Gargantua

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Honore Daumier, Gargantua, 1831

If you have the appetite for snarky satire that this king has for peasants and bags of money, then you may end up liking the works of Honoré Daumier. Although the Marseille-born artist certainly has more sinister works (see Trasnonain Street for proof), Daumier cloaks his more caustic gibes in humorous political cartoons.

Daumier bases his study on novelist François Rabelais's character Gargantua, an obscenely large man of certain repugnant (here unmentionable) habits with which a king would not have wanted to be associated. The unflattering image shows citizens with baskets of currency lining up before a walkway to feed their insatiable king. Daumier created this lithograph in response to the king's allowing himself an unreasonably high salary at the expense of more humanitarian expenditures, and he represents the government that absorbs the lower class's money and destroys their livelihoods.  The figure, King Louis-Philippe I, clearly overrules the policymakers in his request, although a little pyramid of competitors for favor has formed beneath the walkway, reflecting the government's fickle sliminess.  Many, incidentally, seem to sport his same garb and triangular hairstyle.  Unfortunately, Daumier's cartoon did not amuse the French authorities who ordered his arrest and subsequent six-month imprisonment. Their timely arrival on scene stopped the work's publication in the satirical subversive humor magazine La Caricature.

The art here resembles that of Monty Python's cartoons, with their strange, often voluptuous body shapes, liberally applied shadows, and almost grotesque facial expressions. The king has strange hair and body shape and a somewhat vacant look.  All other subjects in the painting pale in comparison to his deformed largess. If the scrambling mini-politicians are idiots, then he is the king idiot. Daumier shows an absent, stupid leader who even in dress is no different than the avaricious politicians below him. The platform propped upon the potbelly slopes strangely to supplement the surrealism of the rest of the painting, underscoring that the institution shown is unnatural and must be corrected. While not aesthetically perfect, Gargantua takes its own eccentricity in its stride to portray Daumier's ridiculous world of bourgeoisie rule.

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