Category Archives: Printmaking

Did you ever see such a sight in your life?

Winslow Homer, 1858, engraving, Eventful History of Three Little Mice“Three blind mice/ see how they run/ they all ran after the farmer’s wife/ who cut off their tails with a carving knife…” A horrifying image dressed in a child’s verse. The English it seems gave the German Brothers Grimm a run for their money. This familiar nursery rhyme was allegedly scribbled in honor of Her Royal Highness, Queen Mary I, who also happens to be called Bloody Mary because she had an unquenchable thirst for the blood of Protestants; she, the “farmer’s wife,” who so generously had three noblemen—the eponymous mice—burned at the stake rather than their eyes poked out.

Taken out of context of 16th century England in which they originated, the unseeing mice today are but a trio of unfortunate tiny rodents, without sight and without tails. And the ambiguity of the lyrics leaves us speculating about the sequence of events—whether the mice were running after or running away from their mutilator when she slashed their tails. The celebrated poet Billy Collins, however, turns our attention to an even more pertinent question: why were the mice blind in the first place? The former Poet Laureate guesses at the answers as empathy sneaks up on him, sneaks into the lines of his “I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of ‘Three Blind Mice’”:

…If it was congenital, they could be brothers and sister,
and I think of the poor mother
brooding over her sightless young triplets.


 
Or was it a common accident, all three caught
in a searing explosion, a firework perhaps?
 
…the thought of them without eyes

and now without tails to trail through the moist grass

 

or slip around the corner of a baseboard

has the cynic who always lounges within me

up off his couch and at the window

trying to hide the rising softness that he feels.


 
By now I am on to dicing an onion

which might account for the wet stinging

in my own eyes, though Freddie Hubbard’s

mournful trumpet on “Blue Moon,”


 
which happens to be the next cut,

cannot be said to be making matters any better.[1]

But long before the three blind mice softened a cynic’s heart, America’s greatest nineteenth century painter got caught up in the nursery rhyme as well. In his early years as an artist, Winslow Homer earned his keep as a commercial illustrator. In 1858, a Boston publisher hired Homer to contribute seventeen illustrations to a children’s book. Titled Eventful History of Three Little Mice and How They Became Blind, it could almost be read as a direct response to the question Collin’s would one day pose. And like Collins, Homer and the tale’s anonymous author treat the mice sympathetically, showing us that their lamentable fate wasn’t because they were naughty but because they were mice simply being mice—in the pantry of the farmer’s wife looking for food.

 

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[1] Billy Collins, “I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of ‘Three Blind Mice,’” (excerpted), Picnic, Lightning, 1998.

Additional sources: Maurice Sendak, “Introduction” in Eventful History of Three Little Mice and How They Became Blind, 1996 edition, Oxford University Press; Garth Stein, “Billy Collins’s ‘I Chop Some Parsley….’,” Shambhala Sun, July 2010, p. 96.

(Image: Winslow Homer, from Eventful History of Three Little Mice and How They Became Blind, 1858, hand colored engraving, publisher: E. O. Libby & Co., Boston, Massachusetts.)

 

 


Tiny Dancer

Charles Hermann-Léon, published 1891Some one hundred years ago “waltzing” mice were a sought-after pet, a novelty bred solely for their quickstep ability. Despite what this print of mice might charm us into believing, the real-live diminutive creatures danced on all four legs, never on two. Sometimes they spun around an invisible vertical axis or in a figure eight as they twitched their heads about. Sometimes two mice danced together in a synchronized fashion. And sometimes two mice danced like a planet orbited by its moon—while one spun in a wide circle, the other circled the spinner.

Along with their kin fancy mice—varieties of house mice who earned the fancy in their name having been selectively bred and prized for their exceptional coat colors, such as blue and yellow and albino—the waltzing, commonly piebald, mice were domesticated in 18th century Japan. Scientists speculated that they resulted from a natural mutation that occurred centuries earlier in a mouse who was once indigenous to the plateaus and plains of Central Asia—a tiny dancer was mentioned as early as 80 B.C. in the annals of the Han Dynasty. China by way of Japan, the now-called Japanese waltzers arrived in Europe with the help of European traders throughout the nineteenth century, and by the late 1890s these nimble-footed individuals began to appear in the United States.[1]

From 1903 to 1907, Robert Yerkes, a behavioral psychologist and a professor at Harvard University observed from two to one hundred “graceful and dexterous” little dancers and published the results in an aptly titled book The Dancing Mouse.[2] In addition to his probe into their development and their physiology, looking for deviations from ordinary mouse species, he broke down their dance steps, whirling to the left or whirling to the right or whirling back and forth to the left and right. The left whirlers, who were mainly female, outnumbered the right whirlers, who were mainly male. Both sexes, however, whirled more and more as day turned to dusk.

The Japanese waltzing mice, as it turned out, were not dancing because they heard songs in their heads. In fact when they were born they hardly heard anything at all, and by the time the mice were one-week old the majority of the dancers were completely deaf. Most scientists concurred that both the deafness and the unusual behavior were probably due to a hereditary structural abnormality of the inner ear. While they disagreed as to the precise location—the ear canals or the cochleae or the ligaments of the cochlear ducts—and pointed fingers at one another, claiming carelessness in their methods, they agreed that the mice’s twirling was nothing but their lifelong quest to stay upright.[3] Alas.

The tiny waltzers no longer exist. Perhaps because almost the second after the mice had reached our shores, scientists nabbed them and crossbred them, over and over, with a number of other strains. One thing that can be said, any dancing mice are better left to the imagination of artists.

This print is by the 19th century French artist Charles Hermann-Léon, highly esteemed for his paintings of animals. Published in 1891 its caption reads: Quand les chats n’y sont pas…,[4] taken from the well-known French proverb, “When the cats aren’t there…” (or the English version “When the cat’s away…”) We all know what comes next: The mice will dance!

 

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[1] William H. Gates, “The Japanese Waltzing Mouse, Its Origin and Genetics,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Volume 11, 1925.

[2]Robert M. Yerkes, The Dancing Mouse: A Study in Animal Behavior, 1907.

[3] In the 1930s, a leading mammalogist Lee Dice of the University of Michigan discovered the same dancing behavior and ear defects in four strains of deer mice, Lee R. Dice, “Inheritance of Waltzing and of Epilepsy in Mice of the Genus Peromyscus,Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Feb., 1935)

[4]The source of the print is unknown.

(Image: Quand les chats n’y sont pas…” by Charles Hermann-Léon, photogravure print, 6 ¼ x 4 7/8 in., published 1891.)

 


Hadaka no tsukiai

1 Utagawa Kunisada III, Kōshi Bath, 1882This communal bathhouse just happens to be filled with mice—but they are patrons not pests, mind you.

Like any good citizen of 19th century Tokyo, these anthropomorphic mice, as seen in this whimsical “popular” woodblock print by the artist Utagawa Kunisada III,[1] went to a public bathhouse to keep themselves clean. Although in certain quarters bathhouses often masqueraded as brothels, with indoor plumbing in the home a thing of the future, frequenting the neighborhood sento or onsen was a common activity, one that was social as well as practical, catching up on the gossip as well as removing the dirt. A culture of hadaka no tsukiai, naked communion, they called it. The bathhouse was a place that the whole family could enjoy, fathers and mothers and children all sudsing together—that is until around 1890 when a law was passed that doused the fun, calling for separate sections for men and women.

Reminiscent to vertical landscape scroll paintings, Kōshi Bath is divided into four separate planes, arranged bottom to top, depicting the mice’s progression through the bathhouse from the entrance to the soaking, from earth to the heavens you might say. The woodblock print was published in 1882, during the Meiji era, when Edo became Tokyo, when a more egalitarian Japan opened its doors to foreign influences. Along with forms of western industrialization came the introduction of synthetic aniline dyes to the Japanese printmaking process, which allowed for prints to be produced in brilliant colors—unlike the muted tones of the preceding period. “Vibrant red and purple in particular—the ‘colors of progress’—became emblematic of the Meiji era,” one curator wrote, “vividly expressing the pursuit of ‘enlightenment and civilization,’ the watch-words of the Meiji leaders.”[2]

While Kunisada III was a trained master artist in his own right—having been the apprentice of the apprentice of the apprentice of the master Toyokuni who had founded the celebrated Utagawa school—his print of bathhouse mice wasn’t fine art made for the elite, using the best quality of paper but, according to artist and author Rebecca Salter, most likely created for the amusement of the burgeoning working class, dashed off on thin, sometimes recycled paper and sold inexpensively[3] to the thousands of people who had scurried, like mice, into the cities.

 

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[1] Utagawa Kunisada III also named himself professionally Kunimasa IV and Baido Hosai, and Toyokuni IV—as per the elaborate Eastern tradition.

[2] Donald Jenkins, Curator, “Meiji Woodblock Print Exhibition,” Portland Art Museum, 2002.

[3] Rebecca Salter, Japanese Popular Prints: From Votive Slips to Playing Cards, University of Hawaii Press, 2006.

Additional source: Scott Clark, Japan, a View from the Bath, University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

(Image: Utagawa Kunisada III, Kōshi Bath, woodblock print, 1882.)

 


Albertus Durerus Noricus faciebat 1504

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, detail, 1504At Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts there is a silver and glass box with a lock of hair. The provenance of this unusual relic is intact; it dates to 1528 and the hands of a certain Hans Baldung Grien, a former apprentice of Germany’s greatest artist Albrecht Dürer. Baldung had cut off a piece of Dürer’s hair two days after the artist died. This, before Dürer was interred and a group of other artists immediately exhumed his body to make a plaster cast of his face. Such was the intense popularity of this master painter and master printmaker.

Dürer was, in 1494/5, the first northern European artist to travel to Italy to examine the sculptures and the paintings and the first to tote the ideals of the Italian Renaissance back across the Alps; today he’s even called the “first truly international artist.”[1] He sold his copper engravings and woodcut prints throughout Europe, branding himself with a distinct monogram, gaining commissions and being named the official court artist to Holy Roman Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504Emperors Maximilian I and Charles V—all which helped to cement his reputation as not only an artistic genius and an innovator but also a savvy entrepreneur.

When Baldung arrived in Nuremberg on the doorstep of Dürer’s workshop in 1503, the thirty-two-year old Dürer, since his yearlong Italian sojourn, had been spending his time distilling the works of the Italian masters, from Mantegna to Michelangelo, embracing the linear perspective and the classical human form; transforming the printmaking process, inventing a system that produced middle tones as opposed to the customary ‘dark marks on white paper’; and creating crosshatching and meticulously-spaced parallel and curved lines so the subjects he depicted read both light and shadow. Calling on his mastery of drawing and painting, by the turn of the sixteenth century he had deftly elevated printmaking to fine art.

Now under Baldung’s gaze Dürer bent over his latest proofs, fixated on perfecting the male nude in his rendition of Adam and Eve just before the Fall; he had been studying a small replica the goldsmith sculptor Pier-Jacopo Alari-Bonacolsi had made of the recently found sculpture Apollo Belvedere. Adam and Eve would become one of Dürer’s most influential and most enduring engravings; he boldly signed the work on a plaque he hung on the tree: Albertus Durerus Noricus faciebat 1504, this sort of inscription we’re told he picked up from the Italians.

The ideal forms of Man and Woman are not to be missed but it is the cornucopia of symbolism that fills the space: the apple and the serpent of course; the mountain ash and the fig tree, representing the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge respectively; the parrot representing Mary, the second Eve; the goat in the background poised atop a cliff representing stability; and the four animals in the foreground representing the four temperaments, the ‘humors,’ which according to a ‘scholastic doctrine’ speak to the bodily fluids that become unbalanced in a corrupt individual—the hare the sanguine, the elk the melancholic, the ox the phlegmatic, and the cat the choleric. While the mouse has been said to symbolize the weakness of ‘man,’ here in this unblemished Eden, the mouse peacefully co-exists with the cat. Little does he know it’s all about to change.

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[1] “Dürer and His Legacy,” The British Museum.

Additional sources: Jill Dunkerton, Suan Foister, Nicholas Penny, Dürer to Veronese: Sixteenth-Century Paintings in the National Gallery, Yale University Press, 1999; Diane Lesko, “Albrecht Dürer: Adam and Eve,” Telfair Museum of Art: Collection Highlights, University of Georgia Press, 2005; Joseph Leo Koerner, The Moment of Self-Portraiture in German Renaissance Art, University Of Chicago Press, 1997; Metropolitan Museum of Art.

(Image: Detail and full reproduction, Adam and Eve, 1504, Engraving, 9 7/8 x 7 7/8 in, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)


The Hidden Snare

Frank Bartolozzi, after Bunbury,   The Mouse's Peitition, 1791Like Robert Burn’s “To a Mouse,” Anna Letitia Barbauld’s poem “The Mouse’s Petition” was in the form of a supplication. Only this time man wasn’t imploring mouse, mouse was imploring man; and as such, compassion shown for animals had entered a new territory. The year was 1773.

At the heart of the poem is a mouse who’s been trapped to become the subject of a certain Dr. Priestley. The mouse pleads for his freedom:

OH ! hear a pensive captive’s prayer,
For liberty that sighs;
And never let thine heart be shut
Against the prisoner’s cries.

His appeal continues on a high note of desperation that’s left others since to reconstruct the story behind it with an equal degree of distress. First the facts: Joseph Priestley in 1700s England was a leading political thinker as well as a scientist. He was credited for the discovery of an air-like substance that we know today as oxygen—but not before he used live mice in experiments with deadly gases. Meanwhile Barbauld, according to William McCarthy’s biography, considered Dr. Priestley and his wife to be her second family.

One evening the poet, who was often a guest in the Priestley home, witnessed a mouse caught in one of the doctor’s live traps. Since it was already nighttime, Priestley’s servant took the mouse to the lab where the small rodent was destined to sit in a cage till the following day. When the doctor entered the lab the next morning he found the mouse with a rolled-up piece of paper stuck in between the cage’s metal bars. On the sheet was written none other than “The Mouse’s Petition” with the pointed inscription “To Doctor Priestley.”

For here forlorn and sad I sit,
Within the wiry grate;
And tremble at th’ approaching morn,
Which brings impending fate.
 
If e’er thy breast with freedom glow’d,
And spurn’d a tyrant’s chain,
Let not thy strong oppressive force
A free-born mouse detain.

The good doctor, it was reported, set the mouse free.

Upon publication the deceptively sweet poem found its many fans. “The Mouse’s Petition” was critically received and applauded for its condemnation of animal experimentation by the same people who were finding their voices to courageously speak out against animal cruelty and for the rights of animals. As a ‘petition’ the poem, they viewed, could be none other than a political text. It accorded the mouse a consciousness and basically asked: What gives humans the right to have dominion over another creature?

That, however, was not the end of the story. Stirring the pot, Barbauld tossed in a pinch of doubt with the third edition of her poem a year later. She went it seems out of her way to separate herself from her reviewers. She wrote in a note that accompanied the poem’s new publication: The Author is concerned to find, that what was intended as the petition of mercy against justice, has been construed as the plea of humanity against cruelty. She is certain that cruelty could never be apprehended from the Gentleman to whom this is addressed; and the poor animal would have suffered more as a victim of domestic economy [i.e., in a mouse trap], than of philosophical curiosity.

Scholars on the right have taken her coda at face value, embracing the mouse’s plight as a mere metaphor for a number of injustices prevalent in the poet’s Georgian society, while critics on the left, then and now, have stood by the verse’s literal interpretation. McCarthy, who spent twenty years researching Barbauld’s life and her works, argues that there really is no ambiguity when it comes to the poem’s meaning, that the poet’s intention is clear. Barbauld, unusually highly educated for a young woman at that time, had a teasing relationship with Priestley and would often enter into a lively discussion about his actions “from the stance of alternative ethics.”[1] The note she attached to the poem’s new edition was nothing more than a realization she had, with her friend, regrettably gone too far.

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[1] William McCarthy, Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Additional sources: Jerom Murch, Mrs. Barbauld and Her Contemporaries, London, 1877; Kathryn Ready, “‘What then, poor Beastie!’: Gender, Politics, and Animal Experimentation in Anna Barbauld’s ‘The Mouse’s Petition,’” Eighteenth-Century Life, Winter 2004.

(Image: The Mouse’s Petition, etching and stipple, print made by Francesco Bartolozzi, Henry William Bunbury, 1791, The British Museum, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)


Of Manga and Mice

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is surely the best-known Japanese artist outside of Japan. His wood-block prints of Kanagawa’s great wave and of Mount Fuji, all thirty-six views, have been reproduced I would wager no less than a million times. He was all the rage in the last part of nineteenth-century France, inspiring Monet, Manet, and Degas, Cézanne and van Gogh just to name a few. And from these Impressionists and Post-Impressionists his influence extended, according to many, well into the twentieth century to the Japanese comic book artists. He has even been called the country’s ‘first manga master’[1]—if only, I wonder, because he released fifteen volumes (three of them posthumously) of sketches, starting in 1814, with the title Manga.

The Japanese word manga is hard to pin down in Western terms, and if you do a google translation, the flat-footed definitions “cartoon” and “comic” pop up. But essentially it means a picture (ga) without restrictions (man)—drawings without any sense of formality.

In Hokusai’s case, his Manga was both a set of art instruction books—images for aspiring artists to copy—and an exhaustive collection of sketches, in which he sought to capture, as he put it, “everything in the Universe”—real and mythical: beasts and Buddhas, scenes from everyday life and humans with funny facial expressions, horse equipment and a huge array of animals—for instance, take the five white mice eating a two-tiered mochi cake (shown here). Above all, in his characters, two-legged and four, the artist’s personality twinkles; his humor is clear, cheeky and comedic. Hokusai Manga in total contains more than four thousand wood engravings.

What separates his work from what we recognize as a manga today is the lack of ‘sequential art’; his images, randomly displayed on the page, don’t tell a story frame by frame. Rob Vollmar on the Comics Worth Reading site points out, in his review of a new (2007) edited edition of Hokusai’s Manga, that to draw a direct line from the contemporary manga back to Hokusai Manga, is a disappointing endeavor. It seems for the moment the ‘god of manga’ Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy is more akin to Siegel’s and Shuster’s Superman than to, say, Hokusai’s “Game of One Hundred Grimaces.”

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[1] Christophe Marquet (with Jocelyn Bouquillard), Hokusai, First Manga Master, translated by Liz Nash, 2007.

Other sources, Rob Vollmer, “Review of Hokusai, First Manga Master,” Comics Worth Reading.com; Sergi Camara and Vanessa Duran, Art of Drawing Manga, 2007; Department of Art, Digital Collection, University of Michigan.

(Image from Hokusai Manga, “Fauna, vol.14, block 29,” Yamaguchi Prefectural Museum  of Art, Japan, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)


Chichikov (again) in the Hands of Chagall

If you look closely at the illustration, you can see the mouse in the doorway like an agreeable host, holding the door ajar. The subject, however, is the meeting between the two men, whose names give this etching by Marc Chagall its title. They are none other than Nikolay Gogol’s Manilov and Chichikov: the former, a landowner, whom the latter is trying to swindle. (See previous post.)

In 1923 Chagall, the renowned Russian Jewish artist who fell into a melting pot of his own making and came out French, returned to Paris at the age of thirty-six from Moscow via Berlin, exhausted from the poverty and the violence endemic to his country’s revolutionary struggle. He had first lived in the French capital at the age of twenty-three to advance his study of art, and became immediately seduced by the city’s vibrancy and freedom. But in 1914 he would go back to the place that would artistically inspire him for his whole life, his provincial hometown of Vitebsk, Belarus, to be reunited with his beloved Bella. It would take nine years—the Great War in the meantime—before he, with Bella, now his wife, and their young daughter, could gladly resume living in Paris. He was surprised to discover during his absence he had gained prominence as a painter. Still he needed to find a modicum of financial security after having a couple of setbacks due to his naïveté in the business of art. So he welcomed the tap on the shoulder from Ambroise Vollard—the famed French publisher and art dealer who happened to have launched Cézanne, van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso with their first solo shows; about whom Picasso once remarked, “looked like a giant ape, yet ‘the most beautiful woman never had her portrait painted, drawn or engraved any oftener than Vollard—by Cézanne, Renoir, Rouault, Bonnard, Forain, almost everybody… He had the vanity of a woman, that man.’”[1]

Vollard wanted to commission Chagall for a set of etchings for one of his ‘deluxe’ livres de peintre. He proposed the children’s book, Countess Ségur’s General Durakin, for illustration. Chagall suggested instead Dead Souls by Gogol, the Russian writer with whom he most closely identified: the shared affinity for ‘satire and pity,’ ‘fantasy and reality,’ and ‘playfulness and fatalism.’ Vollard agreed. Chagall set about working on the project that would result in a series of 107 etchings. Observed the poet Ivan Goll, upon a visit to his friend, “You can come to him whenever you like—Marc sits there like a cobbler hammering away at his copper plates, an upright craftsman of God. His wife, who ministers to his art as a nurse ministers to a sick man’s fever, reads the chapter[s] aloud to him.”[2]


[1] Jackie Wullschläger, Chagall: A Biography, 2008.

[2] Ibid.

Other sources: Jonathan Wilson, Marc Chagall (Jewish Encounters), 2007; MoMA; University of Michigan Museum of Art.

(Image Manilov and Tchitchikov, from Gogol’s Dead Souls, reproduced for non-commercial purposes only.)


Book of Beasts

A bestiary is a book of beasts, conjured up in medieval times. And while it was then a codification of animals that was highly regarded and widely read, the “medieval zoologists were not as much concerned with animal life as they were with their doctrinal significance.”[1] God over Man, Man over Animals, and so forth. There were several versions of the bestiary and just as many authors. Not always unbiased, the scribes, according to Richard Randall’s The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Cloister Bestiary, would stifle anything they deemed ‘fallacious.’ In addition to lessons about nature and commentaries on natural phenomena the book included moral and religious lessons as well as fanciful illustrations of the beasts—based quite often on hearsay and personal stories and, one might add, on a vivid imagination. Among the rhinoceros, the whale, and the mouse (La Souris), for example, were the unicorn, the dragon, and the griffin. The everyday readers, without pause, accepted all of these creatures as true, they had no evidence to the contrary.

The bestiary has had enduring appeal; in its concept contemporary artists have found a playground for reinterpretation and style. The French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, known for his provocative paintings of performing artists, scenes of Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge, begged the author Jules Renard to illustrate Renard’s Histoires Naturelles that would become the exemplar for all modern bestiaries. Completing the work in 1899, two years before his death at the age of thirty-six, Toulouse-Lautrec showed in the twenty-three drawings some of his ‘most refined draftsmanship.’


[1] Aura Beckhöfer-Fialho, “Medieval Bestiaries and the Birth of Zoology.”

Additional sources: Richard Randall’s The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Cloister Bestiary; Matthias Arnold, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1864-1901.

(image reproduced for non-commercial use only)


“A world of disorderly notions…crowded into his imagination.”

“Our gentleman was approximately fifty; his complexion was weathered, his flesh scrawny, his face gaunt.” That’s Miguel de Cervantes’s description of his immortal hero. But it was Gustave Doré who took the Spanish writer’s words and gave Don Quixote a countenance. It is Doré’s image that springs to mind when we think of the ‘impossible dreamer’ who rushed around Spain in a suit of armor, “righting all manner of wrongs.” The artist with pen and ink brought us into Quixote’s world, into Quixote’s mind, making tangible the Spaniard’s flights of chivalrous fancy and at the same time reflecting Doré’s own unfettered imagination, which included two tiny knights, each galloping on a mouse.

In 1862, at the age of thirty, Doré was the very first artist to illustrate Cervantes’s great novel. He traveled to Spain to get a glimpse of the life, the people and the landscape for reference, and fell in love with what he saw. His drawings transcended the reality, and captured the fantasy and the satire, the humor and the sadness of Don Quixote’s quest. The book and the illustrator, according to his friend and biographer Blanchard Jerrold, couldn’t have been better matched.

Doré like his subject was a romantic—from early childhood, he only wanted to be a painter. He hungered for fame not as an illustrator but as a painter; he longed “to be immortal on canvas.” Up before six he spent his mornings doing illustrations for publishers and for money, his afternoons painting for himself. He painted works 800px-Gustave_Doré_-_Miguel_de_Cervantes_-_Don_Quixote_-_Part_1_-_Chapter_1_-_Plate_1_%22A_world_of_disorderly_notions,_picked_out_of_his_books,_crowded_into_his_imagination%22_mice_lossless_cropthat largely involved mythological or religious allegory and the occasional landscape. But the French Academy dismissed his paintings and the other artists scoffed. They ridiculed him for not being associated with any particular school, for being a sloppy technician, for lacking nuance in tone, and for simply painting too fast—“talent facile.” And though Doré became despondent—his youthful exuberance and his incisive wit long gone—and defiant over all the criticism, he never gave up painting. The comeuppance, of course, lies in the fact that many of the painters from whom Doré had sought acceptance are no longer remembered, whereas today Doré is regarded as the greatest illustrator of the nineteenth century.

 

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Sources: Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, translated by Edith Grossman, 2003; Blanchard Jerrold, The Life of Gustave Doré, 1884.

(image, and detail, reproduced for non-commercial use only)