Art Of The Day

On This Day in 1837, This satirical cartoon by Honoré Daumier was published in the French journal Le Carivari.

Starring Robert Macaire, this image was part of a series of illustrations created by Daumier to humorously critique contemporary French culture. Originally created by playwright Benjamin Antier, Robert Macaire was a character that embodied the trope of the unscrupulous swindler with swag. Initially, Antier’s play “l’Auberge des Adrets” cast Robert-Macaire as an archetypal villain. However, the play was a flop. Actor Frédérick Lemaître revived this seedy sycophant as a comic figure, propelling Robert Macaire to popularity. For the French, crime suddenly became funny, defying the longstanding belief that criminal offenses should be treated seriously and punished.

Daumier expanded on Antier’s play and cast the Robert Macaire character in a variety of situations and professions. In this image, Robert Macaire poses as a professor. Here’s what he is saying to the crowd, translated from the French:

“Here’s an example. Buy a new process, it doesn’t matter which, or whether it’s good or bad, buy it for 600F, 500F, 25F, for as little as possible. Create 500’000F worth of shares, as many as possible. Make out monster advertisements, monster posters, monster promises. Make the capital, pocket it, put the key under the door, file your bankruptcy papers, that’s to say the company’s papers…that’s the end of that little game. You then go on to another.”

Based in the faces of the audience, what do you suppose these listeners think of this statement? Does the man standing behind Robert Macaire agree?

Honoré Daumier

obert-Macaire professeur l’industrie (Robert-Macaire professor of industry), Plate 23 from the series Caricaturana, published January 29, 1837 in Le Charivari

, 1837
Lithograph, 8 x 10 ¾ in. (20.32 x 27.31 cm)
Gift of Owen and Leone Elliott, 1967.66