Honoré Daumier
The Republic

The Republic
Honoré Daumier (1808-1879)
The Republic
1848
Oil on canvas
H. 73; W. 60 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

La République [The Republic]


The Republic was proclaimed on 24 February 1848. A new political regime had begun. The official image of the State had to be changed. A competition was launched on 14 March to define the "painted face of the republic". Contestants had to present a sketch, which would be exhibited at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts from 5 to 8 April. Over 700 artists entered the contest including Flandrin, Picou, Gérôme and Daumier. At the time Daumier was virtually unknown except as a caricaturist for Charivari, but his sketch drew much comment. At first it was seen as a "big woman dotted with children", close in its inspiration to Andrea Del Sarto's Charity on display at the Royal Museum, a mother nursing powerful toddlers, holding the tricolour flag in her hand and wearing the Phrygian hat on her head. The child sitting at her feet, reading, was much admired. This "big woman" summed up an ideal, that of a strong republic, nourishing and educating her children. A "fertile, serene and glorious" republic claiming its descent from the first great republic which had abolished slavery; the republic whose flag had circled the world. Daumier was placed eleventh and should have taken part in the final phase of the contest. He did not do so and the work remained a sketch.


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