I first encountered Daumier's Laundress when I was still at school, as I wrote here. One of my favourite classes was European History - I particularly was drawn to the history of France with characters like Henry IV, Sully, Mazarin, Louis XIII and XIV, Richelieu, Napoleon, Talleyrand, and then the more recent past which included the time of Daumier. I was aware of his political satires - some were reproduced in our history text - but I was not prepared for the power of that first painting that I saw.
Honore Daumier: The Laundress 1863 Musee d'Orsay, ParisOver the intervening years I had not sought out the opportunity to see more of Daumier's paintings. Although in some ways that might have been remiss of me, on the other hand it made Sunday's experience even more powerful. I had been encouraged in my anticipation by seeing that Peter Doig had taken one of Daumier's characters for his own explorations.
Honore Daumier: The Print Collector 1860-3 The Burrell Collection, Glasgow
Peter Doig: Metropolitain (House of Pictures) 2004 Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen Munich
Both artists did multiple versions of their figures. Indeed it has been fascinating to see how both of these artists use the figures again and again: developing and enjoying the forms.
The RA exhibition is not a large one, and I think it benefits from this. Daumier's work - as is true for so many artists - deserves slow hard looking. The three rooms as a whole were a feast for me, but I would have been satisfied if the very first Daumier on show had been the only one.
Honore Daumier: Advice to a Young Artist 1860 National Gallery of Art, Washington
There is just so much in this painting that speaks powerfully to me. The light, of course, but mostly the stance of the figures: the young artist in particular. His apprehension and yet suppressed eagerness, the battle within himself between association and disassociation with the work being appraised are palpable, while the relaxed older figure is both compassionate and firm. Waves of people passed both before and behind me as I stood for ages simply loving this piece.
Lithography might have been invented for Daumier: the variation within and the fluidity of his line are perfect for this means of printmaking. I was delighted that the RA had put up a panel explaining what the method is. Daumier used his lovely lines beautifully to ridicule to condemn, and to express great compassion.
Honore Daumier: Rue Transnonain 1834 Philadelphia Museum of Art
In this print our first reaction might be to condemn a drunkard, but in fact Daumier was recording in a seemingly straightforward way an atrocity in a workers' housing block. There is a tiny child flattened under the main figure. This is a work which speaks of atrocities today, even if not at the same address.
It is interesting to me that when I bring images of Don Quixote to mind they are those of Daumier or Picasso.
Honore Daumier: Don Quixote and Sancho Panza 1855 National Gallery, London
I just love the Don off on another charge while poor Sancho Panza slumps resignedly on his mule, with the shadow contributing ambiguous darkness to the scene. The reviews here, here, here, and here speak much more eloquently of the artist and of this excellent exhibition.