The Definitively Unfinished Daumier

daumier_man_on_a_rope, ca. 1858-60, 431/2 by 281/2 inches.

“….two extraordinary large canvases of a man climbing a rope possibly depict a wall whitewasher, and the chalky, rough and flaky surface of the canvases would play to that notion. But the suspended man has a resonance for all precarious human conditions; he might be a fugitve scaling a prison wall, or a picaresque lover climbing to a castle window. The meaning of the work is demonstrably urgent, yet itself tenuous, strained and ambiguous as the anonymous silhouette of the man. These two laboured, definitively unfinished pictures….end up being about suspense itself: their own suspension of meaning, the dependency of content upon form, the artist’s grim determination to hold to a thread of narrative and the viewer’s inevitable clutching at interpretative straws.” ~ Merlin James

I was lucky enough to stumble upon an old (May 2000) edition of ‘Art in America‘, in a charity shop, which contains an excellent review, written by Artist, Merlin James, of an Honore Daumier Retrospective, at the Philips Collection, in the USA.

James, who is an artist and writer i admire, obviously relishes his subject. The article not only contains some truly inspired insights into Daumier’s practice, it is also liberally illustrated throughout with references to many specific drawings, paintings and sculpted works, themselves reproduced.

The above excerpt provides a flavour of James’ writing and the nature of his exploration of Daumier and his work – who he finds “to have been more radical in some ways than either Monet or Cezanne“.

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