When I was growing up, there were several books in the house that helped prompt my interest in art. A couple of them, in particular, impressed me with the power of drawing and printmaking.
One was a 1948 edition of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, illustrated by Gustave Doré; another was a Dover edition of Doré’s Bible illustrations that my father picked up some years later. Both of them popped my eyes out of my impressionable young head at the time, and I still have both on my bookshelves.
Louis August Gustave Doré (also known as “Paul” Gustave Doré for reasons of which I’m unsure) was French artist active in the early to mid 19th century. Though he also worked as a painter and sculptor, it is for his work as an illustrator and engraver that he is best known.
In addition to the works mentioned above, Doré illustrated new (at the time) editions of a number of classics; his illustrations for which, in turn, have made his interpretations of them classics themselves. These include an essentially definitive version of Cervante’s Don Quixote (images above, ninth down, also here), Milton’s Paradise Lost, Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Poe’s The Raven, along with works by Shakespeare, Balzac, Rabelais and many others.
My personal favorites remain his dramatic interpretation of The Divine Comedy (images above, top eight) and his viscerally powerful illustrations of scenes from the Bible (above, bottom five).
Dover Publications has a long history of publishing inexpensive editions of collections of Doré’s illustrations. They may not be as sharp as more expensive editions, but the price brings them within reach of many.
I really like my edition of The Divine Comedy, with both the text and Doré’s illustrations. The only comparable edition I can find on Amazon is this one. I haven’t seen it, but the Amazon preview looks like the reproductions are good.
You can find numerous books with Doré’s engravings and illustrations on Amazon.com, including most of the Dover editions. As usual lately, however, you have to weed your way through all of the editions Amazon is pushing that exist only as Kindle eBooks to find the available real books.
There are extensive collections of Doré’s engravings (and some paintings) on Wikipaintings and Wikimedia Commons, as well as other sources I’ve listed below. The size and quality of the reproductions varies widely, and you have to do a bit of hunting to find the best quality images.
There is an exhibition of Doré’s work currently at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris Gustave Doré (1832–1883): Master of Imagination, that is on view until 11 May, 2014.
American painter Thomas Paquette has written to let me know that someone he knows has made available on eBay two original wood engraving blocks for illustrations from Doré’s Bible, Cain Slaying Able and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. (The current owner came by them because his grandfather acquired them when on an excursion in Europe as a sign painter for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show!) I’ve shown those two illustrations, and an image of one of the wood engraving blocks, in the bottom three images above.