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Daumier Lot 20
Honoré Daumier (French, 1808-1879)
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Honoré Daumier (French, 1808-1879)

La Chanteuse de Rue

Honoré Daumier (French, 1808-1879)
La Chanteuse de Rue
signed with monogram 'hD' (lower right)
oil on canvas
14 ¾ x 18 1/8 in. (37.5 x 46 cm.)

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Lot Essay

Honoré Daumier died in 1879, blind and impoverished, having earned little income from his art, and never having received a commission as a painter. His living conditions and status at the end of his life were doubtless a result of his courting of les classes ouvrières causes, his commitment to satire, political caricature and mocking the bourgeois. Daumier was a prolific artist who traversed various media throughout his career; initially executing lithographs, he would progress to become an accomplished engraver, sculptor and painter. Appreciation of Daumier as a painter has chiefly developed posthumously – he is now recognised as among the first and most important realist painters.

The present lot bears the hallmarks of Daumier’s particular style. We observe his favoured low perspective and deliberate cropping of a composition which expands loosely beyond the bounds of the canvas. Daumier drew inspiration from the techniques and timeless themes of the Old Master painters, regularly studying the works of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Jean-Antoine Watteau and others in the Louvre. His study and ultimate mastery of classical draughtsmanship and traditional forms endowed Daumier with the ability to invert them so successfully towards his own particular expression. Although artists of different eras, temperament and ambition, fruitful comparison can be made between the present work and the te galante arrangements of Jean-Antoine Watteau, notably La Surprise (fig. 1.) It is possible to observe the broad influences of Watteau's style upon Daumier immediately in composition and subject: both scenes depict musicians performing en plein air, and in both instances the compositions are framed by roughly executed skies and foliage. In both pieces the guitarists are distinguished and distanced from the other figures through their absorption in music. While the similarities between this work and Watteau's La Surprise are intriguing, the disparities are even more valuable, and reveal more about Daumier as a painter. Daumier does not offer us, as Watteau does, finely dressed performers in an elegant garden setting, he presents an impromptu performance amongst the lower classes. Daumier's company’s blue sky is fleeting and obscured, a sign of their limited freedom. His guitarist is not carefree, able to wistfully contemplate lovers, he is a haunting figure singing a ballad tinged with post-revolutionary disillusion, the antithesis of the decadence of an elegant party.

Contemporary commentators do not portray Daumier as a music lover, yet several of his works show figures assembled to sing or play music. Other notable musical pieces by Daumier include a drawing of the present lot (St. Louis City Art Museum, Missouri), the Chanteurs Ambulants (German private collection), and the Musiciens Ambulants (present location unknown). Although occasionally Daumier pokes fun at more formal musical settings, as in his 1858 lithograph Un Orchestre dans une Maison Comme il Faut, where a professional musician yawns in the pit during a tiresome scene on stage. However, he does not condemn or make light of the enthusiasm of his ordinary subjects.

We are grateful to the Comité Daumier for confirming the authenticity of the present lot, which will be included in the forthcoming supplement of the catalogue raisonné by Maison currently in preparation. The present work will be sold with a copy of the certificate of authenticity by the Comité Daumier (dated 11 December 2011).

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