Ads Top

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Our visual image of Victorian London is largely fixated on its sordidness—cramped streets, dark alleys, desolate slums, overcrowding, and illicit dens. Two people are responsible for creating in our heads such pictures of destitution and filth—one is Charles Dickens, whose works largely revolved around grinding poverty, and the other is French illustrator Gustave Doré.

Gustave Dore (1832 – 1883) was a prolific engraver, artist, illustrator, and sculptor, who became very popular both in France and England by being an extremely successful illustrator for books and magazine.

He began his career early—at the age of fifteen—working for the French paper Le journal pour rire. Before he was twenty-five, his illustrations had adorned the books of several prominent writers of his time such as Cervantes, Rabelais, Balzac, Milton, Byron, and Dante. His illustrations of Cervantes's Don Quixote left such an indelible impression on the collective imagination of the public that it forever changed how subsequent artists, stage and film directors would represent the various characters in the book in their medium. Doré's illustrations for the English Bible in 1866 was such great success that it earned him a major exhibition of his work in London, eventually leading to the foundation of his very own Dore Gallery.

In 1869, Dore teamed up with journalist Blanchard Jerrold to produce a comprehensive portrait of London. For the next four years, Jerrold and Dore explored the dark underbelly of the largest, most fashionable, and most prosperous city in the world, visiting night refuges, staying in cheap lodging houses and making rounds of the opium den. The duo were often accompanied by plain-clothes policemen. They travelled up and down the river and attended fashionable events at Lambeth Palace, the boat race and the Derby.

In 1872, the completed book, London: A Pilgrimage, with 180 engravings, was published. The book became very popular and a great commercial success, even though Gustave Doré got much of it wrong.

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

The title page of “London: A Pilgrimage”.

Doré disliked sketching in public, so he only made a few brief outlines and then returned back to his studio to complete it from his memory. The inaccuracies in his illustrations became notorious, and the proud Victorian Londoners heavily criticized him for focusing on the poor and wretched side of London. The Art Journal accused Dore of “inventing rather than copying”, while The Westminster Review claimed that “Doré gives us sketches in which the commonest, the vulgarest external features are set down.”

Despite these criticisms, Doré’s work become celebrated for his ability to capture the atmosphere of mid-Victorian London with his dramatic use of light and shade. A very large part of our visual impression of 19th century London is based on these priceless illustrations.

Gustave Doré never married. He lived with his mother, and for nearly his entire life, slept in a room adjoining room. After the death of his mother, he lost the will to live and died at the age of fifty. During his lifetime he produced over one hundred thousand sketches, averaging an astounding six sketches per day for each day he lived.

Leading image: Over London – by Rail. This is probably the most famous and most often seen plate from London.

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Dudley Street, Seven Dials.

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Covent Garden Market, Early Morning.
“Covent Garden Market is the most famous place of barter in England – it has been said, by people who forget the historical Halle of Paris, in the world,” wrote Blanchard Jerrold.

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Inside the Docks
”We have travelled through the commerce of a world in little. The London Docks alone receive something like two thousand ships a year.”

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Bluegate Fields in Shadwell

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Scripture Reader in a Night Refuge

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Billingsgate, Early Morning
”The opening of Billingsgate Market is one of those picturesque tumults which delight the artist’s eye.”

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

The Workmen’s Train. Steam trains at Gower Street station on the Metropolitan underground line, which had opened in 1863.

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Pickle-Herring Street
”At the cost of sundry blows and much buffeting from the hastening crowds, we make notes of Pickle-Herring Street: now pushed to the road, and now driven against the wall.”

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Bishopsgate Street.

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Warehousing in the City.
”The warehouse-men pause aloft on their landing-stages, book in hand, to contemplate us ... The man bending beneath an immense sack turns up his eyes from under his burden, and appears pleased that he has disturbed us.”

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Wentworth Street, Whitechapel
”From the Refuge by Smithfield we rattled through dark lanes, across horrid, flashing highways, to the Whitechapel Police Station, to pick up the superintendent of savage London.”

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

The Organ in the Court

Gustave Doré’s Victorian London

The Devil's Acre — Westminster
“By the noble Abbey is the ignoble Devil's Acre, hideous where it now lies in the sunlight!”

Ads bottom

Powered by Blogger.