An Uncompromising Daumier at the Royal Academy of Art

Run Baby Run. Well…no. I am not running as much as I should days now prior to Galerie E.G.P charity run for Refuge – but you can support me nevertheless at www.egprunsforrefuge.com as it might get me going. However, yesterday between two meetings I ran into the Royal Academy of Arts to see Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris that is ending soon.

Honoré Daumier was a French artist whose works offer commentary on social and political life in France in the 19th century. I have come across his caricatures many times especially those of courtrooms and or treasure hunters going to Drouot in Paris.  Looking at them I could not help but having this irrepressible smile of those in the know. After all wasn’t I a Parisian lawyer who would wait eagerly before Drouot’s doors would open at 11am?

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The exhibition is an opportunity to discover more than just these few lithographs but the richness of Daumier’s practice. He is not only a printmaker who prompted Degas to collect 750 of his prints and a caricaturist that still is highly regarded by his peers such as Gerald Scarfe. He is also a painter admired by Cezanne and Pissaro as well as William Kentridge and Peter Doig and a sculptor who caught they eye of Giacometti.

If I were to choose one word to describe Daumier’s work, it would be UNCOMPROMISING.

Uncompromising in his political positions. A fervent Republican, he was not spared 6 month in prison for representing Louis Philippe as Gargantua.

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He did not spare the viewer when depicting the massacre that occurred on 15 April 1834 on the rue Transonain in Paris.

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In Ecce Homo, the largest painting he ever made, he did not spare the people that he so love depicting when they became the toys of demagogues. Despite his anti-religious feelings he chose Jesus prior to his crucifixion as the figure of the unheard rebel.

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Uncompromising in his choice of subjects. Several time in his life, Daumier had a chance at fame and recognition – for instance, during the Second Republic that followed the 1848 February Revolution. However, he was too absorbed by street scenes to accept commissions. Between 1860 and 1863 he was not working for Le Charivari. Need dictated his accepting of commissions but he refused certain themes: portraits, landscapes, mythology and book illustrations.

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Uncompromising in his technique. His lithographs are precise, net, and sharp as attack. His paintings have this unfinished quality, this blurriness that make them completely at odd with what was happening in Daumier’s time and that unsurprisingly triggered the admiration of Francis Bacon.

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It seems that during his lifetime, Honoré Daumier never tried pleasing anyone. Like Don Quixote (his bedside book) his idealism and nobility might have been viewed by the world as insane. Like a sad clown he may have though that they were defeated and rendered useless by common reality. 135 years after his death, the relevance of his work comes as a sign that he was in the wrong.

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Categories: Design

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