Sunday, January 10, 2010

Night: Gustave Doré, Francis Kinney & Kinnelon II

Francis Kinney's NightThis story titled Night and written by John Connelly started with Gustave Doré Captures Soul, Memories & Coincidence. It is about Gustave Doré, Francis Kinney and Kinnelon.

Night - Part II

Gustave Doré, His Art, His Times

In 1870, France had become pompous, ostentatious and decadent. About 60 years earlier, under Napoleon Bonaparte, France had terrified all of Europe leaving 3 million soldiers and 1 million civilians dead and many of its cities in ruins. While French militarism had earned the detestation of continental Europe, memories of the Grande Armée and its many conquests still filled the hearts of French nationalists, Doré being one.

As Germany made attempts to unify its republic, France balked, threatening war. Doré, a French ultra-nationalist, went about plying his art to stir up the populace.

Doré’s pencil sketches and brilliant oil paintings of 1869 and 1870 all spewed onto the French people patriotic images of Lady Liberty leading armies against a dark and sinister looking Hun, portrayed as a bloodthirsty black eagle.

In “The Marseillaise” of 1870, a robed woman crying out advances across a battle field leading an enthusiastic regiment of French stick-wielding young boys as she holds a sword of victory high in the air.

Journalists of the time were unimpressed with Doré's idealism.

One wrote regarding a Doré painting, “It is odd in that it presents quite effectively the romantic concepts of tumultuous and picturesque scenic effects upon which we have subsisted since 1792 (the time of Napoleon). One does not have the slightest inkling of the mechanistic, grasping, regimented nature of the battle to come. One is surrounded by a circus-like atmosphere.” He went on to call it naïve and clumsy art.

The king of France, Napoleon III, had quite a different view, hailing Doré’s genius and embracing fully his art. It fit well the political climate of the day, and resonated with the public’s imagination and fascination with war. In piece after piece, Doré fueled rage at the Prussians and stirred the French to war.

Finally, Doré and the people of France got their wish when France declared war on Germany July 19th, 1870.

Six months later France was in ruins. Approximately 80,000 soldiers and 700,000 civilians were dead. Prussia annexed the Alsace and Lorraine provinces and established a united Germany. The French government collapsed, and a brief but bloody civil war was fought in Paris that claimed between 10,000 and 30,000 Parisians, until finally a new government was established and heavy war reparations were imposed on a humiliated French people.

Doré witnessed much drama and episodes of ruin during the war and subsequent siege of Paris. Touching are the paintings of this period, for example, “The Overturned Cradle”, which depic ts a young mother in that terrible instant of time when she discovers her baby has been killed by a German shell that has torn open the wall of her home. His drawings and oils from this period reflect his profoundly devastated emotional state as he experienced the full brunt of the political and social rupture of war.

Dore BibleDoré, wrote to a friend, “Ah! Both of our heads were filled with too extravagant dreams! My drawing has no longer any reason to exist; I give it to you. Keep it in remembrance of our vanished hopes.”

He further wrote, “Our poor capital is in flames; its palaces destroyed – its finest streets, and all that make it beautiful. As I write, I have before me immense volumes of smoke, rising to the heavens. In the whole history of the world, I don’t think there is a parallel instance of so sanguinary a drama, and of such ruin.

Emile Zola in his book The Debacle, personifies the French nation with a young woman searching for her brother in the aftermath of the war. As she looks upon a Paris in flames she laments: “The thought of fire devouring human lives, the sight of this blazing city on the horizon, throwing up the hellish glare of cities accursed and destroyed, made her cry out in spite of herself. She clasped her hands together and asked: ‘What have we done, oh God, to be punished like this?’

While Germany had won the war and initially enjoyed the support of Europe, Doré’s striking images created a new and disturbing portrait of Germany. Whereas France had previously viewed Germany as a land of poets and dreamers, stark Doré’s paintings had cemented an image in the popular mindset of many across Europe of France as a “defiled maiden”, and Germany as a cruel and rapacious beast that would forever more have its way with her.

Germany had “won”, but his face was forever altered.

Though Doré would not live to see it, Alsace and Lorraine would change hands 4 times over the next 75 years, and France and Germany would eventually draw the whole world into conflicts which would claim over 100 million lives, most of them civilians.

The war over, Doré left off patriotic images and turned with renewed vigor to the painting of religious images instead. The 1870s saw multitudes of paintings depicting scenes from the Bible such as Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, 1876, Dream of Pilate’s wife, 1874, The Mocking of Christ, 1879, and scores more. His oils, sketches and illustrations depicted powerfully moving religious scenes. So moving, in fact, that during the 1870s Doré was selected to illustrate various noted English translations of the Bible which so stirred the imagination that Doré became literally the most well known artist in the world. It has been said that his images “took the English speaking world by storm”, as evidenced by mention of the Doré Bible in “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain.

By the 1880s Doré’s illustrated Bible was THE sought after Bible in America. It would fire the imagination of an entire generation of Americans, including a young man in Pompton Lakes, NJ by the name of Cecil B. DeMille whose “most fingered book” is said to have been his Doré Bible and who would go on to create religious movies in Hollywood based on Doré’s dramatic images and which would influence millions.

In addition to his religious images, Doré produced other moving works of art, including, from about 1877, bronze sculptures. The sculptures could not have been produced without all of the turmoil and anguish that preceded them, and Doré instilled them with his essential experience. Gustave Doré died in 1883, the year Francis Kinney purchased Smoke Rise.

These events bring us to Francis Kinney, Gustave Doré and Smoke Rise.

Next: Francis S. Kinney Encounters Gustave Doré

NOTE: The image of Night above comes courtesy of Tom Kline. The Doré Bible image comes courtesy of John Connelly. Neither can be used or reproduced without permission and attribution.

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