Realism … in Drawing; Life and Politics too


Daumier was, for me at least, an acquired taste.

But having acquired the taste, I am now addicted. I would liken it to the taste of dark chocolate or smell of grinding freshly roasted coffee.

His line is so very descriptive; endlessly darting about the subject suggesting form and movement. Gesture drawing dominates the look of the drawn line; here and there alighting just for an instant to describe the physical reality Lunch in the Country (c. 1868) by Honore Daumier, part of the Visions of Paris exhibitionwe sense more than see. His drawing is so unlike some of the other masters of line from France around his time … excellent draughtsmen such as Ingres, Gerome, Prud’hon, and Degas.

Daumier was part of the French wing of the Realist movement in the early 19th century. He worked pretty prolifically in painting and drawing. His work in wax sculpture is not as well known but is quite exciting if a bit enigmatic. What he is perhaps best known for is his drawings on lithographic stone for newspaper illustrations and political cartoons.

I said that his drawing was different from his more well known contemporaries and near-contemporaries. So are his subjects. He depicts working class folks with generosity and compassion. He pokes a little fun at middle class folk when they key-55-24700seem pretentious. He really skewers the aristocrats and the arrogant wielders of cultural, political, and economic power mercilessly … especially so in his lithographic cartoons. More than once, he got himself into a bit of political trouble; especially so his famous print The Rue Transnonain from 1834 helped fuel political demonstrations and riots.

Daumier was well respected then by his realist contemporaries like Courbet, many of his works were smaller, more intimately scaled … and often more intimate in their conception as well. Because of that, his work may have overlooked when displayed in the lavish Salons Exhibitions of the day.

As an artist, I certainly like Daumier on many levels. I love his active use of line to describe form in movement. His pictorial design, while looking grounded in very 19th century concepts about picture making (at least to my eyes) has an immediacy and a rawness that presages much of the “in-your-face” strategies of contemporary work. There can be no denying that Daumier’s content isn’t compelling and forceful or intimate and nuanced by turns. But there is one subject in his work that I have to admit really gets my attention. It isn’t the thing he is most widely admired for either. To some, it may seem just a little to arcane, a little to precious a subject.

I really love the prints and paintings of folks perusing the folios in print shops. Daumier, who made a lot key-15-new-24696of his professional career
selling prints, must have seen these folks regularly. He needed them. They where one of his major clientele. At times he makes fun of some for their snooty or dandified attitudes. A few look like terribly disengaged shoppers, as though they just don’t see anything they like at all. Others, he really captures their rapt attention or curiosity. Whatever he thinks of the individuals depicted amongst the displays and racks of prints, they almost always seem very human. I suspect Daumier was too.

Well there is a new show of Daumier’s work that has just opened at Royal Academy in London. Apparently there are some art works that have not been seen outside of private collections in almost 200 years. If you would like a little more info about that show, I suggest taking a look at the blog listed below.

http://jollygoodnews.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/royal-academy-gives-daumier-first-british-show-in-50-years

If, on the other hand, you can’t make it to London and you want to see the most notorious print by Daumier you don’t have to go that far. A wonderful example of Daumier’s Rue Transnonain (1934) is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

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One Response to “Realism … in Drawing; Life and Politics too”

  1. suburbanlife Says:

    Hi John – I agree with you that Daumier is an acquired taste – for those who love to draw. I adore Daumier’s translation of form to shape, for his noodling, gestural probing for depicting form, which yields that marvellous sense of kineticism in his depiction of figures. In my mind, he prefigures the cloisonnistes like Gauguin, or Van Gogh( in certain works!) who must have been familiar with his drawings and prints. Obviously Daumier loved to draw – why else would his drawings be so full of energy? And he was an empathetic witness to aspects of life which may not have garnered him a strong financial following. Thanks for this Post! G

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