PortCities London

Social conditions in the 19th-century port

Gustave Dore

An artist's impression of poverty

Waterside labour
View full size imageFor many, gin was the only escape. © NMM
For those whose imaginations could not be stirred by social commentators like Booth and Mearns, the French artist Gustave Dore (1832-1883) visited London and produced horrific illustrations of life in the port areas that shocked public opinion. Although a commercial success, many of the critics disliked his work.

The critics' reaction

View full size imageHoundsditch in 1872. © NMM
Several critics were angry that Dore had appeared to focus on the poverty that existed on the waterfront, rather than on the finer aspects of life in the metropolis.

He was accused by the Art Journal of 'inventing rather than copying'. Completely missing the point, The Westminster Review complained that 'Dore gives us sketches in which the commonest, the vulgarest external features are set down'.

Useful link

BBC - life in Victorian London

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