HONORÉ DAUMIER (1808-1879)
HONORÉ DAUMIER (1808-1879)
HONORÉ DAUMIER (1808-1879)
HONORÉ DAUMIER (1808-1879)
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HONORÉ DAUMIER (1808-1879)

Un défenseur habile

HONORÉ DAUMIER (1808-1879)
Un défenseur habile
signed 'h. Daumier' (lower left)
gouache, watercolor, charcoal and pen and black ink on paper
5 1⁄8 x 6 3⁄4 in. (13.1 x 17.1 cm.)
Executed circa 1855-1860
Pascalin collection, Oran, Algeria.
Humann collection, Paris.
Chombart de Lauwe, Paris.
Galerie Brame et Lorenceau, Paris (acquired from the above).
Michel Bivort, Paris (acquired from the above, 1983).
Private collection, France (by descent from the above); sale, Sotheby's, London, 28 June 1994, lot 1.
Private collection, Europe (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 12 November 2019, lot 24.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Post lot text
This work will be included in the forthcoming supplement of K.E. Maison's Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre de Daumier, currently being prepared by the Comité Honoré Daumier.

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Lot Essay

Daumier’s father, an aspiring poet and playwright, once worked as a clerk in a bankruptcy court to support his family, and found for his twelve-year-old son a job as a bailiff’s errand boy. In Paris his family lived opposite the Palais de Justice and the young Daumier used to visit the court and sketch the figures that populated it. Between 1832 and 1833 the artist spent six months in prison as a result of having caricatured King Louis-Philippe. This personal experience with the French judicial system inspired him to visit the courts more often afterwards, and for three years he amassed drawings and sketches of scenes from the tribunals that he re-used for more finished compositions later.
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 pled 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 described. “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).
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… 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” (ibid., p. 175). Un fenseur habile presents a lawyer emphatically arguing his case in front of his seemingly worried client; in the background, the shadowed jury watches anonymously.

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