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"Human Comedy: Lithographs by Honoré Daumier"
2000-05-27 until 2000-08-20
Portland Museum of Art
Portland, ME, USA United States of America

The exhibition includes 50 lithographs showcasing Daumiers satirical, often bemused, and sometimes scathing views of the indulgences, pretensions, and fallibilities of his contemporaries. Honore Daumier (1808-1879) is best known for his nearly 4,000 lithographs, but he was also an accomplished painter, sculptor, draftsman, and wood engraver.

He was born the son of a glazier in Marseilles, and moved as a child with his family to Paris, where he worked first as an errand boy before beginning lessons in drawing. It was not his artistry, however, but his wry observations of French society that first brought Daumier to public attention, most notably with the work he began producing in 1831 for the satirical journal La Caricature. By the age of 23, Daumiers critiques of the French government--along with his witty depictions of lawyers, politicians, art dealers, and the middle class in general--had earned him both considerable notoriety and a six-month jail sentence.

Following his release from prison in 1833, and the governmental suppression of La Caricature, Daumier began his 40-year career as a contributor to Le Charivari, a popular illustrated daily for which many of the prints in this exhibition were executed. In response to especially strict censorship laws that began in 1835 and lasted all but a few years of his life, Daumier turned his attention from overt political commentary to images of social satire, which often managed nonetheless to make subtle, yet pointed, statements about the power of the French state.

Nineteenth-century France was a time of monumental change, when rapid industrialization was uprooting the rural working classes and creating newly powerful middle classes along with a new class of urban poor. Daumiers political commentary, as evidenced in this exhibition, ranges from lambasting individual politicians to sympathetically portraying the politically oppressed; his social subjects are drawn from Parisian daily life and provide occasion to poke fun at various contemporary fashions and fads (like hunting and amateur acting). Though Daumiers prints chronicle sometimes highly specific events and details of a distant time and place, the world evoked remains surprisingly accessible and familiar to the modern viewer.

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