The Thyssen reveals Doré's secret

The front of the Alcázar in Seville in a photo (left) and as a print.
The front of the Alcázar in Seville in a photo (left) and as a print. / F. Acevedo
  • The museum compares works by the famous French illustrator with the photos which inspired him

  • The artist immortalised costumbrist scenes and beautiful landscapes, reflecting the romantic view of Andalucía in the 19th century

His drawings influenced the romantic vision which many painters of the time had of Spain in the 19th century, but he was also influenced by the views of others. 'Gustave Doré. Viajero por Andalucía' at the Carmen Thyssen Museum reveals an unknown aspect of the creative process of the famous French illustrator.

The exhibition compares some of his pictures of Andalucía with the photographs he used as a model, to show “for the first time in such an evident way” that the artist used the new technology of his time as a tool for his creations.

This is one of the curiosities to be found in the 'Gustave Doré. Viajero por Andalucía' display, which can be seen in the Sala Noble at the museum until 15 July. It includes prints from the Museum Collection of the University of Cantabria and photos from the collection of Juan Antonio Fernández Rivero, who is from Malaga.

The journey through Spain which Gustave Doré made in 1862 in the company of hispanist Jean-Charles Davillier is summed up here in 40 woodcuts showing his passage through Andalucía. These are “collectable treasures which the public can buy” and are currently held by the University of Cantabria, which has focused on graphic works in its collection, explains the technical director of the Exhibition Department, Nuria García.

The results of the trip in 1862 were published in 'Le Tour du Monde' magazine and the book 'L'Espagne'. Doré wanted to show the real Spain, the authentic side of the country, but he ended up being seduced by the graphic force of the gypsy women, the bandits, the grottos, the Moorish palaces... his drawings were carried out “with rigour and a profusion of detail” which would mark the view of everything Spanish in the 19th century.

He was one of the last romantic travellers, the 'colophon' of that exotic image of Spain in Europe. “And here we find a source of inspiration for many painters of the time whose works are also in this museum. There is a direct iconographic relationship with the work of Doré,” says the director of the museum, Lourdes Moreno.

They share the sublime idea of the landscape, the costumbrist view, and the clichés about people. Doré's pen immortalised a grotto in Antequera, the Despeñaperros gorge, the interior of the Alhambra and a ravine in the Serranía de Ronda. And it alsoportrays the smuggler and his woman in Ronda, the gypsy women of Sacromonte, the religious fervour of Holy Week in Seville...

Reasonable similarities

Doré was directly inspired during his Spanish trip, but he was also inspired by what others had seen and captured with one of the most revolutionary tools of the 19th century: the camera. As collector Fernández Rivero explains, the direct use of photography was a “current theme” in the publishing industry in the 19th century. Neither newspapers nor books were able to produce a photographic image as such and so they turned to illustration. What is “unusual” about this display, says Fernández Rivero, is that it shows that one of the greatest illustrators of the century also used this technique.

A picture of Malaga cathedral serves as proof of this. The illustration of 'La Manquita' viewed from Cortina del Muelle, an image which “for a whole era featured on half the front pages in Malaga” is a tracing of a photo taken in 1863 by José Spreáfico and Ernest Lamy. Both can be seen in this exhibition.

This reasonable similarity (same frame and perspective) is repeated in the illustration of the Hospital de la Caridad in Seville, the façade of the Alcázar, scenes of gypsies dancing.... Some of the photos wre bought in Spain, and others were acquired when he was working for the magazine and the book in France, where anything Spanish was seen as exotic.

This, insists Fernández Rivero, “does not demerit Doré's works in any way”. The artist's repercussion and work have gone much further: “He is the great creator of certain Malaga prototypes, such as the typical iconography of the 'jábegas' and 'el cenachero'. He was able to give images to common thought. You only have to think about literary figures such as Don Quixote or Puss in Boots to see for yourself: it is very probable that the first image which comes to mind will have been produced by Gustave Doré,” he says.