Gamin de genie..child genius, boy wonder. This was the nickname that stuck with ‘petit’ Mssr. Gustave Dore, who, as a somnambulisto baby, dreaming frightening dreams, –dreams within dreams, unable to sleep! cried for a pencil to calm his hyper-imaginative nerves; and was appeased with this, by his mother, who forged an unbreakable bond of mutual dependence that would demand her son forsake the thought of any, or all marriage opportunities over the course of his short, brilliant life (dead at 50), but have an unnatural, indivisible emotional attachment to her instead; and live for his art..with ‘Mother’ (there! we got that out of the way).
Louis Auguste Gustave Dore, a.k.a., ‘Paul’, was born January 26, 1832 at the former Alsace, edge of the French frontier looking to Germany, and spent a childhood in, and out of the house, under knifing shadows of spires crowning Strasbourg’s gothic cathedral..gem, set in a lush valley reined in by the Black Forest, and crossed by the river Rhine; and, romantically speaking, much,MUCH more. As a child, Dore thought all other artists he was seeing, by comparison with him, were rubbish, an opinion shared by his mother, Alexandrine-Marie-Anne Dore, –attractive, vivacious, somewhat eccentric..etc., etc. They were both right, pretty much; and he proved it! when, having moved to Paris at age 15 (accounts of this story seem to differ), he ditched his parents and a family outing by feigning illness, so, soon as they scooted, he could run downtown from his house, where the Dore’s then dwelled, to a local print-shop to inform the owner, Charles Philipon (that) his illustrators were third-rate..based on observations gleaned from previews of soon-to-be-released printings, propped-up in his shop windows on the street; and to make the case, threw on the prospect’s desk a batch of his own drawings, tall as he was, or near, and so striking in their originality, and polished in execution, that “the Boss” knew they could not have been scribed by a mere child, this kid, standing in front of him, looking more like 10 than 15, with an air of consummate calm, cool, and collected. He at once summoned his artists to witness what might follow, by way of a challenge, and, if I recall right, ‘the Kid’ went to the window and in moments, had quick-sketched several renderings of the neighborhood, including a group of men standing in the street, nearby, casually capturing their ambience in cartoon form..cartoon, the chief weapon of political graphics heckles and a rash of other artists du jour, aiming at social commentary, or satire; of which medium, by age 8 Gustave Dore was already a master, –and well on his way to the pinnacle, a prodigy, blazing trails, comparable to a young Mozart. So what did the Charles do? He sent employees scurrying to find the father of the child and bring him hither, for the purpose of signing his golden egg-laying discovery to a medium-term contract. And thus it was, over paternal objections, that arrangement was eventually settled. Dore had landed his first job.
“I have tried to copy..Dore; it is very difficult.” ~Vincent van Gogh
Why I beat Dore’s drum so hard (van Gogh is my favorite painter, btw) is tied to my own awareness of him when I was that, gamin de genie my own darn self! age 5 or 6, and saw on the local LA Tee-Vee station that ran the same movie all week each night at 8pm – matinees Saturday and Sunday, at 4 plus the night show! The Million Dollar Movie on KHJ-9 (The folks who also brought you Seymour..sort of a sinister Soupy Sales)..
..(THEY SCREENED!)THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE
by Czeck, or Yugoslavian animator Karel Zeman, who had a quick wit..and incurable romantic disposition! Who like myself, was crazy in love with
20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
and probably just about any other virtual tour-guide, handy! that got you underwater, cool, and far! from the demands of c-i-v-i-l-i-z-a-t-i-o-n, society, –Far From the Madding Crowd, now! I don’t know about you, but growing up pretty close to Hollywood – which we all did in a way, since every dusty town at least had one crumbling movie-house to haunt, ticket to adventure! so for me, at least, it was movies and books, books and movies that got deep down in my romantic soul and made that path to escape the horrors of public education, and her ancillary authority figures that made you have respect, even though it really wasn’t there for them (though they were expert players when it came to persuading those who had not yet gone completely over to the dark side..by the first grades, to consider the advantages of voluntary conformity, a little cooperation, and so on). And to have your own submarine, come and go as you pleased! plus ram commercial shipping, for pleasure and profit, was to my mind the ultimate opportunity for self-rule..even if it was only the realm of private thoughts. But if great literature is great, like Jules Verne is..the greatest!! (well, notTHEE Greatest,but pretty good) then great literature with great illustrations..so much the better! A picture is worth a thousand words. Is it good?
Karel Zeman thought so; when he saw – obviously! illustrations in a first edition copy of Mssr. Verne’s classic, they– take you immediately out of this lubber’s land of cares and woes, and in through the back-door to a fantastic underwater journey, where other laws prevail..pulling back the curtain on images of things seen only out of the imaginations of artists, albeit, well-informed ones, who, like Karel Zeman, –and others! are chronic dreamers, stricken by the disease for which there is no cure; but only the prospect for ever increasing doses of unreality, to soothe members of that “..race of melancholy men.” And such we are! (There actually is a cure, or answer to these throes of serene, and self-absorbed misery..but we shall come to that in our review of the seemingly endless works of Mister Gustave Dore..presently)
Clearly, the ’20K LEAGUES’ to beat is the Disney one hands down..what with great writing and acting and all (which also begins with a matching shot of the frontispiece engraving from an early Edition, transitioning smoothly to live action; and you cannot over-inflate expressing the level of adrenaline flowing from the fingers on the ivories of our Captain Nemo – erstwhile landlubber-turned-Skipper – when he plays Toccata and Fugue of J.S. Bach..
prior to committing his latest atrocity..a genuine hate-crime, I believe); plus 30 million dollars to throw at it you can’t go far wrong with that; but here’s the difference: Kirk Douglas harpooning ‘Uncle’ Walt’s giant rubber-squid..precursor to the next movie generation’s Mssr.
– and all those excitements with implied shreddings of human flesh served up rare, wrapped in bikini’s of summer – pales by comparison with the achievement of being handed your ticket to walk across undulating wet sands into artists’ imaginations spanning back a century and half, –in the form of the wood-cut unbound! which is what the Europeans give us..master story-tellers, they are.
So! upon seeing the first engraving when opening the cover of ‘20,000’ to its title page, it is as though one were standing, staring from behind a massive glass partition stretching to the spheres, into a vast ocean garden, a play-land before your eyes! mystical in its meditations, the rules and reg’s of which one can hardly conceive..here, earthbound; and the abundance and variety of creatures we are introduced to, obeying only the mysterious laws of the sheltered sea, is heart-stopping in its immediacy..and positively visionary, the work of a man who was taught by – who else? Dore! (invest your own psyche, reflect..you’ll need not the intensive labours of skillful animators to enter therein). This is vintage wine..handcrafted for the connoisseur and we alone. If I may take another liberty, and probe further in this vein..slippery slope, though it be, I might sandwich the organic aqua-tinted landscapes depicted, onto the architectonic perfection handed us by builders of the Parthenon, –a slice of bread, in all her archaeologically pontificated glory..under a transparency of hand-crafted visions..of kelp forests’ columns, reaching up from shadowy nether regions, grasping at sun’s fugitive rays, –beyond reach! sunk in brooding foundations of stony, living coral; and met atop, at heavens’ salt altitudes with jellyfish plumes, extending downwards from domed heads, –legions of spineless Corinthian capitals, suspended! by the bushel, suggesting an invasion of starships, or the like, –unstoppable, irresistible, and more! anticipation of sweet pain accompanying the bargain. But let the pictures speak for themselves, in their grammarless eloquence (I urge the reader). Next,
Die Bibel. By far, Dore’s most popular work, worldwide, and the engravings he is most widely known for, still in print, containing one of my favorite illustrations: Jonah on dry land! after 3 days in the belly of a great fish He had prepared him (the Torah reference offered in response by Jesus, foretelling his death, and resurrection, to the skeptical pharisees, demanding of him, a sign! before they would believe); and about to embark on his call of witness to the citizens of Nineveh, having, after certain tribulations, decided to do it God’s way (at last) and sound the warning, –warning to repent! And there we are..the CHOICE
So what is left to be said, –? RE:The talents going on, the works! of Dore alongside the spellbinding daily events in the Parisienne’s life, of this mesmerizing, gutsy poet..Plenty! I haven’t even yet begun! (to write) don’t egg me on!! YOU MUST REMEMBER, for young Gustave, living in Paris in the day and age where we find him, the world was his oyster. Literally! So let’s see..IF one were to examine Paris beneath the lens of a post-revolutionary Europe, –around 1850, –having gotten through Waterloo, and all of the rest, –THEN,then there is not a mortal glutton alive, by our modern yard-stick, who could begin to eat it all! –what the ‘City of Love’ (or lights, or whatever) had for the ravening appetites of the dedicated voluptuary. Paris was such a magnet for creative geniuses, –from the painters and sculptors and librettists, to the poets and musicians and composers, –and of course, the great chef’s! they all fed off each other, –slice into the cake, and out hops..a little birdie!
Everyone fit in in Paris like a glove on a donkey. And, oh, there were geniuses..including of course, our hero, ‘Gusty’ but..Oh! and I see by the clock on the wall that we are out of time! but please, only bear with me while I just lightly touch on the manning-up for the nightly gala’s that either were attended by our artist selection, and/or were organized by him, as well; and plenty of practical jokes to be sure..lots of laughs; and of course, ‘Mother’. If the artist could drive people far from him, owing to his ego-maniacal tendencies..fueled by ‘Mom’, –he was also well endowed – genetically, it would seem – with the outgoing and endearing social butterfly’s charms and gifts to attract other, ‘freaky-flyers’ if you will; including natural athletic skills, entering into and making with the life of the party, on hand-stands&springs, what-not..exploding! acrobatic stunts, inspiring fears in the heart by the personal dangers they posed, –if one were to miss his grip! and as well, an easy way with music, without outside help, as testified to in the following note on a photograph captured with the snap of a shutter, of his dear friend, and personally inscribed by him:
Souvenir of tender friendship offered to Gustav Dore, who joins to his genius as a painter and draughtsman the talents of a distinguished violinist and charming tenorino, if you please………….G.Rossini
Rossini! and many, many others of comparable stature in the eyes of the world, –Paris! Paris was HOLLYWOOD, then&there, as far as the arts..and kulture! and of course, horse-racing! and the creators, the personalities, and nuts! and all their satellite groups, or entourages reeling around in their relative orbits, comprehend all, or most of the greatest minds of the epoch, who wielded their astounding powers of artistic expression freely, ferociously! and generously, sucking the fine arts universe into one, big social ball, flicking off flaming fragments of meteoric debris as they went! To name names would be to start a task impossible to finish, though many have tried..to do it (although actually I’m not sure if they did! anyway..).
In closing I will name one name, Franz Liszt, –Franz Liszt, despised by many among respectable society (like Brahms, who fell asleep!) and beloved by many more, also, of fantastic talent, though perhaps less repute (like bomb-thrower/anarchist-genius Richard Wagner, who pinched everything Liszt ever showed him..including his daughter; however)..Prometheus brought fire..in form of cimbaloms&violins stolen off gypsy wagons of his native Hungary, to concert stages across the continent, from Paris to Timbuktu..leaving a trail of wrecked pianos in his vulcanic, smouldering wake. (Both poet-artist Dore and poet-artist Liszt shared an affinity for opera; at age 7, musically untaught Dore performed for his mother his own arrangement on violin of Robert le Diable..an opera of Meyerbeer’s, in five acts! And from le PROPHET, also by Meyerbeer, Liszt mined his thematic material for a virtuoso organists’ vehicle, –Fantasy and Fugue on ‘Ad nos, Ad Salutarem Undam’ –nomenclatures out of nowhere, an unbroken 20 minutes of music..subterranean, ala Dante’s Inferno. San Francisco’s Opera House, in 1977, saw Virgil Fox explaining the details of a performance for those in attendance, a lively audience..He said, “Near the end there is a passage it all builds to, demanding the performer tear down all octaves of the instrument in a pattern of broken arpeggios at such blinding speed..he nearly passes out!” Mr.Fox had a penchant for slight exaggeration, on occasion..nonetheless; Liszt also covered ‘Robert-the-devil’ for us, and I would be shamefully irresponsible to not recommend from among his other opera paraphrases, ‘Reminiscences de Don Juan’ by, I-forget-who). In any case, after Liszt had pounded to atoms all other pretenders to the throne, of pianistic virtuosity – his bread&butter – he fell on dry ground, tossing about as to what he might do next; which was when he attended a solo violin recital given by Niccolo Paganini, and resolved to do for the piano what ‘Nicky’ had accomplished with the violin..the impossible!! Bye! see-ya in a couple of weeks. Like Gustave Dore’s, Liszt’s acute photographic memory, cultivated and mod’ed..forged! in early hard work, –and his unique musical genius earned for him first place at the table in the uppermost room of the universal house of music..histoire. Much as Dore, from memory and imagination, was without peer in his speedy ability to fashion printing-blocks without number, for mass-production of illustrations, riding on germs of ideas in literature of the greatest writers preserved through time, –Liszt could make the piano sing, dance! do any thing..which he did, from successfully transposing rangy literary platitudes and poetic gobbledygook into musical passages reflecting subtle nuances at the inspired source (generally improving things), –to organizing Beethoven symphonies into a level of pianistic expression, unreachable! (for others) and reciting them before audiences in remote villages, and places where orchestras feared tread..sharing Ode to Joy with the common man; and all of it off the top of his uncommon head..photographically. He was a sort-of human juke-box, in the final analysis, actually.
! So this one night, at a major salon, or ‘party’ being given by, –Rossini, at his home, we have: “..a wild-looking man in priestly garb appeared out of nowhere, and proceeded to play Rossini’s music on the piano with a fervor that shook the house. When he finished he asked Rossini, “Is that how you meant it to sound?” Rossini replied, “My God, the man has a demon!” (I can hear it now! was Rossini from Brooklyn, even?? I thought It’ly! This is out of a Milton Berle script.)
While Dore’s biographers tend to roll around in the muck of psycho-analyzing the quirks and odd doings of his inner poet natures, seeking, thereby, to explain every thing about the man, I will content my self with posing the singular question: Where did all those pitchers come from, anyways? Thanks
A few thoughts, after the end, or..How I did this assignment. I got on the computer – nasty little things, actually! and purchased a slew of Dore books to instantly consume and have all the information at my brains’-tips (no libraries, you know!) So here is the ones I got so far (and there’s scads more of it, no one knows the entirety of Dore’s output, stores of it are endless; I am still waiting to hear from an eeby seller whose price on a 1901 1st ed. of DROLL TALES in not-that-great-a-condition I have been chipping at for a couple of weeks; but here’s what), I got: Paradise Lost by John Milton (who happened to be born on my same birthday..no wonder he’s so great huh?); Gustave Dore – Adrift on dreams of splendor, by Dan Malan, a true col-lec-tor, who I borrowed the van Gogh quote from, –plus the anecdote about the impromptu Liszt performance at Rossini’s place; and GUSTAVE DORE by JOANNA RICHARDSON has some interesting information, v e r y interesting! and the DORE SPOT ILLUSTRATIONS for which no one seems to take credit (for stealing), and contains a wonderful but curt survey of his most egregious crime..that of ‘fecundity’ (concept and term courtesy of Joanna Richardson), and which contains a drawing of Niccolo Paganini, and possibly a Hector Berlioz; although, since subject is wearing the dark glasses, not a positive i.d. (but those ‘Elvis’ mutton-chops are certainly a conspicuous clue!); Baron Munchhausen’s Miraculous Adventures On Land (these illustrations defined the look of the Baron from then on, and would re-emerge, the spitting image! molded by Dore, in his peculiar clay, in movies a hundred years hence, including a Zeman version, possibly the best, –Dore was also a stage-designer! anticipating the cinema, and animation! through his cinematic images, in an equivalent virtual space in time, 3-D, Look!), with Gottfried August Buerger taking the stage-bows for Munchhausen..although no one’s sure that’s true; and here’s THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER, arrived lately, illustrating Colleridge’s poem; which has some of Dore’s finest drawings done in oversize plates..highly recommended! and Gustave Dore’s London (and the titles are in ‘Creepy-crawly’ type-set, very nice to see!); lastly, (I think) THE RAVEN, by YOU-KNOW-WHOM, Mr. Pit-and-the-pendulum-breath, himself..E.A.P., grand master of the race of melancholy men. This book has the distinction of being Dore’s last completed commission, sliced to a poem of universal popularity..you know, the “Relax..When I’m dead, this’ll be worth a fortune!” spiel, as in..RIME OF THE ANCIENT MILLIONAIRE, chow!