In a now defunct listing from Bauman Rare Books for an 1868 edition of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote with illustrations by Gustave Doré, we find the following unattributed quotation: “in every English-speaking home where they can spell the word ‘art,’ you will find Doré editions.” It’s odd that the homes should be “English-speaking” when Doré’s illustrations were originally an 1860 French commission, but the quote at least demonstrates the enormous popularity of Doré’s Quixote. His renderings were so influential they determined the look of Quixote and Sancho Panza in many subsequent illustrated versions, stage and film productions, and readers’ imaginations.
Perhaps the most successful illustrator of the 19th century, the dapper Doré was also at work on a momentous commission—this time from an English publisher—to illustrate the Bible. He went on to editions of Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Paradise Lost, The Divine Comedy, Poe’s The Raven, and many other famous works of literature. But his Don Quixote may be the literary commission for which he’s best remembered.
Doré apparently entered a crowded field when he took on Cervantes’ foundational text. For a little context, Bauman Rare Books also quotes a certain scholar surnamed “Ray,” who offers this précis of the edition’s creation:
Don Quixote was a text calculated to test even Doré. He was matching himself against Coypel and Tony Johannot, not to mention the Spanish illustrators of the great Ibarra edition published in Madrid in 1780. He met the challenge superbly… At first he intended only 40 designs, but Cervantes’ book captured his imagination, and he arranged for a major work… Don Quixote and Sancho Panza reached their definitive rendering in Doré’s designs.
Doré ended up completing over 200 illustrations for his edition. You can see a couple of those “definitive,” and exquisite, engravings above and below. The editors of Bibliokept maintain a separate site posting all of the Doré Quixote illustrations. Project Gutenberg has an English full text Quixote with the illustrations scanned in, and the University of Buffalo has an extensive searchable digital collection of Doré illustrations. And if you just have to conform to the tastes of “every English-speaking home where they can spell the word ‘art’ ” and own a Doré Quixote of your own, you can purchase a re-creation of an 1870 edition for only three monthly installments of $125. It’s a “publishing treasure.” Princeton University has more information on the engravings.