Give Now

Object of the Month: April 2018

The Ascension

Oil on canvas, 1883

Gustave Doré

French, 1832–1883

Louis Auguste Gustave Doré (1832-1883) is justly known as the greatest illustrator ever. His genius was recognized when he was a child, and his photographic memory allowed him to include minor details often overlooked by others. 

He began his prolific professional career at the age of 15 as an illustrator for the humorous magazine Journal pour Rire. During his relatively short life, he produced at least 8,000 wood engravings, 1,000 lithographs, 700 zinc engravings, 100 steel engravings, 50 etchings, 400 oil paintings, 500 watercolors, 800 mixed-media sketches, and 30 major works of sculpture.

While many admire Doré’s work, few people actually recognize his art, even having grown up seeing his pictures. His New and Old Testament illustrations became the most widely used and familiar images in twentieth-century Bible literature. He also created several large series of engravings for classics including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Don Quixote, Paradise Lost, Perrault’s Fairy Tales, The Divine Comedy and more.

Historically, illustrators have received little recognition for their artistic careers compared to their “fine art” counterparts. Doré was equally productive in creating oil paintings and sculpture, and his greatest ambition was to be respected primarily for his painting career; however, he is best remembered as an illustrator. 

M&G’s Collection has two of his most important religious paintings—The Ascension and Christ Leaving the Praetorium, both completed in 1883. 

As is typical of many artists, Doré created multiple versions of his works. His first version of The Ascension was completed in 1879 and measures almost twice the size of M&G’s painting, which is an imposing 11’ 11” tall by 7’ 8” wide!  The original Ascension hung with other religious works in the German Gallery of London (later called the Doré Gallery) where the great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon frequented and encouraged his congregation to visit. 

Sketches that Doré made while riding the newly invented hot-air balloon with his photographer friend, Felix Nadar, probably inspired The Ascension’s aerial perspective—the viewer is on the plane of the ascending Christ with the disciples small and distant standing on the ground. The rich greens and golds in Doré’s thick brushstrokes create excitement and energy at the end of Christ’s earthly ministry and the beginning of His heavenly role. The angels’ response in Acts 1:11 voices the painting’s story, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” 

John Good, Docent and Security Manager

Erin R. Jones, Executive Director


Published in 2018