Both loved and feared—the artist Honoré Daumier (1808–1879) was one of France’s greatest draughtsmen. A keen observer and controversial contemporary critic, he made a name for himself in the political sphere in 19th-century Paris, primarily through his caricatures, which he produced for the illustrated periodicals “La Caricature” and “Le Charivari”. Daumier became the conscience of an epoch marked by radical social and political upheaval and profound change.
Daumier’s commitment to republican ideas, the press and freedom of speech, his fervent interest in modern innovations, and his critical but also profoundly human view of the circumstances of the times are impressively visualized in the artist’s caricatures. The Städel Museum presents 120 works by Honoré Daumier from an outstanding private collection, the Hellwig collection.
The Hellwig collection stands out for its exceptional quality. It spans the entire breadth of the artist’s oeuvre with lithographs, drawings, sculptures, and two paintings—many of which have never been publicly shown. Of particular note among the Hellwig collection holdings are its unique prints. Accompanied by handwritten legends and printers’ and censors’ marks, they provide fascinating insights into the complex publishing process for illustrations. To mark the 125th anniversary, the entire collection will be donated as a jubilee bequest to the Städelscher Museums-Verein, which in turn will give it to the Städel Museum on permanent loan, where it will be preserved, researched and presented. The Städel Museum exhibition features from the Hellwig collection Daumier’s well-known lithographs, including “Le Passé – le présent – l’avenir” (1834) and “Rue Transnonain, le 15 avril 1834” (1834), in which the artist forcefully indicted the politics of King Louis-Philippe, as well as the artist’s influential genre caricatures and his timeless allegories of diplomacy as a frail lady or a personification of Europe trying to maintain her balance. In addition to his graphic oeuvre, Daumier also made sculptures, and starting in the mid-1840s, an increasing number of independent drawings and paintings, which reveal the expressiveness, diversity and inventiveness of his art.
Dr Astrid Reuter (Head of the Prints and Drawings before 1800, Städel Museum)
Robert Macaire and Ratapoil
The artist shaped the public political discourse of his time through the fictive characters Robert Macaire and Ratapoil that he established in his caricatures. Robert Macaire embodies the ruthless pursuit of profit manifested by the economically liberal July Monarchy. Ratapoil stands for the infiltration of the Republic by Louis Napoléon Bonaparte, who, after the flight of King Louis-Philippe as a result of the February Revolution of 1848, first became president of the Second Republic and subsequently had himself crowned emperor in 1852. Napoleon III was an authoritarian ruler who increasingly limited fundamental rights like the right to vote.
Peace in Europe was fragile during these decades, and the balance of power shifted. The conflicts between France and Prussia, in the Balkans, Italy and Crimea, as well as at many other locations in Europe, also became the subjects of numerous caricatures by Daumier. In his socially critical lithographs, he focused primarily on the impact of industrial and technological progress: the railroad, the invention of photography, the newspaper business, world fairs, urban development in Paris under Baron Haussmann and art debates that break with academic ideals. Following numerous political changes, the artist experienced the proclamation of the French Third Republic in 1870, which marked the definitive end of Napoleon III’s reign. After more than 40 years of artistic activity for the press, Daumier bid the political stage adieu with his portrayal of the dying monarchy, once again living up to his reputation as a social critic on the pulse of the times.
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Städelscher Museums-Verein e. V.