The Way We Are / Honoré Daumier (1808–1879)
The master of French caricature
12 October 2012 - 7 April 2013
Curator: Zsuzsa Gonda
The Museum of Fine Arts’ Department of Prints and Drawings preserves close to 600 lithographs by the outstanding French graphic artist, Daumier. In 2009 tender funds granted by the National Cultural Foundation enabled the urgently needed preservation work for the sheets. As part of the project the museum undertook the task of displaying the results of the work in an exhibition, since the last monographic exhibition on Daumier, one of the most splendid representatives of the history of nineteenth-century graphic art, was in 1979.
The earliest Daumier prints in the museum’scollection are political caricatures created in the 1830s which were published in various satirical magazines. The artist mainly aimed at “pear-head” Louis-Philippe, the Citizen King, but also parodied politicians and members of parliament who were in his service. His most well-known caricatures were conceived in defence of the freedom of the press and of speech.
Following the so-called September laws in 1835, which effectively prohibited political caricatures, Daumier embarked upon fresh themes. Le Charivari published his series which caricatured the everyday lives and habits of the Parisian bourgeoise (The Good Bourgeois, Married Life, Bathers). His brilliantly executed drawings attest to his deep insight into human nature, while his depiction of society is often compared to Balzac’s prose. His series entitled Men of Justice depict the abuses of those in this profession with scathing irony, while his Ancient History sheets caricature those with a passion for Antiquity. His Bluestockings series hold the more extreme manifestations of emancipation up to ridicule.
Between 1848 and 1852, during the more liberal atmosphere of the Second Republic, Daumier returned to producing political caricatures. However, in the 1850s the world of the theatre, exhibitions and art studios appeared in his sheets.
In the mid-1860s Daumier was dismissed temporarily from Le Charivari. He concentrated on painting and tried to earn his leaving from selling his drawings and watercolours. It is from this period that the drawing Barkers in the Museum of Fine Art’s collection originates. His late lithographs primarily addressed foreign policy issues, the Franco-Prussian War and the collapse of the Second Empire. His often allegorical depictions engendered with dramatic force portray the devastation of war and the decline of France.
The exhibition comprising a total of 170 sheets besides representing Daumier’s art features also works by some of his contemporaries (Beaumont, Cham, Gavarni and Canzi).