Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Venus in Peril: Andromeda (1869) by Gustave Doré

Andromeda (1869)

Here we have another nineteenth century version of Andromeda, this time by French artist Gustave Doré who, these days, is more well known for the influential engravings he did for book illustrations (Dante's Inferno, Don Quixote, The Bible, Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven etc.), than his paintings.

Doré, unlike the other nineteenth century artists we have featured here, was entirely self taught and, later, the French academic world would criticise his paintings so heavily that he spent more time in England than France, moving to London in 1868..


Paul Gustave Doré was born in Strasbourg in 1832 and was already producing serious drawings at the age of five.  By the time he was 12 he was carving his own lithographic stones, producing prints from them and writing stories to accompany them.  When he was fifteeen he was taken to Paris by his parents and was unimpressed by the illustrations he saw in a publisher's window there.  He went back, and showed them some of his drawings which they refused to believe that he had produced.  He sat down and started drawing for them and was hired on the spot.  The publisher, Philipon, was just about to launch a new weekly magazine and  wanted Doré  to be the illustrator for it.  His parents went home to Strasbourg and the teenage Doré stayed behind in Paris.  Within a year he was the highest paid illustrator in France.

In 1854 he started to produce the book illustrations for which he is now famous.  Over the course of his relatively short career he produced over 10,000 engravings. He also produced 400 oil paintings but these were not so well received, as he admitted that he had difficulty with colour shading (he may have been colour blind).  He later took up watercolours and at the end of his life sculpture, which was better received.
His Andromeda is a beautifully realised piece and the handling of the muscles in her legs is superb although, perhaps, the monster is not quite so good.  The composition, where Andromeda's brightly lit body curves down to the sea monster, in the bottom left hand corner, is also well thought out.

Les Océanides (1860-69)

He did another naked women on rocks picture in his 1860s painting  Les Océanides or Les Naiades de la mer.  It depicts Prometheus chained to a rock in a scene from  Aeschylus' play Prometheus Unbound.  Doré's studio was converted from the Amiros Gymnasium in the Rue Bayard in Paris, which he had chosen so he could work on and display the large canvases he favoured.  Les Océanides, for example, is 1.85 x 1.27m.

Doré died in 1883, after a short illness, at the age of 51. He was, by any measure, the most successful illustrator of all time.  His engravings, especially those for The Raven and The Inferno have hugely influenced other artists, theatre designers and film makers ever since.

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