Honoré Daumier (1808-1879)
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879)

Avant l'audience

Honoré Daumier (1808-1879)
Avant l'audience
signed with initials 'h.D.' (lower left)
gouache, watercolor, pastel, pen and India Ink and charcoal on paper laid down on card
15 x 11 ¼ in. (38 x. 28.5 cm.)
Executed circa 1868-1870
Paul Aubry, Paris (by 1878); sale, Galeries Georges Petit, Paris, 10 May 1897, lot 42.
Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Paris (acquired at the above sale).
Hollender & Cremetti, London (acquired from the above, 19 November 1900).
Mme Albert Esnault-Pelterie, Paris (by 1934).
Private collection, Paris (by descent from the above); sale, Sotheby’s, London, 3 December 1991, lot 3.
Acquired at the above sale by Achim Moeller Fine Art on behalf of John C. Whitehead.
A. Alexandre, Honoré Daumier: LHomme et l’oeuvre, Paris, 1888, p. 378.
Das Museum, Leipzig, circa 1910, no. 99 (illustrated).
E. Klossowski, Honoré Daumier, Munich, 1923, p. 97, no. 117 (titled La Lecture au Placet).
M. Sadleir, Daumier: The Man and the Artist, London, 1924 (illustrated, pl. 34).
E. Fuchs, Der Maler Daumier, Munich, 1930, p. 55, no. 204a (illustrated, pl. 204).
B. Fleischmann and M. Sachs, Honoré Daumier, Vienna, 1937 (illustrated, pl. 18).
R. Escholier, Daumier, Paris, 1938, p. 73 (illustrated).
J. Cassou, Daumier, Lausanne, 1949, p. 30, no. 15 (illustrated, pl. 15; titled La pièce importante).
Marseille, Revue municipale, Marseille, 1956, vol. III, p. 41, no. 29 (illustrated).
K.E. Maison, Honoré Daumier: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings, London, 1967, vol. II, p. 192, no. 577 (illustrated, pl. 207).
C. Roy, Daumier, Geneva, 1991, p. 34 (illustrated).
C. Ives, M. Stuffmann and M. Sonnabend, Daumier Drawings, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992, p. 178, fig. 114 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Exposition des peintures et dessins de H. Daumier, 1878, no. 100 (titled Un avocat).
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, Daumier: Peintures, aquarelles, dessins, 1934, p. 125, no. 128.
New York, Achim Moeller Fine Art, The Whitehead Collection: Late 19th and 20th Century French Masters: A Collection in Progress, April-May 1997, p. 19, no. 3 (illustrated in color, p. 20).
New York, Achim Moeller Fine Art, From Daumier to Matisse: Selections from the John C. Whitehead Collection, May 2002, pp. 32 and 72, no. 1 (illustrated in color, pp. 33 and 72).
New York, Achim Moeller Fine Art, From Daumier to Matisse: French Master Drawing from the John C. Whitehead Collection, April-May 2010, p. 20, no. 3 (illustrated in color, p. 21).
Sale room notice
Please note that the correct medium of the work is: gouache, watercolor, pastel, pen and India Ink and charcoal on paper laid down on card.

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Such is the acuity of Daumier’s characterization of this veteran attorney that one may infer the brief he is reading, in preparation for a hearing, to contain important information which will have serious, perhaps even adverse bearing, on the outcome of the case he is about to argue. “Daumier’s particular genius is evident in the stunning and disciplined clarity of his images,” Colta Ives has written. “The artist never became mired in detail or narratives that required explanation, but instead concentrated on defining character through incisive description. Thus, true identities are revealed” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1992, p. 175).
It was perhaps with Daumier as an exemplary precedent in mind that Charles Baudelaire exhorted artists of his day to direct their efforts away from Salon-oriented priorities such as history painting, and turn instead to the manners, morals and dress of society in their own time. Daumier had been doing precisely this since the early 1830s, but the passing parade of fashionable finery on Baron Haussmann’s recently built boulevards held little interest for him. He instead preferred, in his fervent liberal bent, to probe ever more deeply the underbelly of contemporary French society.
Daumier's knowledge of the courts came first-hand as early as 1820, when he was employed in a bailiff's office. In 1832, during a period when censorship laws had ostensibly been relaxed, he was charged and convicted for caricaturing King Louis-Philippe in the shape of Rabelais's monstrous Gargantua, for which offense he served a six-month prison term. This experience did not embitter Daumier, who made good use of his jail time to create a series of watercolors, Chimeras of the Imagination, among his finest works to date. But having been caught up himself in the machinations of the 19th century French legal system, Daumier cast his critical, satirical eye on the shortcomings of the judges, and especially on the posturing theatrics and varying degrees of competence he observed among the attorneys, in proceedings ostensibly conducted in the service of high justice that actually seemed to be arbitrary affairs at best.
For the next five years, Daumier took as his principal subject the stately but grim halls of the Palais and Haute-Cour de Justice, where people of every class and all walks of life daily crossed paths. Laws were harsh and often unfair, for above all else, the interests of the ruling class had to be upheld. The judges and lawyers who controlled these proceedings held in their hands the fates of an unending stream of mostly unfortunate, downtrodden and pathetic souls. Daumier drew upon these indelible memories, and the sketches he made, for the rest of his career–he painted the present Avant laudience some three decades later.
These judicial sessions usually resulted in baleful personal dramas of an ordinary kind, which Daumier nonetheless found utterly engrossing, because they revealed to him the true state of the nation and the distressed soul of its people. The courtroom moreover fascinated Daumier because of its resemblance to the theater stage–another of his favorite subjects–peopled as if with actors playing out their parts, in a range of roles that might appear tragic, melodramatic or comic by turns, as lawyers contended before three judges over matters of innocence and guilt.
The present watercolor is, however, among the artist’s more sympathetic treatments of this theme. In his lone presence, dramatically illumined, this attorney appears as a solemn, virtually heroic figure; one may admire in Daumier’s razor-sharp characterization the man’s apparent seriousness, and commend his evident dedication to his work. There is an oil painting of this subject (Maison, vol. I, no. 213), which K.E. Maison noted as being “much less carefully finished than the [present] watercolour, the latter presumably being a reprise of the painting” (cat. rais., op. cit., vol. I, p. 192).

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