Servants of Justice: Lithographs by Honoré Daumier from the Collection of the State Hermitage

From 4 October 2018, the exhibition Servants of Justice: Lithographs by Honoré Daumier from the Collection of the State Hermitage will be running in the Kaluga Museum of Fine Arts. The display will be the central event of the Hermitage Days that are being held in Kaluga from 3 to 7 October.

Оноре Домье (1808–1879)
Главная лестница Дворца правосудия. Вид спереди
Лист из серии «Служители правосудия». 1848 г.
Литография, третье состояние из трех

The exhibition presents the work of the celebrated French artist Honoré Daumier (1808–1879), a painter, graphic artist, sculptor and outstanding exponent of the political and social cartoon. Daumier’s artistic legacy contains around 300 paintings, more than 1,000 drawings, around 4,000 lithographs and more than 100 sculptures.

Honoré Daumier has been called “a witness of his era”: his prints can be regarded as an encyclopaedia of the life of the Parisians showing their habits, fears, fads, sorrows and joys, Charles Baudelaire, a great admirer of Daumier’s talents, stressed the variety of his subjects and the thought that went into them: “Look through his work, and you will see parade before your eyes, in their fantastic and gripping reality, all that a great city contains of living monstrosities. All the frightening, grotesque, sinister, and farcical treasures that it holds, Daumier knows them all.”

Daumier learnt the technique of lithography in the second half of the 1820s. In the early 1830s his first prints with incisive political subjects appeared. The tightening of censorship in 1835 made the publication of cartoons directed against the authorities impossible. From that moment right up until the 1870s, Daumier engaged chiefly in in social caricature. The majority of the artist’s lithographs were produced for Charles Philipon’s satirical daily newspaper Le Charivari. The same works were also printed separately for sale on strong white paper. In contrast to the newspaper versions, which were always black and white, these prints were often tinted with watercolour (it is believe that this was done by craftspeople on the initiative of the publisher). As a rule, the lithographs were grouped together in series with common subject matter. The best known are Caricaturana, Histoire ancienne (poking fun at the general fascination with classical antiquity), Moeurs conjugales (on the ways of married couples), Les beaux jours de la vie and Les Bons Bourgeois (devoted to the everyday life of Paris and its inhabitants).

Les Gens de Justice – The Servants of Justice – is a famous series of Daumier lithographs exposing the hypocrisy and cynicism of judges, lawyers and prosecutors that came out between 1845 and 1848. It was made up of 41 prints on the everyday practices of the Palais de Justice and its denizens. Ten works from this series that is entirely devoted to representatives of the world of the law will be on display in Kaluga.

Honoré Daumier was not the first or foremost denunciator of legal procedures. His merits lie in the fact that he created a special visual language for the depiction of judges, lawyers, prosecutors and notaries. The series Les Gens de Justice records many of their characteristic behaviour patterns and gestures, and thoroughly examines their daily activities, their way of thinking and their habits. Daumier likened lawyers to expressively gesticulating actors, court proceedings to a play with pre-assigned roles, and the Palais de Justice to a theatre. Each time Daumier depicts the black robe, the invariable attribute of the servants of the law, with particular care, so that even in the black-and-white impressions it becomes the main accent of the composition, at times a sinister one. In this way, the artist once again draws the viewer’s attention to the theme of acting, in which changes of costume play an important part. It follows that what we see here are not the true servants of justice, but men who wear that guise, who only pretend to be them. The proceedings themselves are revealed as farce and deception.

The exhibition has been prepared by Anastasia Mikhailovna Beliayeva, junior researcher in the Print Section of the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art.