Gustave Doré

The only buyers for his pictures came from England and America. Paris loved art for art’s sake, and the Bible was not popular enough to make its illustration worth while. “What is this book you are working on?” asked a caller. It was different in London, where Spurgeon preached every Sunday to three thousand people. The “Dorés” taken to London attracted much attention—“mostly from the size of the canvases,” Parisians said. But the particular subject was the real attraction. Instead of reading their daily “chapter,” hard-working, tired people went to see a Doré Bible picture where it was exposed in some vacant storeroom and tuppence entrance fee charged.

G. Doré, The Death of Abel
G. Doré, The Death of Abel.

It occurred to certain capitalists that if people would go to see one Doré why would not a Doré gallery pay? A company was formed, agents were sent to Paris and negotiations begun. Finally, on payment of three hundred thousand dollars, forty large canvases were secured, with a promise of more to come. Doré took the money, and, the agents being gone, ran home to tell his mother. She was at dinner with a little company of invited guests. Gustave vaulted over the piano, played leap-frog among the chairs, and turning a handspring across the table, incidentally sent his heels into a thousand-dollar chandelier that came toppling down, smashing every dish upon the table, and frightening the guests into hysterics. “It’s nothing”—said Madame Doré; “it ‘s nothing—Gustave has merely done a good day’s work!”

The Doré Gallery in London proved a great success. Spurgeon advised his flock to see it that they might the better comprehend Bible history; Rev. Dr. Parker spoke of the painter as one inspired by God; Sunday-schools made excursions thither; men in hob nailed shoes knelt before the pictures, believing they were in the presence of a vision. And all these things were duly advertised, just as we have been told of the old soldier who visited the Gettysburg Cyclorama at Chicago and looking upon the picture, he suddenly cried to his companion, “Down, Bill, down! by t’ Lord, there ‘s a feller sightin’ his gun on us!”

Barnum offered the owners twice what they paid for the Doré Gallery, with intent to move the pictures to America, but they were too wise to accept. Twenty-eight of the canvases were eventually sold, however, for a sum greater than was paid for the lot, yet enough remained to make a most representative display; and no American in London misses seeing the Doré Gallery any more than we omit Madame Tussaud’s Wax Works.