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Visions of Paris: Royal Academy of Arts in London opens Honoré Daumier exhibition
Honore Daumier, Lunch in the Country, c. 1867-1868. Oil on panel, 26 x 34 cm. National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. Photo © National Museum of Wales.

LONDON.- Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris is the first major exhibition of the prolific artist and social commentator, Honoré Daumier, to be held in Britain for over fifty years. Admired by the avantgarde circles of 19th century France and described by Baudelaire as one of the most important men ‘in the whole of modern art,’ the exhibition explores Daumier’s legacy through 130 works, many of which have never been seen in the UK before, with a concentration on paintings, drawings, watercolours and sculptures.

Daumier lived and worked through widespread political and social change in France during his lifetime, which encompassed the upheavals of the revolutions to establish a republic, in the face of continued support for the monarchy. Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris is displayed chronologically, spanning the breadth and variety of his often experimental artistic output and exploring themes of judgement, spectatorship and reverie. One of Daumier’s favourite subjects became the silent contemplation of art, as seen in The Print Collector, 1857-63 (The Art Institute of Chicago) and in the terrified performer alone on the stage in What A Frightful Spectacle c.1865 (Private Collection).

Daumier’s extraordinary visual memory allowed him to recall and portray many facets of everyday life in both sympathetic and critical observations. Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris exhibits works depicting his working class neighbours on the Quai d’Anjou on the Ile Saint-Louis, as well as topical issues such as fugitives of the cholera epidemics or the experience of travellers in A Third Class Carriage, 1862-64 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Daumier also drew parallels between the abuse of power by lawyers in The Defence, c. 1865 (The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London) and the silent vulnerability of those on the margin in Clown Playing A Drum, 1965-7 (British Museum, London).

A staunch Republican, Daumier was particularly renowned for his daring and uncompromising caricatures of the manners and pretensions of his era, including the corruption of the government of Louis-Philippe, the King of France from 1830-1848. Drawn with an unforgettable energy and expressiveness, the majority of these works were published as lithographs in newspapers. At the end of Daumier’s life he created scenes and allegories of the link between nationalism and military action: the ideal female figures of France and Liberty, contrasted with the jester or Don Quixote, two characters Daumier closely identified with.

Daumier believed artists should ‘be of their times’, and his work drew praise from his contemporaries Delacroix and Corot, and those of the next generation, Degas, Cézanne and Van Gogh. However, he has also affected the work of many artists of the last century, including Picasso and Francis Bacon, and more recently Paula Rego, Peter Doig, William Kentridge and Quentin Blake Hon RA. Ann Dumas, Curator at the Royal Academy says, “Although the importance of Daumier’s place in the development of 19th century French painting is well-known to scholars, we hope that the Royal Academy’s exhibition will bring a wider understanding of his profoundly empathetic and daring works into the public sphere.”

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