HONORE DAUMIER (1808-1879)
PARIS, 2 January 2000 - There cannot be many
personalities of any sort today, let alone artists, who have such
potential powers of disruption that even after they die, the police
would bother to send an informer alongside the funeral cortege to keep
an eye on proceedings in case of trouble. Yet that is precisely what
they did in 1880 for Honoré Daumier.
In spite of
numerous retrospectives of aspects of the provocative Marseilles-born
artist's work over the decades, a new exhibition - currently at the
Grand Palais in Paris, and soon to open at The Phillips Collection in
Washington, D.C. - attempts to take a more comprehensive overview of the
range and variety of his imagination and techniques.
The Strong Man (c. 1865 - 1867) The Phillips Collection, Washington,
Daumier is perhaps best known for his scathing political
caricatures, published notably in the journals La Caricature and
Le Charivari. The many examples shown in the latest exhibition
demonstrate how powerful they could be in capturing and contributing to
Their acerbic qualities extends well beyond the bounds
of many of his harshest contemporary equivalents, and turned Daumier
from simply an observer into a player - sometimes at considerable
personal risk or pain.
Gargantua, for example, his far
from flattering attack on Louis-Philippe which was published in 1832,
cost him a sentence of six months' imprisonment. What should have been
limited to a suspended sentence was turned into a real one after he
produced a second cartoon just as vicious as the first.
his political works, however, Daumier showed impressive and timeless
skills at capturing aspects of society which remain as relevant today as
when he first penned them. Perhaps most notably, his scrutiny of the
justice system beautifully captures the duplicities of advocates and
Le Défenseur from the early
1860s has the desperate, sincere pleadings of a defence lawyer,
juxtaposed with the rather more ambiguous expression of his female
client. Never has the complicity between defence and prosecution been
better captured than Après l'audience in the same period,
with the conspiratorial and friendly smiles of the two lawyers saying
their goodbyes at the end of a case.
The emphasis of this new
exhibition is nonetheless that Daumier was considerably more than a
paper caricaturist. On show are a range of sculptures he produced, most
wonderful three-dimensional versions of his drawings of colourful
individuals of the period.
is Jean-Ponce-Guillaume Viennet, Comte Charles-Henri Verhuel de
Sevehaar, and above all Clément-François-Victor-Gabriel
Prunelle with his shock of hair, or Baron Joseph de Pondenas. It is just
a shame that the show's organisers could not have placed a little more
description alongside the works of such men, most of whom have long
since been forgotten.
The second originality of the exhibition
is Daumier's skills as an artist. Some of his sketches of everyday life
are a just continuation in the tradition of Hogarth. Others, like Tête
d'expression, are reminiscent of some of the powerful art of
Holocaust survivors in both style and pain.
On the other hand, some of his
paintings are a little disappointing, particularly those which are
inspired by religious themes. They made this visitor wonder if it is not
so surprising that Daumier has remained deservedly most well known for
Even so, other works seem impressive and well
ahead of their time, such as the Munch-like Femme et enfant sur un
pont from the mid 1840s, the Picasso-like Le Fardeau from
the early 1850s and his remarkable Don Quichotte series.
Paris - Grand Palais
Until 3 January 2000.
D.C. - The Phillips Collection
19 February - 14 May 2000
Jack is the Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times and a member of
the editorial board of Culturekiosque.com. He is the author of a new
book entitled, "The French Exception" (London: Profile Book).
you value our reviews, please tell
a friend or
our mailing list!
email to Art &
Archaeology | Back to Art &
Archaeology | Back to
exhibitions archives | Back
to culturekiosque homepage ]
Copyright © 1997 -2000 Culturekiosque Publications Ltd.