Doré was born in Strasbourg on 6 January 1832. By age five, he was a prodigy artist, and gifted musician, creating drawings that were mature beyond his years. Seven years later, he began carving in stone.
At the age of fifteen, Doré began his career working as a caricaturist for the French paper Le Journal pour Rire.
In the late 1840s and early 1850s, he made several text comics, like Les Travaux d’Hercule (1847), Trois artistes incompris et mécontents (1851), Les Dés-agréments d’un voyage d’agrément (1851) and L’Histoire de la Sainte Russie (1854). Doré subsequently went on to win commissions to depict scenes from books by Cervantes, Rabelais, Balzac, Milton and Dante.
In 1853, Doré was asked to illustrate the works of Lord Byron. This commission was followed by additional work for British publishers, including a new illustrated Bible.
The Wandering Jew
In 1856 he produced twelve folio-size illustrations of The Legend of The Wandering Jew, which propagated the long-standing anti-semitic views of the time, in a short poem which Pierre-Jean de Béranger had derived from a novel of Eugène Sue of 1845.
In the 1860s he illustrated a French edition of Cervantes’s Don Quixote, and his depictions of the knight and his squire, Sancho Panza, have become so famous that they have influenced subsequent readers, artists, and stage and film directors’ ideas of the physical “look” of the two characters. Doré also illustrated an oversized edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”.
Doré’s illustrations for the Bible (1866) were a great success, and in 1867 Doré had a major exhibition of his work in London.
The Microcosm of London/ London: A Pilgrimage
Blanchard Jerrold suggested Doré work together to produce a comprehensive portrait of London. Jerrold had obtained the idea from The Microcosm of London produced by Rudolph Ackermann, William Pyne, and Thomas Rowlandson (published in three volumes between 1808 and 1810).
Doré signed a five-year contract with the publishers Grant & Co that involved his staying in London for three months a year, and he received the vast sum of £10,000 a year for the project. The completed book, London: A Pilgrimage, with 180 engravings, was published in 1872.
Critic: focus on poverty
It enjoyed commercial and popular success, but the work was disliked by many contemporary critics. Some of these critics were concerned with the fact that Doré appeared to focus on the poverty that existed in parts of London.
Doré was accused by The Art Journal of “inventing rather than copying.” The Westminster Review claimed that “Doré gives us sketches in which the commonest, the vulgarest external features are set down.” The book was a financial success, however, and Doré received commissions from other British publishers.
Doré’s work also appeared in the weekly newspaper The Illustrated London News.
Doré never married and, following the death of his father in 1849, he continued to live with his mother, illustrating books until his death in Paris following a short illness. The city’s Père Lachaise Cemetery contains his grave. At the time of his death, he was working on illustrations for an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. The government of France made him a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1861.