Gustave Doré was born on January 6, 1832 in Strasbourg, France. He was the most prolific and successful French illustrator of his age. Initially, he was drawn to caricature, spurred on by the encouragement of noted cartoonist Charles Philipon. As a teenager, Doré visited Philipon’s Paris shop and was briefly employed by him. Doré also began producing humorous drawings for Le Journal pour Rire. These precocious skills proved invaluable, when, following the death of his father in 1849 he became the family’s main breadwinner.
Doré soon progressed to book illustrations. During the 1860s, his wood engravings for Dante’s Inferno and Cervantes’ Don Quixote made him famous. Stylistically, he owed much to the Romantics, excelling at depictions of the exotic and the macabre. This is particularly evident from his strange, glacial landscapes in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the grotesque beasts in the Inferno.
Yet, Doré could also be brutally realistic. His unflinching portrayal of the London slums attracted widespread praise and captured the imagination of the young Vincent Van Gogh. In later life, Doré produced some paintings and sculpture, but these are less highly regarded. His most successful venture in this field was the monument to his friend, the novelist Alexandre Dumas. He died on January 23, 1883.