3 years ago
"By the time of his first visit to London in 1868, the French artist Gustave Doré (1832--1883) had secured a worldwide reputation. Brilliantly observant and brilliantly imaginative, he had taught himself to draw as a child; by the age of fifteen he was contributing lithographic caricatures to the Journal pour rire, and after the death of his father he supported his brothers and mother as an illustrator and journalist. His first real fame came from his illustrations of Rabelais, which were first published in 1854.
During that first visit to London he was shown around by his English friend Blanchard Jerrold (1826--1884), the French correspondent for the London Daily News, whom he had first met thirteen years earlier when both men had traveled to Boulogne to cover Queen Victoria's visit to France. Doré was fascinated by London, and he and Jerrold began to discuss the possibility of doing a book on the city. During Doré's second visit, in the spring of 1869, they began the studies for the book. London: A Pilgrimage was published in 1872---appearing first in monthly parts and later as a bound volume.
Jerrold's original plan had been for a panorama that would include all classes of Londoners, but he and Doré lacked the time and resources for such a vast undertaking. Although they certainly did not ignore the fashionable world, they had to cut back somewhat on their projected coverage of society, Parliament, and the suburbs. (And the drawings Doré did make of le beau monde are bland, prettified, and forgettable.) Some Londoners, feeling that Jerrold and Doré had concentrated unfairly on the bleaker aspects of London life, took umbrage; as a writer in the Westminster Review complained, 'Doré gives us sketches in which the commonest, the vulgarest external features are set down.'
When looked at almost a century and a half later, much of Doré's London does seem to be a bleak, dismal place. Launching into his description of the day of the great boat race (the competition between Cambridge and Oxford for which all London turned out on 6 April 1870), Jerrold says 'I was aroused by [Doré's] friendly voice . . . asking what had happened. We were well into the morning---and it was as dark as the darkest midnight. The two pilgrims confronted one another candle in hand . . . in presence of a completely representative London fog. It was choking: it made the eyes ache.' What a terrible picture. Who could abide living in such a place, or among such squalor and poverty as Doré has brought to life in many of these pictures?
But Doré loved London. He did not find it at all ugly, but bustling and alive. Even the dreariest inhabitants of the great metropolis, he found, could sometimes shine with the unquenchable exuberance of life, and even on the dreariest days the sun might come out---as it did, eventually, on the day of the boat race. On such a day, writes Jerrold, even the poorest of Londoners 'have a bit of sunlight upon their faces. The match boys [and] even the shoe-blacks have caught the laughing spirit of the day.' For Doré it was all fodder for his pen. He loved it all and recorded it all with swift, accurate strokes, bringing graphic immortality to a period and place that otherwise would be lost, as in a London fog, in the smothering gray haze of time."
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