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Honoré Daumier (1808-1879)
The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879)

Les laveuses du quai d'Anjou (Les blanchisseuses—Les laveuses sur l'escalier)

Details
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879)
Les laveuses du quai d'Anjou (Les blanchisseusesLes laveuses sur l'escalier)
signed 'h. Daumier' (lower right)
oil on panel
18 ¼ x 12 7/8 in. (46.4 x 32.6 cm.)
Painted in 1850-1852
Provenance
Arsène Alexandre, Paris (possibly acquired from the family of the artist); sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 18 May 1903, lot 16.
Graat et Madoulé, Paris.
Uhle Collection, Dresden.
Max Silberberg, Breslau (by 1926); his forced sale, Paul Graupe, Berlin, 23 March 1935, lot 23.
Galerie Matthiesen, Berlin.
Karl Goeritz, Chemnitz and London.
Irmgard Goeritz Selver, New York (by descent from the above, 1939 and until at least June 1961).
Otto Wertheimer (Galerie Les Tourettes), Basel.
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, January 1965.

The present work is being offered for sale pursuant to a settlement agreement between the consignor and the heir of Max Silberberg. This resolves any dispute over ownership of the work and title will pass to the buyer.
Literature
E. Klossowski, Honoré Daumier, Munich, 1923, p. 106, no. 221 (illustrated, pl. 93).
E. Fuchs, Der Maler Daumier, Munich, 1930, p. 49 (illustrated, pl. 74).
K. Scheffler, "Die Sammlung Max Silberberg," Kunst und Künstler, vol. XXX, October 1931, p. 6.
J. Lassaigne, Daumier, Paris, 1938, p. 167 (illustrated, pl. 94).
C. Schweicher, Daumier, Paris, 1953 (illustrated, pl. 34).
J. Adhémar, Honoré Daumier, Paris, 1954, p. 124 (illustrated, pl. 113; dated circa 1860-1862).
K.E. Maison, "Daumier's Painted Replicas," Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. LVII, May-June 1961, p. 371.
K.E. Maison, Honoré Daumier, Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Watercolours and Drawings, London, 1968, vol. I, p. 74, no. I-40 (illustrated, pl. 36).
L. Barzini, L'opera pittorica completa di Daumier, Milan, 1971, p. 92, no. 53 (illustrated).
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, pp. 111-112, no. 22 (illustrated in color, p. 111).
Exhibited
Berlin, Galerie Matthiesen, Honoré Daumier, Gemälde, Aquarelle, Zeichnungen, Plastik, February-March 1926, no. 30.
London, The Leicester Galleries, Paintings, Drawings and Lithographs by Honoré Daumier, June 1936, p. 23, no. 90 (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery, Daumier, Paintings and Drawings, June-July 1961, pp. 12 and 40, no. 71 (illustrated, pl. 23a).

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Lot Essay

From around 1841 until 1861, Daumier resided and maintained his studio on the top floor at 9, quai d’Anjou, on the Île Saint-Louis in the heart of Paris. Washerwomen were a frequent sight along the quay as they brought their bundles of clothing and linens to and from the Seine. The artist made a sketch of two such laveuses, probably done in situ, on the side of a sheet that was later cut down; this drawing also incorporates a perspective diagram for the scene (Maison, no. II-708). While one of the women descends the steps to the laundry barge below, moored to the embankment, there to begin her back-breaking work, the other, having climbed back to the street, departs with her finished load.
From this sketch Daumier painted the present oil on panel, which is the sole existing painting of this subject. A larger version of this painting (Maison, no. I-41), was formerly in the Otto Gerstenberg collection, Berlin, and is believed to have been destroyed during the Second World War. The illustration in Maison was reproduced from “the only existing photographic record of [this] work of some importance” (op. cit., 1968, vol. I, p. 75). The smaller scale of Daumier’s initial conception, the powerful concentration of chiaroscuro contrasts within this sinister, Dante-like setting, as well as the artist’s less detailed treatment of his figures, presented more as wraith-like silhouettes, all contribute to a vague and mysterious sense of foreboding. These qualities are perhaps some consolation for the loss of the larger panel.
The environment as it was in Daumier’s day is much the same today. The viewer looks northwest along the rive droite arm of the Seine; beyond the steps an arch of the Pont Marie comes into view. From Daumier’s low vantage point, the composition is precipitously oblique. The ascending lines of the step railings appear to merge with the distant skyline, and proceed even higher along the contour of the stone wall at upper left to the very corner of the panel. Within this extreme, almost cliff-like environment, the loads which the two women bear seem all the heavier; the height they descend and must then climb, fully laden, becomes with every step an ordeal, as if in the myth of Sisyphus. They repeat this routine several or more times each day, day after day.
Daumier also painted during the early 1850s three depictions of a laundry woman seen close up, in which she emerges more expressively as an individual, with a young child in tow, entitled Le Fardeau, “The Burden” (Maison nos. I-37, -42, and -43). The three versions of Une Blanchisseuse are the apotheosis of this theme (Maison nos. I-84, -159, and -160). In these three paintings, the forthright naturalism of Daumier’s rendering, as well as the sheer probity of his empathy for this subject, disarm any suggestion of sentimentality. Vincent Van Gogh, for one, admired Daumier as much as he did Jean-François Millet, both as powerful truth-sayers, the one for the urban poor, the other for the rural peasant.
Paris attracted many young women, often still in their early teens, from large rural families devastated by the loss of their land and mounting debt. These uneducated, unskilled, and disadvantaged female refugees might connect in Paris with a laborer or workingman, have a child or two before he moved on, while they were left to struggle on their own, with no resources other than their innate instincts for survival and to protect their young. The poet Théodore de Banville called attention to a version of Le Fardeau: “Is it not the very picture, tender and desolate, of Destitution?” (quoted in Daumier, exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1999, p. 310). Artists often cheaply hired their models from the vast ranks of these unfortunate women. Cleaning and washing were their most common occupations, and many found themselves resorting to occasional or frequent prostitution to sustain themselves and their children.
“Oh yes, they have a bad reputation,” J.-K. Huysmans wrote of laundresses in his Parisian Sketches in 1880. “Oh yes, the young ones flirt, mad for love, and have a right old time on leaving the washhouse! And what of it? Do you think their lives are easy and that they haven’t the right to bury the dreariness of a long day in the bottom of a wine bottle or a bed? Oh, how they love and how they drink! Because to work standing up, under a rain constantly falling from washing hanging on lines, to feel the water creep over the hairs of your neck and run slowly down the middle of your back, to breathe steam from the laundry in big gulps, to have your loins burnt by the fire of the furnace, to carry cartloads of sheets over your shoulder, to stagger under the weight of an enormous basket, to walk, to run, never to rest…such is their terrible job, their terrible life!
“After wandering fruitlessly around the Rue aux Ours market until nine o’clock in the morning in search of a patroness desperate to have some laundry done, they run aground, catarrhal, in that quartier drenched by the sickly, snuff and medlar-colored waters of the river. Squatting there from the first blush of dawn till the last mists of evening, next to monstrosities dressed in rags, topped with headscarves and buried up to their armpits in barrels, they soap for all they are worth, pummeling the laundry draining on boards with their battledores” (trans. B. King, London, 2004, pp. 77-78).
Daumier understood the plight in which this underclass of women found themselves, lacking few if any options for improving their lot. In Les laveuses du quai dAnjou the artist bore witness to the descent into the deep pit of such a life—“this Passion play, their stations of the Cross,” as Huysmans described it (ibid.)—while at the same time holding out some hope for an escape, a return to the light above.
There is in the present Laveuses the monumentality of feeling that only a compelling revelation of insight and understanding can bring to a painting. Arsène Alexandre, the first owner of this panel, was a leading critic at the turn of the 20th century, and in 1888 published the first major study of Daumier and his art. Paul Sébillot wrote in 1878 that Daumier, like Millet, could reveal “the noble aspect of common things,” and described in the final, lost version of Les laveuses du quai dAnjou the “two women of the people on the steps” as displaying “the epic bearing of goddesses in frescoes painted by the Masters.” Another reviewer thought that Daumier’s figures, “treading the pavement of the streets, the tiles of the wash houses, and the embankments of the quays,” possessed “the epic look Michelangelo lent his prophets and his sibyls” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1999, p. 314).

"Mother had in her collection at 10 West 54th Street and subsequently in her sitting room at Kykuit some Daumier watercolors and prints which I had always admired. Thus I was very pleased when Alfred Barr brought to our attention this fine Daumier oil. It is somewhat similar to a watercolor of Paris washerwomen that Mother had, which ultimately went to my brother Winthrop." —David Rockefeller

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