Artful Musing

ARTFUL BLOGGER: National Gallery show reveals how Gustave Doré’s 19th century illustrations haunt us still

By  PAUL GESSELL

Gustave Doré, Oceanids or Naiads of the Sea, c. 1878 Oil on canvas, 127 × 185.4 cm Lawrence B. Berenson
Gustave Doré, Oceanids or Naiads of the Sea, c. 1878
Oil on canvas, 127 × 185.4 cm
Lawrence B. Berenson

Gustave Doré is hardly a household name. But this 19th century French artist is the main attraction this summer at the National Gallery of Canada’s exhibit Gustave Doré (1832-1883): Master of Imagination. So, take a look. You will be pleasantly surprised to realize you have vague recollections of having seen his work before. Hundreds of times.

Doré was a prolific and talented illustrator. He produced illustrated copies of many great works of literature, including Don Quixote, The Bible, Dante’s Inferno, Paradise Lost, and many traditional fairy tales.

The images (or their spin-offs) he created for these books are still regularly seen today. Some of the mythical creatures in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, Lord of the Rings, were lifted straight from Dore. Or the Puss-n-Boots-like character in the Shrek 2 movie? Dore did it first. Or remember Charlton Heston as Moses in the Hollywood blockbuster The Ten Commandments? The scene in which an angry Moses smashes the tablets with the commandments was inspired by Doré. On and on it goes. He is even given credit for inventing a relative of the beast we know as King Kong.

Gustave Doré, The Triumph of Christianity over Paganism, 1868 Oil on canvas, 300 × 200 cm Art Gallery of Hamilton, Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection, 2002 (2002.33.18)
Gustave Doré, The Triumph of Christianity over Paganism, 1868
Oil on canvas, 300 × 200 cm
Art Gallery of Hamilton, Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection, 2002 (2002.33.18)

The 100 or so works in the National Gallery summer-long show include film clips allowing visitors to see the uncanny and repeated use of Doré-like images in popular culture throughout the 20th century and beyond. No other 19th century artist has had such a strong influence on pop culture today. (more…)