Daumier: The Dance of Line

Honoré Daumier, Advocates in talk

Daumier has always been one of my favorite artists. The enormous vitality and range of his work always provide me with stimulus. By fortuitous circumstance, I was very luck to see the retrospective of his work both at the Grand Palais in Paris and at the Phillips Collection in D.C. and the impression of seeing the retrospective twice in two different locations made a lasting and indelible impression.

I was just reading about his influence on van Gogh and so wanted to post on that but initially just wanted to put up a few of his line drawings that evidence the intense concentration and accuracy of Daumier’s eye. . The great involvement both men had with the human story–with its particulars–make their connection obvious when one begins to think about it.

Honoré Daumier, The Imaginary Invalid, 1865/66

Daumier, Study

Here’s the caricature of Louis Philippe as Rabelais’ Gargantua which led to his imprisonment for six months:

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2 Responses to Daumier: The Dance of Line

  1. Susan Thompson says:

    Does drawing like this even exist anymore?
    Bart, how about uploading some of your recent drawings? I would be interested in how a contemporary captures the observed world of the moment as Daumier once did.
    One thing I admire about Daumier is how, even when he brings a critical, even satirical eye to humanity, one senses that he considers himself part of it. There’s an underlying compassion even for those seen as foolish and flawed.

  2. trueoutsider says:

    Susan, I’m resisting putting any of my own work up because then the blog will turn into every other blog, an advertisement for myself or some kind of advocacy for doing things my way. I’ll send you some images of recent work directly.

    You’ve asked the million dollar question, at least for me: “Does drawing like this even exist anymore?”

    To which I’m inclined to say “No” because I haven’t seen anything like Daumier or most other artists of the 19th century nowadays. There may well be Daumiers around, but if there were I sadly doubt they’d have a chance of entry into a world of art that esteems Warhol, Koons, Chuck Close, and David Hockney. If Daumier were to arrive on the global art scene today he’d no doubt be viewed as some kind of throwback curiosity… a kind of Ralph Steadman type who would best see if he could get some book illustration work. I’ve been in plenty of art museums where people walk up to something like a Durer woodcut that leaves me speechless and they glance at it for two seconds before looking at the wall label to see if there’s an explanation involved. If there isn’t it’s time to find out where the video installation might be located or where the lunchroom is. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that the Getty has a lousy collection of art…. You know all those Goyas, Turners, Rembrandts, Chardins, Titians, etc… boring stuff… Nothing that would blow you away like a late Hockney…

    In other words, the entire value system and world that Daumier was a part of– in terms of its emotional and imaginative depth — has simply ceased to exist, imagination and emotion being replaced by photography, cinema, television, and now computer graphic programs. McLuhan, Jerry Mander and others have addressed this. It’s a breakdown in sensory abilities. The ability to perceive subtlety. Thus Hockney’s crude ingratiating colors constituting his “genius”.

    You can see it laid out clearly if you go down to the sketchbooks link below. One can easily see the remarkable difference between the sketchbooks of artists prior to television and those from the years after 2000. Artists in the 21st century are simply copying, either from life or from photographs, and the copying their doing lacks wonder or deep emotion. It’s primarily banal reportage.


    Artists like Hockney and Close, both who’ve said they think many Old Masters used optical tools to realize their grand achievements strike me as completely delusional. And no doubt because of their lifetime of dependence and enthrallment with optical tools themselves.

    Do they really think that painters capable of creating wholly convincing universes out of their imaginations were dependent on optical tools?

    Peter Bruegel, Triumph of Death

    Rubens had no use for an optical device any more than Ingres, Daumier or anyone else did before the invention of photography. The invention of photography is what crushed the imaginative ability of artists. To the point that Hockney and Close don’t even have the imaginative ability to understand that a draftsman like Ingres could draw precisely and convincingly at whatever scale they chose. Hockney can’t even approximate an Ingres using a camera lucida. How in the world does he think he understands how these men created their work? Pure arrogance.

    What do you think the chances are of Close and Hockney even being able to imagine in their heads the kind of work Rubens and Bruegel achieved, much less be able to begin to create it?

    Peter Paul Rubens, Feast of Venus

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