November 4, 2014

Doré's Wood Engravings

        Gustave Doré (France, 1832-1883) was a famous and prolific illustrator, working primarily in wood engraving.  His illustrations are very detailed, with tons and tons of tiny lines making every gradation of grey.  They're also very dramatic, with much emphasis on beams of light and dark, brooding shadows.  He was commissioned for illustrations of all sorts of major works of his day, from caricatures to the Bible, and including Milton, Dante, Poe, Cervantes, fairy tales, and more.  As you can imagine, with these commissions he ended up with a lot of work that can be considered fantastical.  I’ve featured a number of his pieces before in this blog here and there, including Little Red Riding Hood, Poe’s Raven, Sleeping Beauty, and the Leviathan just last week.  So today I have two more pieces for you that I find particularly intriguing to look at.
        Both of these pieces have an emphasis on architecture so that when I look at them I don’t think much about the characters in whatever story they’re illustrating.  Instead my mind is free to wander through these magical places making up my own stories.  Despite the similarities between the pieces - the architectural theme, the towering buildings, the small figures moving diagonally toward 
the upper left - they depict completely different scenes.  The first is dark, mysterious, possibly downright sinister, with its crooked, haphazard, top-heavy maze of buildings, tiny windows, dark alleys, pointed roofs…  The second is straight and ordered, well-lit and geometrical, like a great temple or government.  It’s also pretty elaborately decorated, with not an inch left unadorned with angels as well as geometric designs.
        The carving is pretty amazing, and I’m appreciating it all the more as I’ve been working on my leviathan design this weekend and struggling to capture fine detail and mysterious lighting.  (Admittedly, a rubber block print is never going to have the level of detail of a wood engraving, but that doesn’t detract from Doré’s skill.)  I need to go back and add more lines to my block, and these pieces are quite inspirational.

[Pictures: Wood engraving by Gustave Doré, 1855, from Les Contes drolatiques by Honoré de Balzac;
Wood engraving by Doré, 1877, from Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto.]

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