thu 27/04/2017

Gallery: Honoré Daumier and Paula Rego - a conversation across time | reviews, news & interviews

Gallery: Honoré Daumier and Paula Rego - a conversation across time

Gallery: Honoré Daumier and Paula Rego - a conversation across time

One was driven by a sense of social injustice, the other by a fascination with stories that hint at psychological disturbance

Daumier, left 'The morning after the wedding “I am so happy!!”' (Sketches of Expressions series), 1839 and Rego, 'Unhappy Courtship' (Prince Pig series), 2006Rego © Marlborough Art Gallery

Baudelaire called him a “pictorial Balzac” and said he was the most important man “in the whole of modern art”, while Degas was only a little less effusive, claiming him as one of the three greatest draughtsman of the 19th century, alongside Ingres and Delacroix.

Honoré Daumier has always been held in the highest esteem by fellow artists, both in his own time and today, with contemporary artists such as Peter Doig and Paula Rego keen admirers. But beside his technical skills, Daumier was also among the most socially alert and politically engaged artists of the 19th century. A socialist and staunch republican in post-Napoleonic France, he lampooned the corrupt and the privileged and was a close ally and champion of the poor. His sense of deep kinship with the downtrodden was no doubt rooted in his own extremely humble origins. 

One of Daumier’s most scurrilous caricatures, a cartoon of King Louis-Philippe as Gargantua, appeared in the satirical magazine La Caricature in 1831. Depicting a monstrously fat King gulping down sacks of gold bought to him on the backs of exhausted labourers, it earned him a six-month prison sentence. Thereafter, he had to learn to pull his punches as new censorship laws came into force. But his keenly felt sense of injustice never left him.

Like Daumier, Rego is also known for depicting fantastical scenarios which are also acutely observed from life, and, in Rego's case, ones that throb with psychological tension and take their inspiration from literature, children's fiction and fairytales. Like him too, she is a brilliant storyteller with an exquisite and expressive line.

Her illustrative works are often produced in series, as Daumier’s was, and like him, Rego favours lithography, a printmaking technique invented at the turn of the 18th century and conducive to drawing freely and directly on a flat, traditionally limestone, surface. In Daumier’s day it was an ideal medium for mass production, used by a rapidly expanding newspaper and advertising industry.

In an exhibition co-curated by Rego at the House of Illustration, we’re invited to explore a conversation in which themes, ideas and compositional devices speak to one another across time.

Fisun Guner on Twitter

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