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Art Through Time: A Global View

Conflict and Resistance Art: The Legislative Belly

» Honoré Daumier (French, 1808–1879)

The Legislative Belly

The Legislative Belly
Artist / Origin: Honoré Daumier (French, 1808–1879)
Region: Europe
Date: 1834
Period: 1800 CE – 1900 CE
Material: Lithograph
Medium: Prints, Drawings, and Photography
Dimensions: (Image) H: 11 1/8 in. (28.2 cm.), W: 17 1/8 in. (43.5 cm.); (Sheet) H: 13 11/16 in. (34.8 cm.), W: 20 3/16 in. (51.3 cm.)
Location: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rogers Fund.

In his publications La Caricature and Le Charivari, both founded in the early 1830s, Charles Philipon was one of the first editors to successfully bring together journalism and the art of caricature.

Philipon, and others critical of the monarchy in print, were not only fined heavily, but also in some cases arrested on charges of defamation. Philipon was, in fact, in prison when he announced the establishment of L’Association Mensuelle Lithographique, also called L’Association pour la Liberté de la Presse. This association would publish a series of caricatures each month for distribution to regular subscribers. Proceeds from the enterprise would, in turn, go towards paying off fees leveled at Philipon by government censors.

French artist Honoré Daumier was a regular contributor to Philipon’s journals and created works, including The Legislative Belly, for L’Association Mensuelle. Among the recurrent subjects of Daumier’s satiric images was King Louis-Philippe, who assumed the throne in 1830 after a revolution that brought about the abdication of Charles X. The new monarch’s regime was centered on the upper middle class, or bourgeoisie. During Louis-Philippe’s reign, there existed two factions in the legislative body of the Chamber of Deputies—the Center Right, which favored the king’s policies and the concerns of the bourgeoisie, and the Center Left, which sought, in contrast, to restrict the king’s authority.

The Legislative Belly is an unflattering portrait of thirty-five prominent government officials belonging to the Center Right. Daumier’s subtitle for the lithograph has been translated as “Aspect of the Ministerial Benches of the Improstituted Chamber of 1834.” The obese, uninspired, drowsing figures in this lithograph embody the sloth, arrogance, and corruption Daumier associated with the monarchy and its supporters. With his pointed observations, Daumier helped to make art a mainstream forum for social and political critique. Simultaneously, the individualistic and sculptural qualities he brought to his work helped to legitimate the status of the caricature as a fine art.

Expert Perspective:
Christine Giviskos, Associate Curator, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum

“Honore Daumier is well-known as a printmaker, although he was also a sculptor and painter. He lived from 1808 until 1879 and worked in Paris, and he established his career with the lithographs that he made criticizing, satirizing, and caricaturing the government of Louis-Philippe. Louis-Philippe ascended to the throne in 1830. He really wanted to be a monarch in the old style. And Daumier was hired by a publisher named Charles Philipon, who was extremely anti-royalist and his charge to the artists working for his newspapers was to keep the pressure on Louis-Philippe and the legislature. Daumier, in fact, created the prototypes of the caricatures for all of these figures that all of the other artists working for Philipon used. And Daumier and his colleagues were creating lithographs for Philipon’s papers, some of which came out monthly, some of which came out weekly, but sort of their claim to fame was there was an original lithograph in every issue.

Their constant criticism of their actions really led to a lot of vocal criticism of the government, which Louis-Philippe responded to by continually upping the censorship threshold. At first, he decided you can’t publish any images of the king’s face, and so, he was drawn in these cartoons with his face turned away. And then, eventually, the famous pear came to symbolize him. And the word for pear in French not only meant the fruit, but it also meant dodo, or fat head, and so that became a symbol for the king. And eventually, in 1835, the censorship was so steep that one of the publications had to close. But all of this built up to eventually topple Louis-Philippe’s government.”

Additional Resources

”Daumier Collection.” In Collections. The UCLA Hammer Museum Web site. http://hammer.ucla.edu/collections/collections.

“Honoré Daumier: The Legislative Belly (20.60.5).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/prnt2/ho_20.60.5.htm (October 2006).

Kerr, David S. Caricature and French Political Culture, 1830–1848: Charles Philipon and the Illustrated Press. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Loyrette, Henri, et al. Daumier. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

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Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2

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