hands on the Bible, but it seemed it covered Old and New in one. I didn’t want to page through it much, as it was quite delicate.

  7. May 5, 2014 9:45 pm

    On the PS, – thank you, Suzanne.
    The show will actually open in early September, but will probably be hanging and viewable prior to that, in case you really do come through.

  8. May 5, 2014 10:41 pm

    The Bible that I saw was bound in a German prison which had a printshop, I think. The great grandfather was the prison superintendent. Each illustration was delivered to the prison as a sort of Sunday School paper for Bible instruction. So the illustrations were saved and bound with the text of the Luther Bible. The volumes are just a bit smaller than newspaper size and divided into two equal volumes at the end of Isaiah, I think. The volumes date from the 1880’s. They were buried during WWII in a tin box in the backyard of the family. Okay, I need to go back to my friends and hear the story again and make sure I get this right. This is just my imperfect memory of what they said.

    With white cotton gloves I was allowed to view every page but only got through one volume in an evening.

    I just saw the Gaugin exhibit and was not so enthralled. A completely different woodcut technique, of course. I think Ottawa is the only gallery in NA that is showing the Dore exhibit, but I would think somewhere in NYC might be interested, but maybe these woodcuts are not so rare. I have no idea whatsoever.

  9. May 5, 2014 11:05 pm

    Bound in a prison and buried in the backyard during the War! Yikes! What a great story. Same thing with these blocks. The grandfather of the present owner ran away with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in Europe as a sign painter. He returned years later with these blocks.

    Believe me, I talked to the major historical print dealers (NYC and Paris) and auction houses (US and Britain), and they simply never have dealt with such things as wood blocks. Now if I had a print that was pulled from them, it would be a different matter. And yet the blocks are so exquisite, far beyond any print as they show so much more detail (depth of engraving, color that Dore drew on the block with, etc.) It is quite surreal. They have told me it is precisely because these things never make it to market (print plates and stones, just like negatives, are often “struck” or broken when the edition is complete) that there is no collector base for them. They are rare, no question.

    Gauguin’s rough prints – as much as I love his color in his paintings – cannot begin to compare with Dore’s (Pisan’s, really) mastery of that art. And yes, the Dore exhibit is only going to Ottawa.

  10. May 5, 2014 11:17 pm

    I will be disappointed if I don’t see woodblocks at the exhibit in Ottawa. There were several on display at the MOMA Gaugin exhibit. The woodblocks of Dore are done on the end grain rather than the side grain and in especially hard wood.

  11. May 5, 2014 11:27 pm

    Yes, that is what allows the lines to be so delicate.

    Where do you live? (You can email me privately at if you don’t want to publish that.) I ask because if I am near or on the way somewhere, you would be welcome to see these blocks without even glass to separate you! I live in NW PA, Warren.

  12. May 5, 2014 11:34 pm

    Thought you were in California! Oops. I live half time in Mississauga ON and half time in NJ so sometimes fly and sometimes drive with my husband. I’ll email you.

  13. May 5, 2014 11:36 pm

    BTW…. this is embarrassing, but should be mentioned at this point. I was in Paris less than two weeks ago, and saw the show. I say embarrassing, because my wife tells me there was a giant reproduction of the Adam and Eve print. Giant. And I somehow managed to miss it.*

    I tell you this, because I was scouting the show for prints and blocks too, but I can assure you (allowing leeway for my demonstrated poor observational skills at that point), there were no wood blocks there. I suspect this is because he rarely did any carving himself, and just drew on the blocks, leaving the engraving to the engravers.

    *My excuse for this lack is that I was sick the day I made it to the show, and I was beat from days of looking at art there and at the Louvre, etc. It still is no excuse!

  14. May 5, 2014 11:37 pm

    Ha! We flew out of YYZ to Paris, and parked our car in your town.

  15. May 5, 2014 11:40 pm

    10 minutes from me! Well, you can’t do everything in Paris. In any case, thanks for letting me know – no woodblocks. So now I am quite intrigued.

  16. January 2, 2016 11:00 am

    Suzanne, In case you are still paying attention to this page, the blocks have been donated by the original owner (whom I was assisting with this) to a museum in Pennsylvania, which will be announced in mid-Feb 2016. I hope all is well with you two!

  17. Thomas Paquette permalink
    January 4, 2016 1:25 pm

    Thank you J.K. So sorry to read that. She was such an exuberant spirit!

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