Honoré Daumier
(Marseille, 1808-1879, Valmondois)
The Free Performance, ca. 1843/45
Oil on panel, 55.5 x 44.5 cm
Signed lower right: H. Daumier
Maison, II-46
When in 1816 the family of the framemaker and restorer of pictures Jean-Baptiste Daumier moved from Marseilles to Paris, their son Honoré was eight years old. In 1819 he witnessed the brief success of his father as a dramatist. In 1820/21 the thirteen-year-old "saute-ruisseau" is a messenger-boy for an attorney and wanders about the streets of Paris; later, he becomes a clerk for a bookseller in the Palais-Royal, then filled with sales booths and teeming with activity. All these experiences prooved vastly more important for Daumier's later career than his apprenticeship with a certain Lenoir and his studies in the Académie Suisse, where, except for working from a live model, not much could be learned. Daumier's sharply perceptive eye, quick to seize upon the typical feature, drew him into drawing, to lithography, then becoming widely used, to political caricature, with which he championed the cause of justice and political liberty. The painter and the sculptor in him had to wait, he had first to earn his bread.
"The Free Performance", as all Daumier experts agree, despite the lack of definite dates, belongs at the beginning of the 1840s. What Daumier had early and often observed is here impressively expressed: People pressing together in the gallery of a theatre who do not want to miss anything of what is happening on the stage, nine persons pushing and shoving, an inextricable plastic mass, accented only by the silhouette of a young woman and the highlighted head of a man. The turquoise dress of the woman in front and the red plush of the railing are the main chromatic elements.