Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Honore Daumier's work makes me think of Dickens, maybe because he reminds me of Arthur Rackham, who illustrated the version of The Christmas Carol we read last week. Aren't the faces marvelous? I love the lack of finish and the dashed-off quality to this print, called Deux Buveurs (Two Drinkers) 1857-60.

Apparently he developed a lifelong hatred of bureaucrats and attorneys during his first job in a bailiff's office. (Those first jobs stay with you - explains w
hy I never go into Kentucky Fried Chicken.) He learned lithography and became very accomplished as a political cartoonist, once landing in prison for his sketch of King Louis-Philippe as Gargantua. (1832)

At the end of his life after his eyesight had failed him and he was reduced to penury, his friends organized a retrospective of his paintings. For the first time, his talents as a painter became known to a wider audience. It really was long after he died that his renown grew.

Here's Reading a Poem, 1857-58. Despite the cracks in this oil, I hope you can make out the lovely hands emerging out the deep shadows. I love that red curve of the sofa tying the figures together and the repeated curves and lines of the framed portraits. What do you think?

Finally, here's Two Sculptors (1872-75), painted during the last decade of his life. According to Michael Pantassi, writing in Daumier, the figure on the rig
ht probably represents a student awaiting the appraisal of his elderly instructor who peers closely at the student's work. Always an uncomfortable moment - with the economy of a caricaturist, Daumier conjures up those faces with only a few strokes. I still can't do that.

1 comment:

  1. It's said that Ingres hated the visible brushstroke. We can be grateful that he did, since he pushed portraiture to its limit at the dawn of photography (See his Louis Bertin).

    But when I look at these little Daumiers (which seem little, to the point of being miniatures!), I can't help thinking how indispensable the visible brushstroke is. What would painting be without it?

    On that note, it makes perfect sense that you'd love Daumier.