In the eyes of the British at the end of the nineteenth century, the French artist Gustave Doré epitomised the best and greatest of French art. This colossal painting is one of an ambitious series of canvases that the artist exhibited in London at a gallery of his own, the Doré Gallery, in Bond Street (on the site now occupied by Sotheby’s auctioneers). It was open for twenty-four years and some two and a half million people visited it.

IDespite the popularity of his very grand pictures, he became known in this country particularly for his searching depictions of the London poor: large, crowded and unhappy scenes professionally engraved on wood, as nearly all commercial illustrations were at that time. Among many Biblical subjects he also illustrated Dante and Milton, as well as Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, not to mention Poe and Tennyson and many others.