By Peter Schjeldahl

The New Yorker, March 6, 2000

The Art World

March 6, 2000 Issue, p. 94


THE ART WORLD about Honore Daumier exhibit at the Phillips Collection… Besides being, curiously, a great artist, Daumier remains the Homer of topical derision, and rivalled in history only by William Hogarth, the caricaturist’s caricaturist… The show displays seventy-five of his roughly three hundred known paintings and just seventyfour of a hard-to-believe four thousand or so lithographs, from a career that stretched from 1830 to his retirement, with failing eyesight, in 1872. (He died in 1879.) In addition, there are fifty-seven drawings and watercolors and thirty-nine sculptures. Daumier’s talent flowered in the pages of La Caricature, a weekly that, among other things, made endlessly ingenious sport of the King’s pear-shaped head. Daumier spent five months in jail for his 1831 lithograph “Gargantua”—not published in the magazine but offered for sale—which shows a monstrous Louis-Philippe being fed the wealth of France by a procession of citizens. Daumier’s developing rhetorical tones ranged from such virulence to the sublimity of perhaps the finest polemical print ever made, “Rue Transnonain, 15 April 1834,” about a massacre by national-guard troops during riots on the eponymous day. A workman in a bloodstained nightshirt and his family lie dead in their disordered bedroom….Blanket censorship descended anew in 1835, ending La Caricature and driving Daumier from political to broadly social subjects. (His last contribution to the journal depicted three martyrs of 1830 remarking on the fruits of their sacrifice, “It was certainly worthwhile getting killed!”) Modern culture owes a great deal to that particular crackdown, which helped to initiate the long march of the avant-garde: “symbolic politics” with an ever more elaborate vengeance. Writer describes „The Laundress“… It’s easy to see why Daumier so influenced later artists—to the degree that his later, moodily grimy painting style seems to blend directly into early Cezanne…

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Peter Schjeldahl has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1998 and is the magazine’s art critic. He is the author of “The Hydrogen Jukebox.