Looking over the artist’s shoulder

Daumier’s striking composition alludes to the dramatic riots of April 1834.

Grandville, Daumier, Traviès –
« L’Association mensuelle »

Works from the Kupferstichkabinett

7 February – 10 May 2015

The names Grandville, Honoré Daumier, Charles Joseph Traviès are closely associated with the rise of caricature as an art form in the first half of the 19th century. These artists advocated forcefully for freedom of expression and the press, using their work as a platform to engage actively in the political debates of their era. The period following the July Revolution of 1830 was marked by great upheaval and domestic political crises. The press saw an existential threat in the seizures, trials, and fines that the new king Louis Philippe imposed for Lèse-majesté or unfavourable commentary. One such publication was La Caricature – a weekly magazine featuring political criticism and caricature. In 1832 Charles Philipon, its publisher, founded the ‘Association mensuelle pour la liberté de la presse’ as a new way to support his paper. For an additional charge, subscribers to La Caricature would receive an illustration every month that was not included in the newsstand edition. Between 1832 and 1834, 24 such illustrations were published.

The lithographs of Grandville, Daumier, and Traviès were characterised both by their high artistic quality as well as their sharp critique, which allotted no special treatment for politically or religiously sensitive issues if it came at the cost of freedom of opinion. This is a tradition French caricaturists carry on today, and one that the illustrators of Charlie Hebdo also felt obliged to follow. Recent events have made it devastatingly clear just how high the price for satire and unsparing criticism can be.

Grandville’s illustration shows Talleyrand before the altar, holding the pear aloft like a relic, supported on the right by the Minister of the Interior, Adolphe Thiers, and on the left by the Minister of Education, Guillaume Guizot. Other politicians are depicted as altar boys swaying a censer back and forth. The image symbolises King Louis-Philippes’ government. It is criticised as an empty religion of state that has abandoned the spirit of the July Revolution of 1830.

King Louis Philippe and his followers attack a printing room that represents the freedom of the press. The allegory of ‘Liberté’ stands before the printing press in a Phrygian cap, and is attacked by the king. Grandville’s composition alludes to the government’s threatening legal decisions, which sought to silence opposition through detention and fines.