Monday, February 18, 2013

Daumier, Honore

The Burden (The Laundress)
oil on canvas
130 x 98 cm (51 1/8 x 38 5/8 in.)
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Burden which might also well be called The Gust of Wind, in this painting, a woman strains against the elements. This picture is executed with a truly Romantic tension, in which are equally subordinate both this woman, who sees nothing of joy in her life, and the landscape, where the severe outline of the houses reiterates the desperate movements of the figure. The main thing for Daumier is the drama of life, which he reveals not so much through the subject as through the movement of the painting's masses and the contrasts of light and shadow.

This painting is a depiction of a laundress with her child. Her laundry bag seems to be weighing heavily on her. Her clothes appear to be falling off, which signifies her poverty. Perhaps she feels that life is too heavy for her to handle, and she cannot properly provide for her child. The child's hand grasps the shirt of her mother, almost as if she is trying to hold onto her love, and make a connection, but the title suggests that the child is a burden to the mother. The mother shows no love for her child because she has no physical contact, unlike her child. Perhaps the child interferes with her doing laundry, that is her life. Both the mother and child are running away. This running indicates that they do not lead an easy life; that it is filled with fear, poverty, and work. Through the blurred face, which has no distinguishing features, Daumier is depicting how the majority of bourgeoisie and upper-class never notice the poor child on the street. They almost become part of the scenery. They do not live in the bright, colorful, high cultured part. Through the bright colors in the upper left hand corner, it appears that the mother and child are running away from the lights of a glowing city.

Honore Daumier (1808 - 1879) was a French painter and sculptor, whose many works offer commentary on social and political life in France in the 19th century. He was perhaps best known for his caricatures of political figures and satires on the behavior of his countrymen, although posthumously the value of his painting has also been recognized.

He was born in Marseilles into the family of a glazier, who was fond of poetry and even wrote his own verses. In 1814, the family moved to Paris, and he started to study art in 1822. The financial situation forced Daumier to earn his living as a delivery boy, while at his spare time he sketched at the Louvre. About 1828, he learned the technique of lithography and began to work for small publishing houses. In 1830, he started to work for Philipon’s Caricature and Le Charivari. Satire against the king Louis-Phillip in 1831 brought him wide popularity, especially when he was sentenced for 6-months in prison because of it. A biting political cartoonist, Daumier contributed satirical drawings to various Paris weeklies for most of his career. Nearly all of his cartoons were done with lithography. According to his contemporaries he had an amazing memory and capability to capture the essence of the model, its plastics, mimics, gestures.

At the end of the 1840s, Daumier’s interests shifted to painting, though he continued to issue many lithographs. His paintings however differ from his graphic works not only by techniques and artistic media but also by different subjects. As a painter, he was one of the pioneers of realistic subjects.

Daumier worked much, he produced over 500 paintings, 4000 lithographs, 1000 wood engravings, 1000 drawings, 100 sculptures. But despite this titanic work he could not make ends meet all his life. He died in the house that had been presented to him by Corot. Corot secretly bought Daumier a house, and wrote to him, "My old comrade -  I have a little house for which I had no use at Valmondois near the Isle-Adam. It struck me that I could offer it to you and, as I think it is a good idea, I have registered it in your name at the notary’s. It is not for you that I do this, it is merely to annoy your landlord". It was a simple gesture, and it gave Daumier a few serene and tranquil years. Daumier was almost blind by 1873.

Daumier, one of the few Romantic artists who did not shrink from reality, remained in his day practically unknown as a painter. During his lifetime he found no public for his work. Only a few friends encouraged him and, a year before his death, arranged his first solo exhibition. Thus his pictures had little impact during his lifetime. Daumier’s paintings are closer to the art of the 20th century than to his own: they are sketch-like and very expressive. Only in 1901, at Daumier’s post-humous exhibition the world discovered this name for itself.