Gustave Doré

November 15, 2009


Date of Birth:
Born in Stasbourg, France on January 6th, 1832

As described by Dan Malan in Gustave Doré- Adrift on Dreams of Splendor, “He was the ultimate child prodigy. His earliest dated drawings were from the age of five. The stories of his early artistic prowess are legendary. By the age of 12 he was carving his own lithographic stones, making sets of engravings with stories to go with them.[1]” His style is very heavily influenced by classical Greco-Roman sculpture and Baroque painting, ubiquitous in his work; all characters are classically represented with pointed chins, curly hair, and voluptuous women. As described on, “Doré’s style [is] a mixture of the gothic and fantastic, as well as classically influenced touches. [2]

Although he had no formal training, he became one of the most sought after, and highest paid, illustrators in France by the young age of 16, just one year after he began his professional career.

Works of Note:

Illustrator Miscellany:
Doré’s work graced many publications throughout Europe during his lifetime. Some of his best (and best known) works are illustrations for the La Sainte Bible, which became one of the best selling Bible editions in the world.

Right before he died, he created the illustrations for Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, the only work he’s ever done for any American Publication. He died shortly after completing his work for Poe. And lastly, there is his first work, The Labours of Hercules, a book he wrote and illustrated at the age of 15.

Outside of these works, Doré kept very busy, creating over ten thousand engravings and four thousand-plus editions throughout his active career, which lasted up until his death on January 23rd, 1883.

Examination of Materials:


This example of Gustave Doré’s work for Paradise Lost, by John Milton, is an engraving which is how Dore worked most of the time. The book by Ernest Spon, American Library Edition of Workshop Receipts Vol.1, explains the engraving process, “Engraving on copper is performed by cutting lines representing the subject on a copper plate by means of a steel instrument… ending in an unequal-sided pyramidal point. Besides the graver, the other instruments used in the process are a scraper, a burnisher, an oil-stone, and a cushion for supporting the plate. In cutting the lines on the copper, the graver is pushed forward in the direction required, being held at a small inclination to the plane of the copper. The use of the burnisher is to soften down the lines that are cut too deeply… The scraper, like the burnisher, is of steel, with three sharp edges to it… tapering towards the end. Its use is to scrape off the burr raised by the action of the graver. To show the appearance of the work during its progress, and to polish off the burr, engravers use a roll of woolen or felt, called a rubber, which is used with a little olive-oil. The cushion, which is a leather bag about 9 inches diameter filled with sand, for laying the plate upon, is now rarely used except by writing engravers.[1]” Engraving is a very complicated process to go through for each illustration and Doré would often do this more than one hundred times for each project.

Style Analysis

This is a very effective illustration, which is not uncommon for Doré. His ability to use black and white to show dramatic and dynamic figures and landscapes is outstanding. The line that is created with his engraving makes the viewer reel back with emotion. The classical figures are always posed in a melodramatic fashion showing anguish on their faces much like the Laocoön. There is a powerful emotion emitting from this image and from most of his illustrations as well.

There is no doubt that Gustave Doré was one of the most influential illustrators of all time. Even though black and white turned into color, his illustrations have more emotion and a raw, sublime power that many illustrators still try to mimic. His enigmatic attitude for the field and his ability to push out a series of one hundred or more illustrations goes unmatched to this day.

– William Jebediah Joca, Spring 2009

Malan, Dan. “Gustave Dore- Adrift on Dreams of Splendor.”

Arcsin, “Gustave Dore.”

Spon, Ernest. American Library Edition of Workshop Receipts. second ed. 1,

Ernest Spon. Spon & Chamberlain, 1903.


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