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Audio: Gustave Dore's La famille du saltimbanque: l'enfant blessé
Gustave Dore (French, 1832-1883)
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Gustave Dore (French, 1832-1883)

La famille du saltimbanque: l'enfant blessé

Gustave Dore (French, 1832-1883)
La famille du saltimbanque: l'enfant blessé
stamped with the atelier mark 'G. Doré' (lower left)
oil on canvas
76¾ x 51½ in. (194.9 x 130.8 cm.)
Painted in 1853.
Estate of the artist; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 10-15 April 1885, lot 29.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 23 November 2000, lot 37.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
B. Roosevelt, Life and Reminiscences of Gustave Doré, New York, 1885, pp. 174-178.
B. Jerrold, Life of Gustave Doré, London, 1891, p. 407.
H. Leblanc, Catalogue de l'oeuvre complet de Gustave Doré, Paris, 1931, p. 536, no. 29.
N. Gosling, Gustave Doré, London, 1973, pp. 95, 102.
Strasbourg, Gustave Doré: 1832-1883, exhibition catalogue, 1983, p. 144, no. 181, pl. 143.

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Lot Essay

The present painting belongs to a now lost twelve-part series that Doré entitled Paris tel qu'il est. One of his most renowned compositions, La famille du saltimbanque: l'enfant blessé inspired Doré to produce an almost identical work twenty years later that now hangs in the Musée d'Art Roger-Quilliot in Clermont-Ferrand. Both the present painting and the later version exemplify Doré's ability to render the contemporary life of the urban poor with both poignant realism and dreamlike fantasy.

Doré began his career in the graphic arts, working as a cartoonist for Charles Philippon, the founder of the biting satirist journals La Caricature and Le Charivari, best known for their caustic attacks on King Louis-Philippe. It was under Philippon's direction that Doré, much like his contemporary Honoré Daumier, honed his skills as an astute observer of and commenter on modern life. Doré went on to publish a series of provocative images both with Philippon and later in collaboration with the English journalist Blanchard Jerrold that examined the bleak realities of life in the slums of Paris and London. Simultaneously, he worked as a painter, making his first appearance at the Paris Salon as early as 1850.

Doré's penchant for large scale canvases, exemplified by the present painting, led him to purchase the Amiros gymnasium in the Rue Bayard in Paris, thereby freeing him from the spatial constraints of his former studio and allowing his artistic imagination to soar. There he painted many of his most significant works, including La famille du saltimbanque: l'enfant blessé, depicting a grief-stricken mother and presumably harlequin father despairing over their wounded child. Despite the somewhat surreal quality of the work with its striking riot of colors and fanciful circus costumes, the palpable pain of the three figures creates a universal story of human suffering - a theme that would (and did) resonate with many artists, but perhaps most notably in the Blue and Rose Period works of Pablo Picasso fifty years later. Indeed, Picasso's Famille d'acrobates avec singe of 1905 closely evokes Doré's La famille du saltimbanque: l'enfant blessé in both subject and composition (fig. 1).

Not an artist who can be defined by any one particular school, Doré may be best described as a visionary realist. By combining Romanticism's drama with Realism's social commentary and what would be Symbolism's spiritualism, Doré produced works of startling beauty and raw emotion that are distinctly his own.

(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Famille d'acrobates avec singe, 1905, Gothenburg Museum of Art, Sweden.

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