It is especially at Strasburg that travellers are reminded of another "marvellous boy," who, if he did not "perish in his pride," certainly shortened his days by overreaching ambition and the brooding bitterness waiting upon shattered hopes.

Gustave Dore was born and reared under the shadow of Strasburg Cathedral. The majestic spire, a world in itself, became indeed a world to this imaginative prodigy. He may be said to have learned the minster of minsters by heart, as before him Victor Hugo had familiarized himself with Notre Dame. The unbreeched artist of four summers never tired of scrutinizing the statues, monsters, gargoyles and other outer ornamentations, while the story of the pious architect Erwin and of his inspirer, Sabine, was equally dear. Never did genius more clearly exhibit the influence of early environment. True child of Alsace, he revelled in local folklore and legend. The eerie and the fantastic had the same fascination for him as sacred story, and the lives of the saints, gnomes, elves, werewolves and sorcerers bewitched no less than martyrs, miracle-workers and angels.

His play-hours would be spent within the precincts of the cathedral, whilst the long winter evenings were beguiled with fairy-tales and fables, his mother and nurse reading or reciting these, their little listener being always busy with pen or pencil. Something much more than mere precocity is shown in these almost infantine sketches. Exorbitant fancy is here much less striking than sureness of touch, outlined figures drawn between the age of five and ten displaying remarkable precision and point, each line of the silhouette telling. At six he celebrated his first school prize with an illustrated letter, two portraits and a mannikin surmounting the text.

[Footnote: See his life by Blanch Roosevelt, Sampson Low &Co. 1885; also the French translation of the same, 1886.]

His groups of peasants and portraits, made three or four years later, possess almost a Rembrandt strength, unfortunately passion for the grotesque and the fanciful often lending a touch of caricature. Downright ugliness must have had an especial charm for the future illustrator of the Inferno, his unconscious models sketched by the way being uncomely as the immortal Pickwick and his fellows of Phiz. A devotee of Gothic art, he reproduced the mediaeval monstrosities adorning cornice and pinnacle in human types. Equally devoted to nature out of doors, the same taste predominated. What he loved and sought was ever the savage, the legend-haunted, the ghoulish, seats and ambuscades of kelpie, hobgoblin, brownie and their kind.

From the nursery upwards, if the term can be applied to French children, his life was a succession of artistic abnormalities and tours de force. The bantling in petticoats who could astound his elders with wonderfully accurate silhouettes, continued to surprise them in other ways. His memory was no less amazing than his draughtsmanship. When seven years of age, he was taken to the opera and witnessedRobert le Diable. On returning home he accurately narrated every scene.

At eight he broke his right arm, but became as if by magic ambidextrous, whilst confined to bed, cheerily drawing all day long with the left hand. At ten he witnessed a grand public ceremony. In 1840 Strasburg celebrated the inauguration of a monument to Gutenberg, the festival being one of extraordinary splendour. Fifteen cars represented the industrial corporations of the city, each symbolically adorned, and in each riding figures suitably travestied and occupied, men, women and children wearing the costumes of the period represented. Among the corporations figured the Peintres-verriers, or painters on stained glass, their car proving especially attractive to one small looker-on.

Intoxicated by the colour and movement of the fete, garlanded and beflagged streets, the symbolic carriages, the bands, civic and military, and the prevailing enthusiasm, the child determined to get up an apotheosis of his own: in other words, to repeat the performance on a smaller scale. Which he did. Cars, costumes, banners and decorations were all designed by this imp of ten. With the approval of his professors and the collaboration of his school-fellows, the Dore procession, consisting of four highly decorated cars, drawn by boys, defiled before the college authorities and made the round of the cathedral, the youthful impresario at its head. The car of the painters on glass was conspicuously elaborate, a star copied from a Cathedral window showing the superscription, G. Dore, fecit. Small wonder is it that the adoring mother of an equally adoring son should have believed in him from the first, and seen in these beginnings the dawn of genius, the advent, indeed, of a second Michael Angelo or Titian.

The more practical father might chide such overreaching vaticinations, might reiterate -

"Do not fill the boy's head with nonsense."

The answer would be -

"I know it. Our son is a genius."

And Dore pere gave way, under circumstances curious enough.


In 1847 the family visited Paris, there to Gustave's delight spending four months. Loitering one day in the neighbourhood of the Bourse, his eye lighted upon comic papers with cuts published by MM. Auber and Philipon. Their shop windows were full of caricatures, and after a long and intent gaze the boy returned home, in two or three days presenting himself before the proprietors with half-a-dozen drawings much in the style of those witnessed. The benevolent but businesslike M. Philipon examined the sketches attentively, put several questions to his young visitor, and, finding that the step had been taken surreptitiously, immediately sat down and wrote to M. and Mme. Dore. He urged them with all the inducements he could command to allow their son the free choice of a career, assuring them of his future.

A few days later an agreement was signed by father and publisher to this effect: During three years the latter was to receive upon certain terms a weekly cartoon from the sixteen-year-old artist, who, on his side, bound himself to offer no sketches elsewhere.

[Footnote: This document was reproduced in Le Figaro of December 4, 1848.]

Meanwhile, Gustave would pursue his studies at the Lycee Charlemagne, his patron promising to look after his health and well-being. The arrangement answered, and in Le Journal pour rire the weekly caricature signed by Dore soon noised his fame abroad. Ugly, even hideous, as were many of these caricatures, they did double duty, paying the lad's school expenses, and paving the way to better things. Of caricature Dore soon tired, and after this early period never returned to it. Is it any wonder that facile success and excessive laudation should turn the stripling's head? Professionally, if not artistically speaking, Dore passed straight from child to man; in one sense of the word he had no boyhood, the term tyro remained inapplicable. This undersized, fragile lad, looking years younger than he really was, soon found himself on what must have appeared a pinnacle of fame and fortune.

Shortly after his agreement with Philipon, his father died, and Mme. Dore with her family removed to Paris, settling in a picturesque and historic hotel of the Rue St. Dominique. Here Dore lived for the rest of his too short life.

The house had belonged to the family of Saint Simon, that terrible observer under whose gaze even Louis XIV. is said to have quailed. So aver historians of the period. The associations of his home immediately quickened Dore's inventive faculties. He at once set to work and organized a brilliant set of tableaux vivants, illustrating scenes from the immortal Memoires. The undertaking proved a great social success, and henceforth we hear of galas, soirees, theatricals and other entertainments increasing in splendour with the young artist's vogue - and means.

The history of the next twenty years reads like a page from the Arabian Nights. Although dazzling is the record from first to last, and despite the millions of francs earned during those two decades, the artist's ambition was never satisfied. We are always conscious of bitterness and disillusion. As an illustrator, no longer of cheap comic papers but of literary masterpieces brought out in costly fashion, Dore reached the first rank at twenty, his Rabelais setting the seal on his renown. So immense was the success of this truly colossal undertaking and of its successors, the Don Quixote, the Contes de fees of Perrault and the rest, that he meditated nothing less than the illustration of cosmopolitan chefs 'd' oeuvre, en bloc, a series which should include every great imaginative work of the Western world! Thus in 1855 we find him noting the following projects, to be carried out in ten years' time: - illustrations of AEschylus, Lucan, Ovid, Shakespeare, Goethe (Faust), Lamartine (Meditations), Racine, Corneille, Schiller, Boccaccio, Montaigne, Plutarch's Lives - these names among others. The jottings in question were written for a friend who had undertaken to write the artist's biography.

The Rabelais, Don Quixote, The Inferno, and several more of these sumptuous volumes were brought out in England. Forty years ago Dore's bold and richly imaginative work was in great favour here; indeed, throughout his life he was much more appreciated by ourselves than by his countrymen. All the drawings were done straight upon wood. Lavish in daily life, generous of the generous, Dore showed the same lavishness in his procedure. Some curious particulars are given upon this head. Fabulous sums were spent upon his blocks, even small ones costing as much as four pounds apiece. He must always have the very best wood, no matter the cost, and it was only the whitest, smoothest and glossiest boxwood that satisfied him. Enormous sums were spent upon this material, and to his honour be it recorded, that no matter the destination of a block, the same cost, thought and minute manipulation were expended upon a trifling commission as upon one involving thousands of pounds. The penny paper was treated precisely the same as the volume to be brought out at two guineas. In the zenith of his fame as an illustrator, at a time when tip-top authors and editors were all clamouring for his drawings, he did not despise humbler admirers and clients. His delight in his work was only equalled by quite abnormal physical and mental powers. Sleep, food, fresh air, everything was forgotten in the engrossment of work. At this time he would often give himself three hours of sleep only.

Dore's ambition - rather, one of his ambitions - was to perfect wood engraving as an art, hence his indifference to the cost of production. Hence, doubtless, his persistence in drawing on wood without preliminary sketch or copy.

Perhaps such obsession was natural. How could he foresee the variety of new methods that were so soon to transform book illustration? Anyhow, herein partly lies the explanation of the following notice in a second-hand book catalogue, 1911 -

"No. 355. Gustave Dore: Dante's Inferno, with 76 full-page illustrations by Dore. 4to, gilt top, binding soiled, but otherwise good copy. 42s. for 3s. 6d. London, n.d."

A leading London publisher consulted by me on the subject, writes as follows -

"Dore's works are no longer in vogue. One of the reasons lies in the fact that his pictures were done by the old engraved process. He drew them straight on wood, and there are, accordingly, no original drawings to be reproduced by modern methods."

The words "fatal facility" cannot be applied to so consummate a draughtsman as the illustrator of Dante, Cervantes and Victor Hugo. But Dore's almost superhuman memory was no less of a pitfall than manual dexterity. The following story will partly explain his dislike of facsimile and duplication.

An intimate friend, named Bourdelin, relates how one day during the siege of Paris, the pair found themselves by the Courbevoie bridge. One side of this bridge was guarded by French gendarmes, the other by German officers, Prussians, Saxons, Bavarians, a dozen in all. For a quarter of an hour the two Frenchmen lingered, Dore intently gazing on the group opposite. On returning home some hours later he produced a sketch-book and in Bourdelin's presence swiftly outlined the twelve figures, exactly reproducing not only physiognomic divergences but every detail of costume! Poor Dore! In those ardently patriotic days he entirely relied upon victory and drew an anticipatory picture of France triumphant, entitled, "Le Passage du Rhin." But the French never crossed the Rhine, and the drawing was given to this friend with the words: "My sketch has no longer any raison d'etre. Keep it in memory of our fallacious hopes."


In an evil hour for his peace of mind and his fame, Dore decided to leave illustration and become a historic painter. He evidently regarded genius as a Pandora's gift, an all-embracing finality, an endowment that could neither be worsened nor bettered, being complete in itself.

A reader of Ariosto, he had not taken to heart one of his most memorable verses, those mellifluous lines in which the poet dwells upon the laboriousness of intellectual achievement. Nor when illustrating theArabian Nights had the wonderful story of Hasan of El-Basrah evidently brought home to him the same moral.

Between a Dore and his object - so he deemed - existed neither "seven valleys nor seven seas, nor seven mountains of vast magnitude." A Dore needed no assistance of the flying Jinn and the wandering stars on his way, no flying horse, "which when he went along flew, and when he flew the dust overtook him not."

Without the equipment of training, without recognition of such a handicap, he entered upon his new career.

In 1854 for the first time two pictures signed by Dore appeared on the walls of the Salon. But the canvases passed unnoticed. The Parisians would not take the would-be painter seriously, and the following year's experience proved hardly less disheartening. Of four pictures sent in, three were accepted, one of these being a historic subject, the other two being landscapes. The first, "La Bataille de l'Alma," evoked considerable criticism. The rural scenes were hung, as Edmond About expressed it, so high as to need a telescope.

Both About and Th. Gautier believed in their friend's newly-developed talent, but art-critics and the public held aloof. No medal was decreed by the jury, and, accustomed as he had been to triumph after triumph, his fondest hopes for the second time deceived, Dore grew bitter and acrimonious. That his failure had anything to do with the real question at issue, namely, his genius as a historic painter, he would never for a moment admit. Jealousy, cabals, prejudice only were accountable.

The half dozen years following were divided between delightfully gay and varied sociabilities, feverishly prolonged working hours and foreign travel. The millions of francs earned by his illustrations gave him everything he wanted but one, that one, in his eyes, worth all the rest.

Travel, a splendid studio, largesses - he was generosity itself - all these were within his reach. The craved-for renown remained ungraspable.

Even visits to his favourite resort, Barr, brought disenchantment. He found old acquaintances and the country folks generally wanting in appreciation. With greater and lesser men, he subacidly said to himself that a man was no prophet in his own country.

Ten years after the fiasco of his first canvases in the Salon came an invitation to England and the alluring project of a Dore gallery. The Dore Bible and Tennyson, with other works, had paved the way for a right royal reception. The streets of London, as he could well believe, were paved with gold. But many were the contra. "I feel the presentiment," he wrote to a friend, "that if I betake myself to England, I shall break with my own country and lose prestige and influence in France. I cannot exist without my friends, my habits and my pot-au-feu. Folks tell me that England is a land of fogs, that the sun never shines there, that the inhabitants are cold, and that I should most likely suffer from sea-sickness in crossing the Manche. To sum up, England is a long way off, and I have a great mind to give up the project."

Friendly persuasion, self-interest, wounded self-love carried the day. Reluctantly he decided upon the redoubtable sea-voyage. Whether he suffered from sea-sickness or no we are not told. In any case the visit was repeated, John Bull according the great Alsatian, as he was called, what France had so persistently withheld.

Dore was here accorded the first rank among historic painters. His gallery in Bond Street became one of the London sights; in fashionable society, if not in the close ring of the great Victorian artists, he made a leading figure. Royalty patronized and welcomed him. The Queen bought one of his pictures ("Le Psalterion," now at Windsor), and invited him to Balmoral. The heir-apparent, the late King, admired his talent and relished his society. By the clerical world he was especially esteemed, being looked upon as a second Leonardo da Vinci. And, in fine, Dore must be regarded as an anticipator of the Entente cordiale. "Gustave Dore," his compatriots would say, "he is half an Englishman!" Forty years ago our popular favourite might indeed have believed in the fulfilment of his dream. The Thorwaldsen Gallery of Copenhagen had ever dazzled his imagination. Bond Street was not Paris, certainly, but in the greatest metropolis of the world his memory would be for ever perpetuated. Turning to the dithyrambic utterances of the London Press at the time we can hardly wonder at the hallucination.

Here are one or two passages culled from leading dailies and weeklies -

"In gravity and magnitude of purpose, no less than in the scope and power of his imagination, he towers like a Colossus among his contemporaries. Compared with such a work as 'Christ leaving the Praetorium,' the pictures in Burlington House look like the production of a race of dwarfs whose mental faculties are as diminutive as their stature. And it is not alone the efforts of the English School of Painting that appear puny in presence of so great and gigantic an undertaking; the work of all the existing schools of Europe sinks into equal insignificance, and we must go back to the Italian painters of the sixteenth century to find a picture worthy of being classed with this latest and most stupendous achievement of the great French master."

Elsewhere we read -

"The most marvellous picture of the present age is to be seen at 35, New Bond Street. The subject is 'Christ leaving the Praetorium,' The painter is the world-renowned Gustave Dore."

A journal devoted to art-criticism wrote -

"In 'The Christian Martyrs' we have a striking, thrilling and ennobling picture."

And so on, and so on. Yet at this time among "the dwarfs" of Burlington House then exhibiting was Millais, and contemporaneously with Dore in our midst, 1870-1, was Daubigny, whose tiniest canvases now fetch their thousands!

It was during Dore's apogee in England that a well-known French amateur, also visiting our shores, was thus addressed by an English friend: "Come with me to Bond Street, you will there see the work of your greatest living painter."

"Our greatest painter!" exclaimed the other. "You mean your own. Dore is our first draughtsman of France, yes, but painter, never, neither the greatest nor great; at least we were ignorant of the fact till informed of it by yourself and your country-people."

Dore knew well how matters stood, and bitterly resented the attitude of his own nation. Accorded a princely welcome across the Manche, his work worth its weight in gold on the other side of the Atlantic, in France he was looked at askance, even as a painter ignored. He regarded himself as shut out from his rightful heritage, and the victim, if not of a conspiracy, of a cabal. His school playmates and close friends, Taine, Edmond About and Th. Gautier, might be on his side; perhaps, with reservations, Rossini and a few other eminent associates also. But the prescient, unerring verdict of the collective "man in the street" -

"The people's voice, the proof and echo of all human fame" -

he missed; resentment preyed upon his spirits, undermined his vitality, and doubtless had something to do with his premature breakdown.

The Dore gallery indeed proved his Capua, the long-stop to his fame.


As a personality the would-be Titian, Duerer, Thorwaldsen and Benvenuto Cellini in one presents an engaging figure. His domestic life makes very pleasant reading. We find no dark holes and corners in the career of one who may be said to have remained a boy to the end, at fifty as at five full of freak and initiative, clingingly attached to a devoted and richly-endowed mother, and the ebullient spirit of a happy home. With his rapidly increasing fortune, the historic house in the Rue Dominique became an artistic, musical and dramatic centre. His fetes were worthy of a millionaire, and, alike in those private theatricals,tableaux vivants or concerts, he ever took a leading part. An accomplished violinist, Dore found in music a never-failing stimulant and refreshment. Rossini was one of his circle, among others were the two Gautiers, the two Dumas, Carolus Duran, Liszt, Gounod, Patti, Alboni and Nilsson, Mme. Dore, still handsome and alert in her old age, proudly doing the honours of what was now called the Hotel Dore. By his literary and artistic brethren the many-faceted genius and exhilarating host was fully appreciated. Generosities he ever freely indulged in, the wealth of such rapid attainment being dispensed with an ungrudgeful hand. To works of charity the great illustrator gave largely, but we hear of no untoward misreckonings, nor bills drawn upon time, health or talents. With him, as with the average Frenchman, solvency was an eleventh commandment.

Meantime, as the years wore on, again and again he bid desperately for the suffrages withheld, his legitimately won renown held by him of small account. To his American biographer he said, on showing her some of his pictures: "I illustrate books in order to pay for my colours and paint-brushes. I was born a painter."

On the lady's companion, an American officer, naively asking if certain canvases were designed for London or Paris, he answered with bitter irony -

"Paris, forsooth! I do not paint well enough for Paris." As he spoke his face became clouded. The gay, jovial host of a few minutes before sighed deeply, and during their visit could not shake off depression.

Two crowning humiliations came before the one real sorrow of his life, the loss of that gifted mother who was alike his boon companion, closest confidante and enthusiastic Egeria. Perpetually seeking laurels in new fields, in 1877 he made his debut as a sculptor. The marble group, "La Parque et l'Amour," signed G. Dore, won a succes d'estime, no more. In the following year was opened the great international exhibition on the Champ de Mars, Dore's enormous monumental vase being conspicuously placed over one of the porticoes. This astounding achievement in bronze, appropriately named the "Poeme de la Vigne," created quite a sensation at the time. Reproductions appeared in papers of all countries containing a printing press or photographic machine. But for the artist's name, doubtless his work would have attained the gold medal and other honours. The Brobdingnagian vase, so wonderfully decorated with flowers, animals and arabesques, was passed over by the jury.

Equally mortifying was the fate of his marble group in the same year's Salon. This subject, "La Gloire," had a place of honour in the sculpture gallery and won universal suffrages. The critics echoed popular approval. The jury remained passive. It was in the midst of these unnecessarily crushing defeats - for why, indeed, should any mortal have craved more than mortal success? - that Mme. Dore's forces gave way. From that time till her death, which occurred two years later, her son's place was by her side, floutings, projects, health and pleasure, forgotten, his entire thoughts being given to the invalid. No more beautiful picture of filial devotion could suggest itself to the painter of domestic subjects than this, Dore with table and sketching materials seated in his mother's sick-room, or at night ministering to her in wakeful moments. At dawn he would snatch a few hours' sleep, but that was all. No wonder that his own health should give way so soon after the death-blow of her loss.

"My friend," he wrote to an English boon companion, on March 16, 1881, "she is no more. I am alone. You are a clergyman, I entreat you to pray for the repose of her beloved soul and the preservation of my reason."

A few days later he wrote to the same friend of his "frightful solitude," adding his regret at not having anticipated such a blank and made for himself a home - in other words, taken a wife.

Some kind matchmaking friends set to work and found, so at least they fancied, a bride exactly calculated to render him happy.

But on January 23, 1883, Dore died, prematurely aged and broken down by grief, corroding disappointment and quite frenzied overwork and ambition.

He never attained recognition as a historic painter among his country-folks. One canvas, however, "Tobit and the Angel," is placed in the Luxembourg, and his monument to Dumas ornaments the capital. His renown as an illustrator remains high as ever in France. And one, that one, the passionately desired prize of every Frenchman, became his: in 1861 he was decorated with the Red Ribbon. Six of Dore's great religious subjects retain their place in the Bond Street Gallery, but for reasons given above his wonderfully imaginative illustrations are here forgotten.

The superb edition of the Enid (Moxon, 1868), a folio bound in royal purple and gold, and printed on paper thick as vellum, the volume weighing four pounds, awakens melancholy reflections. What would have been poor Dore's feelings had he lived to see such a guinea's worth, and cheap at the price, gladly sold, rather got rid of, for three shillings!

Dore's last work, the unconventional monument to the elder Dumas, was left unfinished.

Completed by another hand, the group now forms a conspicuous object in the Avenue Villiers, Paris.

The striking figure of the great quadroon, with his short crisped locks, suggests a closer relationship to the race thus apostrophized by Walt Whitman -

     "You, dim descended, black, divine souled African...."

He surmounts a lofty pedestal, on the base being seated a homely group, three working folks, a mob-capped woman reading a Dumas novel to two companions, evidently her father and husband, sons of the soil, drinking in every word, their attitude of the most complete absorption. Classicists and purists in art doubtless look askance at a work which would certainly have enchanted the sovereign romancer.

"Will folks read my stories when I am gone, doctor?" he asked as he lay a-dying. The good physician easily reassured his patient. "When we have patients awaiting some much-dreaded operation in hospital," he replied, "we have only to give them one of your novels. Straightway they forget everything else." And Dumas - "the great, the humane," as a charming poet has called him - died happy. As well he might, in so far as his fame was concerned. La Tulipe Noire would alone have assured his future.