Honoré Daumier

Honoré Daumier (Marseilles 1808 - 1879 Valmondois, Val d’Oise)

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, c.1865

Oil on paper laid down on canvas, 25.3 x 20.1 cm
Monogrammed lower left h.D. (incised in the wet paint)

Provenance:
Ralebjan
Jungers, Paris (?)
Georges Petit, Paris (January 1923)
Paul Rosenberg, Paris
Sam Salz, New York
Knoedler & Co., New York
Duncan Phillips, Washington, D.C. (loan to the ‘Corot-Daumier’ exhibition at MOMA in 1930)
The Carstairs Gallery
Stanley N. Barbee, Beverly Hills
Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York, auction sale [The Stanley N. Barbee Collection], 20 April 1944, lot 15
Herman Schulman, New York
Herman Schulman Estate, Israel (1944)
Private collection, England

Exhibited:
L’École française du XIXe siècle, Geneva, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, 1918, no. 48
Daumier-Gavarni, Paris, Maison Victor Hugo, 1923, no. 10 (?)
Corot-Daumier, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 16 October-23 November 1930, no. 49
Daumier: Visions of Paris, London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2013, 26 October 2013-26 January 2014, no. 104

Literature:
Duncan Phillips, A Collection still in the Making, New York 1927, plate XIII
Alexandre Arsène, Daumier. Maîtres de l'art moderne, Paris 1928, plate XLVII
Eduard Fuchs (ed.), Der Maler Daumier, 2nd, enlarged edition with supplement, Munich 1930, p. 52, plate CLXII
Karl Eric Maison, Honoré Daumier: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Watercolors, and Drawings, I, London 1968, I-172, plate CLI
Pierre Georgel and Gabriele Mandel, Tout l’Oeuvre Peint de Daumier, Paris 1972, no. 231
Johannes Hartau, Honoré Daumier. Don Quijote: Komische Gestalt in großer Malerei, Frankfurt 1998

 

Honoré Daumier created a significant number of drawings and paintings based on the novel El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha which Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) published in two parts in 1605 and 1615. Along with the theatre and the legal profession, the absurd ‘heroic deeds’ of the self-appointed nobleman are therefore one of the significant themes in Daumier’s oeuvre. While a fascination with fictitious material may at first seem strange for an artist so firmly committed to Realism, the connecting link lies in the pleasure Daumier took in caricature, which can highlight certain aspects of human behaviour in a particularly telling way. It is all the more surprising that these works were little known during Daumier’s lifetime and have only gradually been rediscovered since.

Cervantes’s hero Don Quixote lives in the illusory world of the courtly romance. He embarks with the utmost bravado on a series of supposed adventures that generally end disastrously for him, exposing him to ridicule. He is accompanied on his sorties by his ‘groom’ Sancho Panza, a peasant who is his master’s opposite in every respect. The dissimilarities between the two of them – the short, fat, down-to-earth peasant on the stocky donkey and his lean, lanky, day-dreaming master on his emaciated mare – must have stimulated Daumier’s sense of comedy and caricature to an extreme. The tragicomic universal hero he found in the character of Don Quixote oscillates between reality and fantasy, incapable of distinguishing ideals from facts.

Daumier presented his first study based on an episode in Cervantes’s novel at the Paris Salon in January 1851. It was an oil on panel titled Don Quixote on the Way to Don Camacho’s Wedding.[1] In the twenty years that followed he repeatedly produced variations on the Don Quixote theme, representing Don Quixote alone, together with Sancho Panza, riding out as knight errant and ‘groom’, in repose and in a wide range of episodes that often involve Don Quixote’s nag Rosinante. He frequently altered situations described in the novel to suit his own ideas or departed from the narrative. He also depicted the subject of the present oil – Sancho following Don Quixote on one of his sorties – in a number of drawings, although many of these show the two men side by side. The present painting depicts a different situation: Don Quixote can be seen far off in the distance, his eye-catching silhouette outlined against the blue sky, while the bulky figure of his faithful companion Sancho occupies the foreground.

The Burrell Collection in Glasgow[2] holds a variant that is compositionally almost identical to the present painting, although in the Glasgow version Rosinante is depicted cantering while here she is shown in full gallop. Both works present a very similar portrayal of Don Quixote’s loyal companion Sancho, who can be seen far behind on his donkey, his head tilted forward, resigned to his fate. Due to the use of asphaltum, the Glasgow painting has darkened noticeably and displays extensive areas of craquelure, whereas the present painting is astonishingly fresh and the brushwork visibly looser. The combination of delicate interior modelling, translucent glazes and areas of impasto endows the small painting with tremendous energy and presence.

The Daumier literature offers divergent approaches to the dating of the work. However, comparison with the variants[3] points to a date of execution of circa 1864-5, making this painting one of the earlier versions.


[1] Maison I-33, dated c.1850.

[2] Maison no. I-171.

[3] A further variant thought to have been executed somewhat later is based on these two versions. Its style is smoother (Maison no. I-206, 1866-8) than that of the present painting, with its rapid, somewhat cursory execution. In the variant, the distant rider is no higher up than Sancho Panza, but his gaunt silhouette – a feature Daumier liked to bestow on him – still contrasts sharply with a view of a light-filled mountain valley. Two horizontal-format versions of the motif (Maison I-207 and Maison II-47) derive from this later variant.

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