Monday, December 7, 2015

Distance and Daumier

Honore Daumier was a well known caricaturist during the 1800’s. He was known for depicting anything from everyday life to the most controversial issues of his time. His work was always revolving around the current topics, unmasking truths of French culture. His cartoons were witty as well as informative. However, due to the exposing nature of his work, he was seen as very scandalous. He was even imprisoned for one of his images, entitled Gargantua, which mocked King Louis Philippe.
While his work is a representation of the culture that surrounded him, it does not mean that this representation comes without bias. Daumier was known for his cartoons which portrayed the bourgeoisie in an unflattering light. Many of his pieces mock of the upper class, while he often paints the third class with almost a golden light around them. His pieces of the third class depicts a quality of life that was beginning to disappear through the industrial revolution. Daumier’s first class carriage shows distance physically and emotionally between the passengers. Each passenger is separated by something more significant than space in the train, while The Third Class Carriage leaves you with the impression of community. The people are packed tightly in the third class carriage, they fill every inch of the composition. The main figures in the The Third Class Carriage display multiple generations, which emphasizes the comfortability with living in close relation to one another. This growing psychological distance in the first class translates to many of Daumier’s other pieces.

Honore Daumier, The First Class Carriage, 1864
watercolor, ink wash and charcoal on slightly texture, moderately thick cream woven paper, The Walters Art Museum, 37.1225

Daumier’s First Class Carriage is a soft composition of four figures in a train carriage. Though the figures are a combination of both charcoal and watercolor, they have a sketched quality to them.Daumier’s limited color palette and soft treatment of both the figures and the train make the people become one with their surroundings. Though the passengers appear content, they have no interaction with one another. Each person is facing away from their neighbors on the train. Though the figures are fairly close in proximity, they have enough space to be comfortable, not coming in physical contact with one another. 

Honore Daumier, The Third Class Carriage, ca. 1862-64
oil on canvas, The Met Museum, 29.100.129

Daumier’s piece The Third Class Carriage is an oil painting on canvas exploring what it was like to ride third class on a train in France during the mid 1800s. The two central figures sit on a bench with a breastfeeding baby and a sleeping child. While these figures are clearly central, the people in background take up just as much space in the composition. Behind the central figures, people are pressed together, filling every corner of the carriage. Light filtering in from the window illuminates many faces, showing the exhaustion of the individuals. Daumier used thin layers of oil paint on the canvas. A grid is faintly visible on the painting, suggesting that it was left unfinished. Daumier’s use of dull colors and dark outlines induces curiosity and concern about the third class of France in the 1800s.

Honore Daumier, The Uprising, 1848 or later
oil on canvas, The Phillips Collection, accession number not available 

Daumier’s painting, The Uprising, is oil on canvas composed of a dark neutral color palette. He uses rough painterly strokes to produce a naturalistic painting of modern day Paris. The figures in the painting are tightly pressed. They are unified in space, crossing over to their unification in the uprising. The central figure is representative of the mass as a whole; he is symbolic of the groups calling for justice. Without knowing the purpose of this uprising, Daumier paints the mob in such a way that the viewer desires to support the unknown cause. 

Honore Daumier, "Ne laissez donc pas vôtre ami dans cet état-là!..," plate 4 from the series Vulgarités, published in Le Charivari, June 1, 1841
Lithograph, The Met Museum, 2012.136.490

Daumier shows one man on the ground, while another lower class man questions an upper class man. The upper class man is standing straight with no inclination towards the man on the ground. The inscription tells us that the poor man is asking the rich man if he would leave his friends in such a state, and the rich man responds saying the man is not his friend, rather the man on the ground is his doorman. The upper class man feels no association to the man on the ground,with whom he interacts daily. Daumier draws the upper class man to tower above the two poor men. The rich man shows his disconcern by standing in front of the man on the ground.

Honore Daumier, The Laundress, 186[3?]
Oil on wood, The Met Museum, 47.122

Daumier’s  Laundress is one of many paintings from the era of Realism in France during the 19th century. This painting, using the same dark painterly strokes that are typical of his depiction of the first class, shows the reality of the fighting men in The Uprising by showing the everyday life of lower class women. Daumier paints the two figure as one. He used the same color palette to form the two as one. Woman and child are unified, bent forward reflecting to the struggles of their lives. The two are either working in the early morning or the late afternoon, showing that their work never ends. Their life is difficult, but still they are unified in their harsh reality. 

Honore Daumier, Le Charivari, March 16, 1854- December 31, 1857
Lithograph and wood engravings, The Met Museum, 52.633.1(1-23)

Daumier’s piece La Charivari is one of the many he creates to ridicule the first class’s fashion choices. This sketch is a rough exaggerated sketch of a man and woman walking. The two are having trouble walking alongside one another due to the extravagance of the woman’s skirt. Daumier’s sketch represents the clash between practicality and wealth. Daumier points out the separation between sound reason and the choices of the first class. The caption beneath the cartoon suggests french men should buy rubber arms to compensate for the women’s large skirts. This is an example of Daumier’s work exposing the way that the first class has embraced alienation for the sake of modern civilization. 

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