Lacroix told Dore one day, early in his life in Paris, that he should illustrate a new edition of his works in four volumes, and he sent them to him. In a week Lacroix said to Dore, who had called, “Well, have you begun to read my story?” “Oh! I mastered that in no time; the blocks are all ready”; and while Lacroix looked on stupefied, the boy dived into his pockets and piled many of them on the table, saying, “The others are in a basket at the door; there are three hundred in all!”
It was at the Cafe de l’Horloge in Paris. Mr. Whistler sat leaning on his cane, looking off into space, dreamily and wearily.
He roused enough to answer the question: “Dore–Gustave Dore–an artist? Why, the name sounds familiar! Oh, yes, an illustrator. Ah, now I understand; but there is a difference between an artist and an illustrator, you know, my boy. Dore–yes, I knew him–he had bats in his belfry!”
And Mr. Whistler dismissed the subject by calling for a match, and then smoked his cigarette in grim silence, blowing the smoke through his nose.
Not liking a man, it is easy to shelve him with a joke, or to waive his work with a shrug and toss of the head, but not always will the ghost down at our bidding.
In the realm of art nothing is more strange than this: genius does not recognize genius. Still, the word is much abused, and the man who is a genius to some is never so to others. In defining a genius it is easiest to work by the rule of elimination and show what he is not.
For instance, neither Reynolds, Landseer nor Meissonier was a genius. These men were strong, sane, well poised–filled with energy and life. They were receptive and quick to grasp a suggestion or hint that could be turned to their advantage–to further the immediate plans they had in hand. They had ambition and the ability to concentrate on a thing and do it. Just what they focused their attention upon was largely a matter of accident. They had in them the capacity for success–they could have succeeded at anything they undertook, and they were too sensible to undertake a thing at which they could not succeed. They always saw light through at the other end.
“I have success tied to the leg of my easel by a blue ribbon,” said Meissonier.
They succeeded by mathematical calculation, and the fame, name and gold they won was through a conscious laying hold upon the laws that bring these things to pass.
They chose to paint pictures, and the entire energy of their natures was concentrated upon this one thing. Practising the art, day after day, month after month, year after year, they acquired a wonderful facility. They knew the history of art–its failures, pitfalls and successes. They knew the human heart–they knew what the people wanted and what they didn’t. They set themselves to supply a demand. And all this keenness, combined with good taste and tireless energy, would have brought a like success in any one of a dozen different professions.
And these are the men who give plausibility to that stern half-truth: a man can succeed in anything he undertakes–it is all a matter of will.
But you can not count Gustave Dore in any such category. He stands alone: he had no predecessors, and he left no successors. We say that the artist has his prototype; but every rule has its exception–even this one.
Gustave Dore drew pictures because he could do nothing else. He never had a lesson in his life, never drew from a model, could not sketch from Nature; accepted no one’s advice; never retouched or considered his work after it was done; never cudgeled his brains for a subject; could read a book by turning the leaves; grasped all knowledge; knew all languages; found an immediate market for his wares and often earned a thousand dollars before breakfast; lived fifty years and produced over one hundred thousand sketches–an average of six a day; made two million dollars by the labor of his own hands; was knighted, flattered, proclaimed, adored, lauded, scorned, scoffed, hooted, maligned, and died broken-hearted.