The Construction of Urban Space in Honoré Daumier’s Caricatures

    • Cover Venice
    • Presentation speakers
      • Raphaella Serfaty, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel


    This paper discusses Honoré Daumier’s construction of urban space in his caricatures. Throughout his career Daumier drew hundreds of scenes that took place in the city. I argue that in many of these images, the access to urban space is mediated by the gaze of an observer. I will show that whereas in many cases Daumier depicts the bourgeois urban spectator as struggling to make sense of the city, he presents the comic artist as the one who owns the gaze over the city, who can decipher its meaning, and represent it in image. In these cases, the gaze thus becomes a pictorial device that distinguishes between the identity of the bourgeois and that of the artist, endowing the latter with the position of an omniscient narrator. Yet, as I will demonstrate, Daumier usually does not provide a full picture of the city to the viewer of the caricature; instead, he creates thousands of fragmented, discrete images of urban space, while his artistic practice — that involves publishing caricatures in the satirical press on a daily basis — further cultivates the anecdotal, partial and ephemeral nature of his works. The aim of this paper is to examine the conceptualization of the city in Daumier’s works. Following a review of individual images and the nature of his artistic practice, I will propose that the artist creates “a conceptual panorama:” a panorama that consists of multiple impressions, which are presented serially and accumulated in the mind of the reader into a notion of the modern city. This panorama does not enable a continuous vista and refutes the unity of time and space, but emphasizes the discrete quality embedded in the new, transforming urban space. Consequently, this sort of panorama both reflects and reenacts the urban experience of city dwellers.