Daumier’s Gloomy Aesthete

by Matthew Raley

"The Print Collector," by Honore Victorin Daumier, c. 1857-63, Art Institute of Chicago
"The Print Collector," by Honore Victorin Daumier, c. 1857-63, Art Institute of Chicago

Daumier was a prolific illustrator, so one of his fortes was vigorous characterization. I stumbled across this oil painting today and was struck by the commentary on its subject. Amid the gloom the collector, who gives an impression of age, seems to rest his desultory gaze on a gleaming woman. Has he turned away and then looked back over his shoulder?

The atmosphere is not one of pleasure, but of boredom. The aesthete’s desiccated sensibilities reach for something beyond art for art’s sake.

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