Friday, 1 August 2014

Gustave Dore's Illustrations of Victorian London

Gustave Dore (1832-1883) was a 19th century French artist that specialised in a variety of practices. He was a talented sculptor, painter and printmaker. Perhaps though, it was his printmaking that made him the venerated figure he is today. Throughout his life he was commissioned to illustrate, via the means of his woodcut and engraving skills, a large number of literature.The majority of his work seems to have been for French authors/publishers. However there is a sizeable amount of work commissioned by English patrons. Some notable works of which he was the illustrator include William Shakespeare's The Tempest (1860), Louis Viardot's French translation of Cervantes' Don Quixote (1863), Dante Alighieri's The Vision of Hell (1866), Milton's Paradise Lost (1866), Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1870) and William Blanchard Jerrold's London: A Pilgrimage (1872).

William Blanchard Jerrold joined forces with Dore in 1869 and together they painted a rather grisly portrayal of Victorian London (for the most part anyway). Although London: A Pilgrimage was a commercial success, it was heavily criticised for highlighting a lot of what proud Victorian Londoners would not like the world to see: overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, the unemployed poor etc. In the early 1870's Victorian London was fastly approaching the end of the 'Age of Equipoise' (we will get back to this later...).

The early Victorian Period was plagued by the fear of revolution (e.g the Chartists), political unrest (e.g 'Stop the Duke, Go for Gold'), tensions between civilians and the organisations that tried to control them (e.g Peterloo Massacre), a sharp rise in population (the population was 6.6 million in 1900 despite having started the Victorian Era as approx. 1 million) and deadly outbreaks of diseases like Cholera. 

However, after all the issues found in the early period the middle of the Victorian Era is considered the age of balance, hence 'the Age of Equipoise' as mentioned earlier. We held the most spectacular exhibition the world had seen in 1851 (the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace), Londoners had begun to adapt to cosmopolitan living, unemployment basically did not exist and the failure of the Chartist Movement laid to rest any worries about revolution. Londoners thought of themselves as above the rest of Europe because unlike the rest, England did not stage a revolution in 1848. 

This was short lived though, and to bring it back to Dore's time London was leaving this age of balance for a darker, more difficult late Victorian Era. Unemployment was back up as casual employers began to replace permanent employers (for example working at the docks) and horrific crime began to dominate the underdeveloped and overpopulated East End. For example, Jack the Ripper in the late 80's.

 Not surprising though that Dore should choose to illustrate such images, given the latest trend back home in Paris was realism: a real portrayal of everyday life for the largest section of the population - the lower classes. Dore was paid handsomely and because of the nature of his work (walking around the streets to observe the conditions) he had to stay in London for about 3 months at a time. The book included 180 illustrations. It is near impossible to find all of them on the internet however the British Library have quite a comprehensive collection which I have uploaded below:

P.S if the images appear pixelated click on one of them to open the picture library and navigate that way.

No comments:

Post a Comment