Artful Musing

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Gustave Doré is the headliner for the National Gallery’s 2014 summer blockbuster exhibition. But will he draw the crowds?

Title: Gustave Doré illustration to the 1884 edition of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven: Get the Back into the Tempest
Gustave Doré was best known as a book illustrator, with many of his dark interpretations illustrations affecting how we interpret those stories even today. This work is from the 1884 edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.

The name Gustave Doré may not ring a bell, but you surely have seen and been influenced by many works of this prolific 19th-century French artist.

Doré was a draughtsman, painter, and sculptor, but he is best known as a book illustrator. And what a line-up of books and authors he tackled: The Bible, Shakespeare, Dante, Rabelais, Cervantes, Milton, Hugo, Balzac, and Poe.

The illustrations created by Doré for some of these classic works of Western literature have greatly influenced the way we interpret these works. Indeed, Doré’s illustrations have probably done more than any clergyman to instill in us the horrors of hell and the joys of heaven.

An official announcement has yet to be made, but the National Gallery of Canada has confirmed that it will be showing more than 90 works — prints, drawings, paintings, and sculptures — of Doré next summer from June 13 to Sept. 14. The exhibition will be titled Gustave Doré (1832-1882): Master of Imagination.

“The exhibition ranges from spectacular panoramas to intimate works on paper,” according to the Gallery. “Not swayed by new trends, Gustave Doré was guided principally by his own extraordinary imagination and, intriguingly, has become a fertile source of inspiration to many 20th and 21st-century filmmakers.”

One of those film-makers is Terry Gilliam, a member of the Monty Python comedy troupe.

Doré's very creepy interpretation of the classic Little Red Riding Hood.
Doré’s very creepy interpretation of the classic Little Red Riding Hood.

A Doré disciple, Gilliam has directed several films, including Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Gilliam’s often highly theatrical, hallucinatory scenes in his films were, in part, influenced by the dark visions explored in Doré’s book illustrations.

Doré’s work is also credited for having a big impact on the kinds of illustrations found in early comic books and even on the style of painting by famed Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh.

Gustave Doré, Les Saltimbanques (1874), oil on canvas, 225 x 184 cm, Musée d’art Roger-Quillot, Ville de Clermont-Ferrand
This work is confirmed for the National Gallery’s exhibition. Gustave Doré, Les Saltimbanques (1874), oil on canvas, 225 x 184 cm, Musée d’art Roger-Quillot, Ville de Clermont-Ferrand

The Ottawa exhibition is being jointly organized by the National Gallery and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where the show runs from Feb. 11 until May 11.

The main Ottawa curator is Paul Lang, the gallery’s deputy director and chief curator who arrived in Canada two years ago from his post as chief curator for the Musée d’art et d’histoire de Genève in Switzerland.

This will be the first big show organized by Lang since he has come to Ottawa. He has so far had a relatively low profile and the Canadian art world is eager to see what he can do and how he compares to such predecessors as David Franklin, a world-renowned Renaissance expert now in Cleveland, and Colin Bailey, whose Renoir exhibition in 2007 drew 340,000 visitors, the largest number ever to attend a National Gallery show.

Summer is a crucial season for the National Gallery. That’s the time of year the gallery can attract the biggest crowds. Install some Renoirs, Monets, or Picassos and the gallery is full. Bring in lesser names, such as Doré, and it may be a hard sell.