Gustave Doré – Master of Imagination

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‘There is a prevailing illusion that the imagery we associate with characters in certain novels comes primarily from the connection between the writer’s words and the reader’s imagination. With the classics, we often have the imagery before the reading, thanks to the afterlife of the original illustrations. There is no artist who has engineered more characters whom we believe we have conjured up ourselves from print than Gustave Doré. If we imagine Don Quixote, Little Red Riding Hood, Baron Münchhausen, Puss in Boots or the Ancient Mariner now in our mind’s eye, the chances are that what we are seeing bears the hallmarks of Doré. His talent for the iconic has extended his influence to unexpected places. Owls (1879) resembles an early Disney still and his vision of Dante and Virgil lit from a crypt below has reappeared in countless horror films. His genius for scenes of frozen motion, from Don Quixote and Rocinante being acrobatically felled by a windmill to Satan being cannoned out of Heaven, suggest that Doré was creating films for the mind before there was celluloid.’

On Gustave Doré – Master of Imagination (now at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris)

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