Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Daumier's Bathers

Guest blogger Petru Bester is a Smith College student, class of 2015, majoring in Art History and minoring in Anthropology. She is a Student Assistant in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

Honoré Victorin Daumier. French, 1808 – 1879. Les Baigneurs, No. 21, Parole d'honneur Mme Frenouillet...published 1841. Lithograph printed in black on paper. Gift of Mary A. Gordon, class of 1960. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1963:105-21

Honoré Victorin Daumier, a French caricaturist, began producing prints in 1830 and created over 4,000 lithographs before his death in 1879. Within this plethora of lithographs Daumier produced a series entitled Les Baigneurs,which provides humorous commentary on bourgeois bathers in the nineteenth-century. Before private restrooms were commonplace, various members of society would convene in large bath houses where one could exercise, soak, and relax with friends. Daumier’s political and social satires explore various contemporary issues through both comical and aesthetically interesting images. His characters are exaggerated and often stand in stark contrast to one another.

Les Baigneurs, No. 21,depicts two women about to enjoy the luxuries of their bath house. The figure on the left, tall and lanky, prepares to toast to the short and stocky figure on the right. Daumier magnifies the differences between the two women in their contrasting facial features. The tall figure’s linear physique is reflected in her long pointed nose which protrudes from her angular face which sits precariously on a pencil-like neck. The short figure’s round body is echoed in her equally round face with a rounded nose and full lips.

Detail of Daumier's Les Baigneurs.

The inviting pool appears on their left and a bucket resting on the wooden counter behind them holds various bottles of libations. (Although Daumier’s objective is to stimulate thought about social change, I can’t help but feel envious of the bathers and can only hope my summer involves friends, a pool, and a cold beverage!) Daumier frames the image in text with both a title above and a caption below. The text verifies his intentions by poking fun at the two self-indulging women: one says to the other, “Seeing us (swim) one would swear we were two fish… a carp and an eel.”


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