"Bats in his Belfry" - Gustave Doré


6 January 1832, the graphic artist, painter and sculptor Gustave Doré was born in Strasbourg.
“Daily life had for him come to be a phantasmagoria of macabre shadow-studies; now glittering and leering with concealed rottenness as in Beardsley's best manner, now hinting terrors behind the commonest shapes and objects as in the subtler and less obvious work of Gustave Doré” (H.P. Lovecraft)


Gustave Doré: “Dante and Virgil in the Ninth Circle of the Inferno” (1861)


There is usually a streak of weirdness if not genius in a child that reads Dante at the age of nine, let alone beginning to illustrate the “Divina Commedia”. But that was exactly what young Gustave did and by the age of 15, the self-taught artist had obtained his first commission as a freelance illustrator at the Paris magazine “Journal pour rire” as well as publishing his first independent work “Les Travaux d'Hercule”, quite pour rire, featuring an undersized, pot-bellied son of the gods with a crew cut and a swab cleaning the Augean stables, a sense of humour that faded into an ephemeral background when Doré began to picturise the more sombre aspects of literary classics from Byron to Cervantes, congenial in many aspects, as well as myths and fairy tales and romanticised versions of history. In short, he was an illustrator of renown but seldom renowned as a painter.

Gustave Doré: “Les Travaux d'Hercule” 




"It was at the Cafe de l'Horloge in Paris. Mr. Whistler sat leaning on his cane, looking off into space, dreamily and wearily. He roused enough to answer the question: "Dore—Gustave Dore—an artist? Why, the name sounds familiar! Oh, yes, an illustrator. Ah, now I understand; but there is a difference between an artist and an illustrator, you know, my boy. Dore—yes, I knew him—he had bats in his belfry!" - The story, handed down by Elbert Hubbard in 1899, is symptomatic for even the contemporary reception of Doré who saw himself probably as being more of a painter than an illustrator. His paintings, difficult to allocate to a specific school or movement, always rather bad preconditions for lasting artistic fame, remain an exception much like Blake’s works and it was as late as the second half of the 20th century that Doré’s paintings began to produce a wider interest, despite his massive importance as an illustrator, outstanding in his own right and tangible, especially in graphic novels, to this day.



Look Back, Mrs. Lot - one of Doré's Bible Illustrations