Traces of the Hand

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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman

Caricature and Social Satire

Honoré Daumier
French, 1808–1879
The Lawyer and the Defendant, c. 1860
Pen and ink on wove paper
7 9/16 x 3 7/8 in, 19.21 x 9.84 cm (sheet)
Provenance: Acquired from Joseph Fach, Frankfurt am Main, 1951
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.28

verso

Among the greatest satirists of the nineteenth-century, Honoré Daumier was famous for carrying a sketchbook with him in order to capture numerous aspects of modern life in Paris, including the treatment of ordinary people at the hands of the government.1 The Herman Collection drawing The Lawyer and the Defendant belongs to an extensive body of images in his work depicting lawyers and courtroom scenes, ranging from rapid sketches like this drawing, to published lithographs, to finished paintings. Here, a lawyer, identifiable by his robe and the hat beside him, apparently stands over his client, his hands pressed onto the table in the act of passionate oratory. The defendant, a quiet, innocent-looking old man, smiles gently.

Daumier often took sketchbooks to the Palace of Justice in Paris, and numerous sketches of lawyers in the act of arguing a case survive, including close studies of faces like those in the Herman drawing. While Daumier also drew from memory and had a stock of character types,2 the thin, cheap paper used for this drawing, seemingly torn from a notebook, suggests that it may well be a sketch Daumier made on the spot. K. E. Maison has questioned the authenticity of the thick, dark vertical lines in the Herman drawing, suggesting that they were drawn by another hand over an autograph sketch by Daumier.3 Agnes Mongan disagreed with Maison’s assessment; and, indeed, such bold, reinforcing lines can be found in many other accepted Daumier drawings and seem to be of a piece with the rapidly drawn character of this and other sheets in his oeuvre.4

While this drawing has been linked to Daumier’s painting The Pardon (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, 1865–1867), the connection is tenuous.5 It is much closer to a group of sketches and more finished watercolors of the 1860s depicting lawyers pleading cases, leaning forward with a hat beside them on the bar. In a number of these works the lawyer’s face strikingly resembles that in the Herman drawing.6

Daumier characteristically depicted lawyers behaving theatrically as here because he considered them as a type of actor, as well as coldly arrogant and self-serving.7 He knew lawyers well, having worked as a messenger boy in the Palace of Justice, and in 1831 he was jailed for producing a lithograph satirizing King Louis-Philippe. He also experienced financial woes that put him in contact with creditors and other legal professionals on a regular basis, and that may well account for the pointed intensity with which he depicted them.8

Jaclyn Janukowicz
Anna Middleton

 

1. Colta Ives, Margret Stuffman, and Martin Sonnebend, Daumier Drawings, New York, 1992, 3.

2. Robert Rey, Honoré Daumier, New York, 1984, 132.

3. Letter from K. E. Maison to Frederick Herman, 12 March 1962. Museum curatorial files.

4. Mongan’s comment to the Hermans is recorded in the Museum curatorial files. Ives, et al., Daumier Drawings, 23. A drawing in a Parisian private collection of a lawyer with his arms spread is especially close to the Herman drawing in the presence of these heavy reinforcing lines. See K. E. Maison, Honoré Daumier: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Watercolors,and Drawings. New York, 1967, Vol. 2, no. 648, plate 245.

5. Letter from Werner R. Deusch to Joseph Fach, 26 May 1948. Museum curatorial files.

6. See Maison, Honoré Daumier, Vol. 2, nos. 622, 625 (plate 236), 629 (plate 237), 667, 668 (plate 255).

7. Pierre Cabanne, Daumier: Painter of the Human Comedy, trans. Lisa Davidson, Paris, 1999, 44.

8. Bruce Laughton, Honoré Daumier, New Haven, 1996, 68.

 

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