The Print, the Pear, and the Prostitute: Art, Politics, and Society in 19th-Century France

USA TODAY, August 2006 | Go to article overview

The Print, the Pear, and the Prostitute: Art, Politics, and Society in 19th-Century France


Louis-Philippe, the Orleanist "citizen-king," ruled during the period of France's July Monarchy (1830-48). A devoted husband and father of eight, he promoted the image of a bourgeois family man and defined his rule as representing juste-milieu--the middle ground, "equally distant from the abuses of royal power and the excesses of popular power."

His popularity, however, was short-lived. Relentlessly assaulted by caricaturists and even brought up on charges of lese-majeste--violating the dignity of the king; he was sentenced to prison for six months and fined 2,000 francs for the offense--Louis-Philippe saw his reign end with the Revolution of 1848. Forced into exile, he died in England in 1850 at age 77.

Perhaps his most pointed and famous critic was Honore-Victorin Daumier (1808-79), whose long and prolific career spanned both the July Monarchy and the Second Empire (1852-70). The work of Daumier, as well as that of Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Auguste Bouquet, Paul Gavarni, Auguste Desperret, and Jean Ignace Isidore Gerard (known as Grandville), among others, will be on display in "The Print, the Pear, and the Prostitute: Art Politics, and Society in 19th-Century France."

The exhibition--on view at Amherst (Mass.) College's Mead Art Museum through Aug. 20--ranges from satirical representations of King Louis-Philippe, depicted as a fat-headed pear, to images of the various types of women who defined 19th-century Parisian society. At the time, political and social caricature in France was considered more dangerous than the printed word.

Auguste Desperret, "Untitled," hand-colored lithograph (1833).

Atop three cages, Louis-Philippe sits with his back to the viewer in order to preserve anonymity; however, the toupee, whiskers, and pear shape reveal his identity. The three cages represent the Parisian prisons of Blaye, Ste. Pelagie, and La Force; the King, as jailor, grips the keys in his hand. Imprisoned in the upper cage is the Duchesse de Berri, daughter-in-law of Charles X and the mother of five-year-old legitimist pretender Henri V. Her aspirations for her son's ascension to the throne threatened Orleanist rule, so she was incarcerated. The print mocks the fact that Louis-Philippe actually was in favor of prison reform. For artists of the time who had been imprisoned for their political caricatures, the prison theme was imbued with a sense of the loss of freedom in a society that supposedly valued liberty for all.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Auguste Bouquet, "The Pear's Whiskers/Favorites," hand-colored lithograph (1833).

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