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Indepth Arts News:

"Special Exhibition: Honoré Daumier"
2000-02-19 until 2000-05-04
Phillips Collection
Washington, DC, USA United States of America

Honoré Daumier is the first retrospective exhibition ever dedicated to this artist in the United States, in spite of Daumier's stature as one of the greatest artists of the 19th century. Nearly 70 years have passed since the Museum of Modern Art presented 49 of his oil paintings in an exhibition devoted to Corot and Daumier. Since that time, Daumier has been the subject of few exhibitions and those that have been organized around his work have tended to focus on a particular aspect of his oeuvre.

This groundbreaking exhibition is the largest loan exhibition ever presented at The Phillips Collection. Comprised of 243 works that illustrate Daumier's extraordinary achievement, ranging from his earliest lithographs to his latest paintings, the exhibition features 74 paintings, 56 drawings, 74 lithographs, and 39 sculptures. Stunning examples of his work have been assembled from 71 museums and private collections in 12 countries, providing an unprecedented opportunity for numerous works to be exhibited together, including many works that have never before been shown in the United States.

Daumier was born in Marseilles in 1808, but spent most of his life in Paris. Forced by financial circumstance to find employment at an early age, he began creating lithographs for daily journals. It soon became obvious that he had the gift of accurate observation and an almost superhuman memory, and by the 1830s he was working as a professional artist. Prolific and popular as a lithographer in his own time, Daumier remains less recognized for his accomplishments in other media. Although he struggled to prove himself as a painter throughout his life, he was primarily appreciated as a major artist only by leading masters of the time, such as Eug*ne Delacroix and Edgar Degas. Daumier's dedication to painting was only fully revealed to the public with his first one-man exhibition in 1878, one year before his death.

During his 50-year career, Daumier produced an astounding 4,000 lithographs, approximately 300 paintings, more than 800 drawings, some 1,000 woodcuts, and about 50 sculptures. A firm believer that one must be of one's time, throughout his life, he portrayed a panoramic view of Parisian life and events: the world of courthouses and the stage, strolling performers and clowns, working people and the middle class, travelers on public transport, and victims of war. He masterfully captured all with a telling gesture or expression, earning him recognition as a painter of the people.

It was his lithographs of political satire, however, that initially established Daumier's reputation and even earned him a six-month prison sentence. The lithographs he produced for the politically motivated journals Le Charivari and La Caricature persistently ridiculed King Louis-Philippe and politicians alike, until 1835, when the government's ban of all political caricature forced him to turn to the bourgeoisie and lawyers for his subject matter, mocking their foibles and pretentious attitudes. The paintings and drawings in which he also addressed issues of everyday life generally represent it in a more serious tone, creating a sober contrast to the lithographs and sculptures of lawyers and politicians, whose caricaturized bronze portraits will comprise an essential part of this exhibition. Equally significant are his subjects drawn from literary, religious, and classical sources.

Daumier is among the handful of artists who have had the most profound impact on modern art and is considered a forerunner of Impressionism. His influence can be seen in the work of Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Degas-his most fervent admirer, who owned at one time 1,800 of his lithographs. He also had an influence on later artists such as Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Picasso.

The exhibition will be a highlight of the year 2000 at The Phillips Collection. Duncan Phillips was among the earliest American collectors to purchase works by Daumier, acquiring five out of a total of seven paintings by the artist in the 1920s. As early as 1922 he wrote, Many men of special gifts were contained in Daumier. He was a caricaturist but he was just as much a mystic. He was at heart a romantic poet and he was actually a realistic painter. . . he was also an artist and a technical experimenter far in advance of his age. Seven years later Phillips referred to him as a symbol in himself and in his art for all that I would have my collection stand for, and his commitment to collecting works by Daumier continued into the 1950s. The group of seven paintings by Daumier in The Phillips Collection is to this day among the most distinguished in any public collection, and, complemented by two superb drawings and 48 lithographs, is richly representative of Daumier's achievement as a painter and draftsman.

The most comprehensive catalogue ever devoted to Daumier's work accompanies the exhibition. It includes essays dedicated to Daumier's life, sculpture, painting, prints, and the relationship between his art and politics. It also contains entries on individual works, a chronology, and a complete exhibition history. The exhibition is co-organized by The Phillips Collection, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Réunion des musées nationaux, Paris.

Honoré Daumier is supported at The Phillips Collection by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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