Saturday Art; Honoré Daumier’s satirical busts
Honoré Daumier lashed out at French politicians and officials with satirical portrayals that brought snickers to their countrymen and spared no feelings in making their actions and demeanor ridiculous. He made painted clay busts and used them for his sketches. A complete set of the models is contained at the National Galleries in Washington, D.C.
Daumier was not only a prolific lithographer, draftsman and painter, but he also produced a notable number of sculptures in unbaked clay. In order to save these rare specimen from destruction, some of these busts were reproduced first in plaster. Bronze sculptures were posthumously produced from the plaster. The major 20th century foundries were F. Barbedienne Barbedienne, Rudier (fr), Siot-Decauville (fr) and Foundry Valsuani (fr).
Eventually Daumier produced between 36 busts of French members of Parliament in unbaked clay. The foundries involved from 1927 on to produce a bronze edition were Barbedienne in an edition of 25 & 30 casts and Valsuani with three special casts based on the previous plaster castings from the Sagot-Le Garrec clay collection. These bronze busts are all posthumous, based on the original, but frequently restored unbaked clay sculptures. The clay in its restored version can be seen at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
From the early 1950s on, some baked clay ‘Figurines’ appeared, most of them belonging to the Gobin collection in Paris. It was Gobin who decided to have a bronze cast done by Valsuani in an edition of 30 each. Again, they were posthumous and there is no proof, in contrast to the busts mentioned above, that these terra cotta figurines really were done by Daumier himself. The American school (J.Wasserman from the Fogg-Harvard Museum) doubts their authenticity, while the French school, especially Gobin, Lecomte and of course Le Garrec and Cherpin, all somehow involved in the marketing of the bronze editions, are sure of their Daumier origin. The Daumier Register (the international center of Daumier research) as well as the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC would consider the figurines as ‘in the manner of Daumier’ or even ‘by an imitator of Daumier’ (NGA)
In addition to his prodigious activity in the field of caricature — the list of Daumier’s lithographed plates compiled in 1904 numbers no fewer than 3,958 — he also painted. Except for the searching truthfulness of his vision and the powerful directness of his brushwork, it would be difficult to recognize the creator of Robert Macaire, of Les Bas bleus, Les Bohémiens de Paris, and the Masques, in the paintings of Christ and His Apostles (Rijksmuseumin Amsterdam), or in his Good Samaritan, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Christ Mocked, or even in the sketches in the Ionides Collection at South Kensington. There is a room-full of caricatures in the museum Am Römerholz in Winterthur. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza was found as part of the2012 Nazi loot discovery.
As a painter, Daumier, one of the pioneers of realistic subjects, but treated with a very subjective point of view, did not meet with success until 1878, a year before his death, when Paul Durand-Ruel collected his works for exhibition at his galleries and demonstrated the range of the talent of the man who has been called the “Michelangelo of caricature”.
Daumier was attacked and kept out of polite drawing rooms, but it made no difference to the social criticism that he kept up against misperforming public figures.
(Picture below courtesy of Steven Zucker at flickr.com.)