090414 Gustave Doré exhibit, Ottawa, ON

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On September 4th, 2014 I had the great pleasure of once again cycling down to our national (and my local) art gallery for a special exhibit displaying and explaining the work of Gustave Doré (1832-1883).

Strangely enough I got into Doré through my unconditional fandom of Canadian prog-rock music heroes Rush, with just a few degrees of separation.  When I found out that one of my favourite Rush songs (Xanadu) was based on a poem called Kubla Khan I started reading as much of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry as I could find* which quickly led me to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and lo, it was at a poster sale during my university froshmen year when I further discovered that Gustave Doré had created a series of astounding woodcuts to illustrate a reprinting of Coleridge’s Rime that came out in 1876.

Of course I bought the poster and I liked it so much that I had it laminated.  Go and google Doré’s Mariner illustrations – they are absolutely breathtaking – mine was the one with the Mariner up on the mast, crucification-style.  I lost it in my most recent house fire thus far.

Anyway, the Doré exhibit was amazing.  The detail and shading this guy could achieve with a block of wood and a set of knives was just unbelievable.  And he pumped out an extremely large volume of work too, and all of it of the utmost highest quality.  He illustrated Dante’s Vision of Hell, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Victor Hugo, Thomas More, Tennyson…the guy kept busy.  And to see even just a smattering of the breadth of his life’s work when even one piece could stand as a major achievement, well, like I say going to the National Gallery can be quite a pleasure.

In addition to his artwork (which are, of course, prints) there were even a couple of his actual carved wood blocks on display.  It was extra-nifty seeing relief of the works in reverse – almost like an old camera negative – and the limited-edition lover in me was super-impressed to see that once Doré had pressed the allotted number of prints from one of his pieces he would drill a large unmistakable hole right through the board, thereby rendering it impossible to produce more prints.  So when he said something was limited to a hundred copies it was limited to a hundred copies, period (.)

Of course when I was done with Doré I took a quick cruise through the rest of the museum’s impressive collection, if just to once again take in one of my favourite examples of modern architecture in Ottawa.  Like, there’s a room in the gallery that is all lawn.  How cool is that?

*Though I am still ignorant of Ayn Rand’s writing, I feel like a young impressionable me might have dodged a bullet by not being nearly as curious about Neil Peart’s inspiration for 2112.

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