Bookplate from a luxury book, unique and highly sought after: Dante’s Hell, published in 1862, during the artist’s lifetime. One of those large plates immediately recognizable by their nocturnal tone and their powerful chiaroscuro effects, both faithful to the fantastic and visionary universe of Doré.
GUSTAVE DORÉ, ILLUSTRATOR, from an article by Valérie Sueur-Hermel on BNF (Bibliothèque Nationale de France – http://expositions.bnf.fr/orsay-gustavedore/arret/teinte.htm) to understand the artistic value and material of this plate, especially its rarity. You will find two main ideas:
- The aesthetic value is found in the genius of the composition which remains the highest example of the expression of chiaroscuro and night vision in an engraving.
- The compositions were performed directly on wooden plates which are now non-existent; so this authentic, 158 year old plate will never be printed this way again. It can be reproduced in reference books by photographic processes, but this will never be done with the same quality of a plate from a workshop in the 19th century under the supervision of its creator.
Read this text and the important details that follow:
This particular derivative of “bois de bout” engraving, called “tint engraving” or “tone engraving”, as opposed to the traditional line engraving, was it to become the preferred mode of expression of Doré and its engravers in the folio works illustrated by him.
The facsimile engraving which consists in faithfully transcribing the lines of a linear drawing is admittedly still used for the vignettes, but for most plates out of text, it is no longer a question of an interpretation engraving dominated by the concern for model and values. In more concrete terms, Doré draws, with the promptness required by the abundance of orders, directly on the wood, more often using wash and gouache applied with a brush than pencil and pen, and leaves the engraver to interpret a grayness that will disappear under the notches of the chisel. Using a variety of tools, the values will be translated into hatching, crossed or sinuous lines, solid and hairlines and other dotted lines.
The success of this new technique is based on the quality of the collaboration between the designer and his engraver. At the forefront of the professionals elected by Doré, we should mention François Pannemaker, later helped by his son Stéphane, and especially Héliodore Pisan in whom he had complete confidence and who was his best interpreter.
Tint engraving, when practiced with skill, as Pisan did, gave birth to these large plates immediately recognizable by their nocturnal tone and their powerful chiaroscuro effects, both faithful to the fantastic universe. and visionary of Doré and quick to strike the imaginations of readers to the point of making them forget the text they illustrate. With the help of his engravers, the illustrator is a past master in the art of appropriating the evocative power of black and white, managing to seduce a large audience.
[Thus were born the less accessible and] sumptuous folio of the Hachette house, printed on a paper made expressly, with sophisticated typographical characters, so difficult to handle that they seem destined to be placed, like external signs of social success , on the tables of the wealthy bourgeois of the Second Empire. Dante’s Hell was sold for 100 francs – the equivalent of the average wage of a worker at the same time -, Don Quixote, 160, and La Sainte Bible edited by Mame, the pinnacle of bibliophilic refinement, reached the price of 200 francs in its most common edition! It seems legitimate to wonder about this immense popularity of Doré, especially when it is celebrated by the Hachette house itself: “Thousands of drawings have been named after Gustave Doré even in the smallest towns of France; the great compositions of Dante’s Hell, Perrault’s Tales, Atala, Don Quixote and the Bible have made him famous beyond our borders. “The explanation of the paradox of a notoriety acquired by works reserved for an elite is found in the continuation of this advertising prospectus for La Fontaine’s Fables, which announces the publisher’s intention to” attempt to put, at the means of a considerable flow, the greatest typographic luxury within the reach of small purses “thanks to a publication in sixty issues for a total price” three or four times lower than that of all the similar publications which appeared until then. day ”.
Many other illustrated works have been made accessible in this way to a wider audience, not only contributing to the popularity of Gustave Doré but also inscribing his drawings in the collective memory. Sacred by Jean Adhémar “king of the illustrators of Second Empire romanticism”, Gustave Doré, who called himself a “born painter”, found in illustration much more than a comfortable source of income, he invented another way of handling his dear brushes. Far from the great painting of which he was also a zealous servant, he developed a work painted in black and white, served by an original technique, that of tinted engraving, to which he gave his hour of glory and which, confronted to its technical limits and to competition from photomechanical processes, will not survive it. The ultimate irony or sign of his genius, it is these paintings on wood, of which there is little or no trace, which, thanks to the virtues of engraving, have contributed the most to Doré’s reputation.
The market price of a work by Gustave Doré is based on the technique used to create the object in question and its antiquity. On the scale of values, we put first his paintings (which are mostly in museums), second, his original drawings on paper (in museums or collectors’ collections and traded in houses like Christies and Sotheby’s) and thirdly BOOK PLATES from luxury and historical editions such as the 1862 Enfer.
Therefore, there are no engravings made with original molds or matrix, because according to the text of the BnF, Doré drew on a wooden board and then his collaborator-engraver carved the wood and mechanically the plates started to be produced separately from the printing process of the text sheets. As mentioned in the article, these wooden boards are now non-existent.
What we have for medium-sized investment are the precious Book PLATES (when purchased from reliable sources to ensure their provenance and antiquity). For simple reference, we have the reproductions of the old plates in modern publications such as Dover.
When purchasing the 158-year-old Book Plate, the collector will be purchasing the third most valuable object (after painting and drawing) on the scale of Doré’s works.