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Posts Tagged ‘daumier’

Steve Bell, The Guardian, 7 May 2009

The ever-brilliant Steve Bell (in spite of what the occasional moaners about his ‘toilet’ humour in the comments section on the Guardian site might say) has, once again, pushed the boundaries for editorial cartooning with today’s image.

His cartoon is a response to the attempts by pro-Israeli lobbyists to put a halt to changes in the White House’s Middle East policy. Bell himself explains the basis for the image thus, as part of the body of comments made on the cartoon:

Just a point of information. Moeran is quite right. This is a photograph I took of the Qalandia, or Kalandia checkpoint on the north side of Jerusalem. All Palestinian inhabitants of the northern West Bank (should they be fortunate enough to get a pass) have to come through this thing in order to get to Jerusalem. Thus a large proportion of the working population in the Arab part of Jerusalem are detained for at least an hour, morning and evening, longer, or for much longer depending on the whim of the security forces. As you can see it is not a pleasant place to be. It reminded me of a meat processing facility. There are checkpoints like this all over the West Bank, though perhaps not as solidly built as Qalandia.

I do not want to get into the politics of this image one way or another in this discussion of it. What interests me here, rather, is how Bell takes his frequent habit of reproducing – and détourning – photographic images in his cartoons to the next level, by using an actual photograph (which, as the quote above demonstrates, he himself took) and subverting it in order to make his point. Curiously enough, the sheer reality of the image, in all its photographic starkness, reminds me of a justly famous and equally political lithograph – Daumier’s ‘Rue Transnonain, 15 April 1834’, drawn in the wake of the brutal suppression of a riot in Paris.
Daumier, Rue Transnonain

As I noted above, Bell’s detractors may (without reason, I feel) criticise what they perceive as his reliance on ‘toilet humour’ (‘scatological’ is just that bit better a word, isn’t it?) – but to me he consistently takes his cartooning, and the very idea of what constitutes cartooning, in different, intriguing directions. Today’s image is another clear example of that.

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Daumier's 'Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries'

Ah, the joy of the first proper post. I sat for a bit, pondering which of the many cartoons I have come across would be ideal to start off with. And then I realised that the answer was right in front of me – in the header on this page, in fact.

In most situations, the received wisdom tells you to write about what you know. Being a French cartoon from 1848, I know this image rather well at this stage. It features in my thesis, has turned up in several of my papers, and is probably the most famous cartoon to come out of the Second Republic (the various representations of Napoleon III and his promoter Ratapoil aside, but more about them in due course). In February 1848 several days of street fighting in Paris escalated into a revolution, replacing the constitutional monarchy with France’s second attempt at a republic. This cartoon appeared on 4 March 1848 in the French satirical daily Le Charivari, and was drawn by that paper’s most famous contributor, Honoré Daumier. Its title, ‘Le Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries’, loosely translates as ‘The Parisian kid at the Tuileries Palace’. The caption, in a similarly loose translation, means ‘Oh! it’s so comfy here!’

Those are the basic facts, though this is by no means a basic image. In it, Daumier, a committed moderate republican, offers his support to the newly-founded Second French Republic by portraying the revolutionary people of Paris in a joyous, friendly, non-threatening way. The image purports to depict a scene from the invasion by the revolutionary crowd of the Tuileries palace in central Paris following the abdication of the king, Louis-Philippe.

At the heart of the image is the classic nineteenth-century figure of the gamin de Paris or ‘Parisian kid’, seen perhaps most famously in Delacroix’s painting of the 1830 revolution, ‘Liberty Leading the People’ and in the character of Gavroche in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. The gamin is a street kid, a mixture of mischief and decency who turns up in a lot of contemporary images of revolutionary activity. While it can be argued – particularly by those keen on the idea of Daumier as a constant advocate of left-wing ideas – that the gamin represents the final triumph of the people over monarchical rule, it is also clear that his purpose here is to lend the revolution, and particularly the republic it created, a cheerful, friendly face. Revolutionary activity is, according to this cartoon, less a matter of bloodshed, violence and wanton destruction than a pleasant, mildly raucous street party to which everyone is invited.

In the context of the early days of the Republic, the promotion of this rather happy-clappy image of the revolution and the new regime was of key importance in ensuring its future survival, given the violent connotations the idea of the republic had acquired in France as a result of the Terror during the first Revolution. The Second Republic, keen to distance itself from the dictatorial reputation of Robespierre and his contemporaries, needed to bring the majority of the French populace round to its side in other ways. Negating the presence of violence and control in representations of the republic’s founding moment, the government felt, would be a key part of this process.

What is also intriguing about this image in a more general sense is its status as a cartoon of high quality issued in support of the powers that be. Usually, good satire is oppositional satire (and usually left-wing, at that). Of course, there’s always the matter of whether ‘Le Gamin de Paris aux Tuileries’ even counts as satire at all. But that’s another discussion entirely…

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