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Honore Daumier (1808-1879)
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Honore Daumier (1808-1879)

Conversations d’avocats (Deux avocats)

Details
Honore Daumier (1808-1879)
Conversations d’avocats (Deux avocats)
signed ‘h Daumier’ (lower left)
gouache, watercolor, brush and pen and black ink on paper
10 ¾ x 8 5/8 in. (27.3 x 21.8 cm.)
Executed in the late 1860s
Provenance
Paul Bureau, Paris (by 1878); sale, Galeries Georges Petit, Paris, 20 May 1927, lot 72.
C.W. Kraushaar Gallery, New York.
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., New York (acquired from the above, 1927).
Estate of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, New York.
John D. Rockefeller III and Blanchette F.H. Rockefeller, New York (acquired from the above, 1958).
Estate of John D. Rockefeller III, New York.
Blanchette F.H. Rockefeller, New York (by descent from the above, 1978).
Acquired from the estate of the above by the late owners, 1994.
Literature
A. Alexandre, Honoré Daumier: LHomme et l’oeuvre, Paris, 1888, p. 378.
E. Klossowski, Honoré Daumier, Munich, 1923, p. 99, no. 143.
"Un ensemble unique de 50 Daumier: La collection Bureau" in Bulletin de l’Art Ancien et Moderne: supplément de la revue de l'art, vol. 738, 1927, p. 171 (illustrated).
E. Fuchs, Der Maler Daumier, Munich, 1927, p. 55, no. 204b (illustrated, pl. 204; titled Conversation).
L.M., "Corot and Daumier: A Notable Exhibition, The Museum of Modern Art" in American Magazine of Art, December 1930, p. 708 (illustrated, p. 709).
J. Lassaigne, Daumier, Paris, 1938, p. 166 (illustrated, pl. 76).
C. Schweicher, Daumier, Paris, 1953 (illustrated, pl. 30).
J. Adhémar, Honoré Daumier, Paris, 1954, p. 115 (illustrated, pl. 24; titled Discussion, ou Entretien and dated 1843-1846).
J. le Foyer, Daumier au Palais de Justice, Paris, 1958, pp. 148 and 167 (illustrated, pl. 60; titled Conversation d'avocatsou Discussion).
K.E. Maison, Honoré Daumier: Catalogue raisonné of the Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings, London, 1967, vol. II, p. 198, no. 597 (illustrated, pl. 219).
R. Passeron, Daumier, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1981, p. 226 (illustrated, p. 227).
G. Lowry, intro., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Supplement, New York, 2015, vol. V, pp. 21-23, no. 1 (illustrated in color, p. 21).
Exhibited
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel et Cie., Peintures et dessins de H. Daumier, 1878, p. 63, no. 119 (titled Deux avocats).
(possibly) Paris, L’école nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, Peintures, aquarelles, dessins et lithographies de maîtres français de la caricature et de la peinture de moeurs au XIXe siècle, 1888, no. 409.
Paris, Grand Palais, Exposition internationale universelle de 1900: centennale de l'art français (1800-1899), 1900, p. 77, no. 858.
Paris, Palais de l’école des beaux-arts, Daumier, May 1901, p. 30, no. 136.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, CorotDaumier: Eighth Loan Exhibition, October-November 1930, p. 37, no. 106.
Paris, Musée de l’Orangerie, Daumier: Peintures, aquarelles, dessins, 1934, p. 132, no. 141.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Daumier, 1937, pp. 36-37, no. 39 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

Honoré Daumier’s father, an aspiring poet and playwright, once worked as a clerk in bankruptcy court to support his family, and found for his twelve-year-old son a job as a bailiff’s errand boy. Throughout his career as an artist and illustrator, Daumier retained a fascination for the real-life drama of the law courts, and made the judicial business a leading, definitive theme in his work. As an avocat of a different sort, clad not in black robes but in a blue artist’s smock, he pleaded his case on behalf of the indigent and unfortunate, and against those who would oppress them, with the power of his empathetic, trenchant, and—when required—caustic pen and brush.
In his influential essay Le Peintre de la vie moderne, published in 1863, the poet Charles Baudelaire exhorted artists to turn aside from the academic convention of treating history or mythological painting as the subject most worthy of their endeavors, and to give expression instead to the manners, morals, and appurtenances of society in their own time. Daumier needed no such advice; his early drawings and lithographs were already bound up with everyday life, “the prose of his own time, which becomes proper history for him,” Colta Ives has written. “The scenes and figures chosen from it were of the same significance for him as an artist as if they belonged to the worlds of myth or religion” (Daumier Drawings, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992, p. 19).
The passing parade of sophisticated bourgeois display on the grand boulevards held little interest for Daumier. An uncompromising truth-seeker, possessed of a combative, liberal bent, the artist probed and scrutinized ever more deeply the complex inner workings of French society, weighing the nation’s realities against its pronounced ideals. A beat far more to his liking were the stately but grim halls of justice where people of all classes, from every walk of life, daily crossed paths, caught up in the machinations of the French legal system.
Justice was harsh and often unfair; foremost among all considerations, the interests of the ruling class had to be served. Pompous judges and haughty lawyers held in their hands the fates of an unending stream of unfortunate, downtrodden, and pathetic souls. The result was a daily drama, ordinary and often depressingly baleful, but for Daumier, it was utterly engrossing, and revealed the true state of the nation. The courtroom resembled the theater stage, peopled as if with actors playing out their parts, in a variety of roles that were tragic, melodramatic, or comic by turns. These proceedings possessed the compelling power of a timeless ritual, which has come down to us today, even as a form of entertainment, as large television audiences tune into weekly courtroom dramas and reality shows.
Daumier's personal confrontation with the legal system of the courts came early in his career. In 1832, during a period when censorship laws had ostensibly been relaxed, he was nevertheless charged, together with his publisher and printer, for contemptuously caricaturing King Louis-Philippe in the shape of Rabelais's monstrous Gargantua. All three were convicted and sentenced to six months' imprisonment and a fine, but only the artist was required to serve his sentence. Later that same day, Daumier was acquitted of charges relating to a print he made that had offended Napoleon II, a presumptive heir to the throne, and his supporters.
This experience did not embitter Daumier, who made good use of his prison term to create a series of watercolors, Chimères de limagination, later published as lithographs, which were his finest works to date. Having experienced the vagaries of the court system, however, he came to view, with intense disdain, the shortcomings of the judges, and especially the posturing, theatrics, and varying degrees of incompetence he observed among the attorneys, all of whom seemed to make the outcome of such proceedings, the administration of true justice, an arbitrary affair at best.
There are all kinds of attorneys among Daumier’s depictions, “lazy lawyers, greedy lawyers, as well as those ‘who plead too little and those who plead too much’” (ibid., p. 175). Conversation davocats is among the artist’s more sympathetic treatments of these subjects. “[Some] scenes have a more cheerful tone,” as Roger Passeron noted, “the barristers are smiling, people at ease among their own kind, some like successful conspirators. By way of example we might mention Conversation davocats, in which one lawyer is seated, looking relaxed, discoursing scintillatingly, while the other, standing, is listening with an appreciative smiling” (op. cit., 1981, p. 230).
One may detect a resemblance between the standing attorney and Daumier himself, as seen in Etienne Carjat’s photograph circa 1861-1865. The present watercolor was likely done around the time of Carjat’s portrait, among a series of consummate watercolors that Daumier completed on the barrister theme during the mid- and late 1860s. Having inserted himself into this conversation, the artist appears to infer that there might indeed be some exemplary fellows whose discourse is worth listening to. The insights that Daumier drew from judicial scenes transcend any specialization of subject. The range of characterization in these works is subtle and encyclopedic—observe in the present watercolor the fascinating contrast of expressions and personality types, to whom Daumier has imparted a greater degree of individualization than in other works on this theme. The seated figure possesses a gaunt and patrician profile, suggesting a sensitive, fastidious, and even ascetic nature, one given to careful thought and precise speech, while the standing man—stockier, with a rotund face and broad smile—displays the more self-satisfied air of a man of worldly appetites.
“Daumier’s particular genius is evident in the stunning and disciplined clarity of his images,” 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 in overconfident strides, inflated chests, histrionic gestures and smug expressions…They finally represent for us neither lawyers nor judges, but personifications of human weakness dressed up in dark robes” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1992, p. 175).

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