Gustave Doré’s Contes Drolatiques

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I mentioned Gustave Doré in the Émile Bayard post last week so here’s something from the man himself. I’ve known a couple of the pictures in this 614-page volume for a long time but it’s taken me until this week to look through them all. Doré began his career as a creator of humorous illustrations, and his early illustrated books were at the lighter end of the scale. His flair for the comic and the grotesque are combined in this 1855 edition of Balzac’s stories with a total of 425 drawings, some of which feature the artist’s taste for violent death. As always with Doré, his drawings were filled and embellished by a team of engravers but this is still a remarkable amount of work. What you see here is a necessarily small selection of the full-page pictures; the entire book may be browsed at the Internet Archive.

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Émile Bayard’s Histoire de la Magie

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Regular readers may have noticed my persistent urge to trace the provenance of certain images or designs. The latest candidate is the above illustration of a witches sabbat, a picture familiar to readers of occult histories in addition to appearing on at least two album covers. It’s the use in occult books which no doubt drew it to the attention of composer John Zorn who used it as a cover image in 2004 for his Magick album, one of a series of occult-themed recordings. The album credits the artwork to Gustave Doré, a plausible candidate given the engraving style but I’m familiar enough with Doré’s work to doubt that it was one of his.

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Earlier this week I was looking for more occult-related imagery so finally conducted a proper search for the sabbat picture. The origin is a French volume by Paul Christian, Histoire de la Magie, Du Monde Surnaturel Et de la Fatalite a Travers Les Temps (1870), and the full-page illustrations are by Émile Bayard (1837–1891). The Doré identification was partially correct since Bayard was a contemporary of Doré’s, and the drawings were engraved by François Pannemaker, an engraver who worked on many of Doré’s books as well as the Hertzel editions of Jules Verne. Émile Bayard is one of those artists whose name is unknown today even though people throughout the world would recognise one of his drawings; his illustration of Cosette from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables provided the face seen on all those posters and hoardings promoting the popular musical.

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“Paul Christian” was the nom de plume of Jean-Baptiste Pitois (1811–1877), and his study of occult history was a popular book when it first appeared. I can’t say much about its contents but the illustrations (of which these are a selection via this page) show a range that encompasses various myths and religions as well as the expected variants of Western occultism. I’d seen several of Bayard’s other illustrations in a more recent French history of the occult, where the pictures are uncredited. I’ve suspected for years that they might be by the same artist responsible for the sabbat picture so this discovery has laid another nagging question to rest.

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Histoire de la Magie isn’t among the scanned books at the Internet Archive, unfortunately, but a copy may be viewed at Gallica. It’s a shame this is one of Gallica’s older scans which spoils the artwork but you can at least seen the book in full. An English translation was published in the US in 1969, containing notes and additions by living occult experts, but I’ve yet to discover whether this edition retained Bayard’s pictures.

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Narraciones extraordinarias by Edgar Allan Poe

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Berenice.

Narraciones extraordinarias was the first commission that arrived from Spanish publisher Editorial Alma earlier this year but it’s the second one to be revealed here. (Copies of the pictures at a larger size may be seen on the main website.) I confess I was rather dismayed when the request came through for this. I was pleased to have the opportunity to illustrate so many stories but Edgar Allan Poe is a tough brief when Harry Clarke has already created the definitive set of illustrations. The challenge, then, became one of trying to successfully illustrate the stories without repeating anything by Clarke or the many other illustrators who’ve tackled Poe, not least my favourite collagist, Wilfried Sätty.

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Morella.

One advantage of the collection was the inclusion of several pieces that you seldom find in the common English reprints of Poe, stories such as A Tale of the Ragged Mountains. The style is Sätty-esque, of course, although less surreal in approach thanks to the flexibility of digital tools. I’ve been developing this engraving collage style over the past year or so to create a hybrid that blends drawn and collaged material into a seamless whole. When this works, as with The Man in the Crowd (below), you shouldn’t be able to easily tell which elements are drawn and which collaged. (And more importantly, it shouldn’t really matter.) This technique has been developed further in the most recent work I’ve done for Editorial Alma but you’ll have to wait a while to see the results.

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Ligeia.

Despite my initial misgivings, this job worked out better than I expected, not least because the deadline was so tight. Several of these pictures were created in a day, a work-rate common to many comic artists but not one that I’m used to (or happy with) at all. I’m still unhappy with MS. Found in a Bottle which lazily swiped a chunk of a Gustave Doré illustration; if I’d had the time I would have changed it, and if this series of pictures is ever reprinted that’s one I’ll be reworking.

As before, this is a Spanish-language hardback, and the only purchase link I have is an Amazon one. My next contribution to this series should be out early next year.

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The Fall of the House of Usher.

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Merlin

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Merlin building Stonehenge (14th century) from Folio 30r of British Library, Egerton 3028.

The Arthurian magus in art and illustration. Despite the antiquity of the Arthur legend there doesn’t seem to be much early representation of Merlin outside a few drawings in old manuscripts. The British Library’s folio showing the raising of Stonehenge is the oldest known depiction of the ancient structure.

Most of the pictures here are illustrations for the Merlin and Vivien section of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, the first book of which was published in 1859. Vivien (or Viviane, Nimue, etc) is the sorcerous Lady in the Lake who either imprisons Merlin underground or in a tree depending on whose account you read. Edward Burne-Jones’ The Beguiling of Merlin has long been my favourite of that artist’s paintings. This is only a very small selection of possible pictures, of course. A more complete catalogue would include Nicol Williamson in John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981), a performance that some find overly mannered but one that I’ve always enjoyed.

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Merlin and Vivien (1867) by Gustave Doré.

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The Beguiling of Merlin (1874) by Edward Burne-Jones.

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Lachman’s Inferno

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I’ve written already about Harry Lachman’s remarkable melodrama, Dante’s Inferno (1935), but the links to the Inferno sequence are now defunct so here’s an updated one. Lachman was an artist before he became a production designer for Rex Ingram, and later a director in his own right. The French government awarded him the Légion d’Honneur for his painting but it’s this short piece of film for which he’s remembered today, a dreamlike journey through the circles of Dante’s Hell intended as a warning to the crooked fairground owner played by Spencer Tracy. The sequence is notable for closely following Gustave Doré’s illustrations, and also for the surprising amount of naked flesh given that this was made when the Hays Code was in operation.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hell, a film by Rein Raamat
Inferni
Mirko Racki’s Inferno
Albert Goodwin’s fantasies
Harry Lachman’s Inferno
Maps of the Inferno
A TV Dante by Tom Phillips and Peter Greenaway
The last circle of the Inferno