Collection Spotlight: Rue Transnonain, on April 15, 1834, Honoré Daumier

Artist: Honoré Daumier (French, 1808–1879)
Title: Rue Transnonain, le 15 Avril 1834 (Rue Transnonain, on April 15, 1834)
Date: 1834
Medium: Lithograph on white wove paper
Dimensions:14 3/8 x 21 5/8 inches
Credit line: Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Gift of Sidney and Vivian Kaplan, 2002.3.18

The central figure of Honoré Daumier’s Rue Transnonain, le 15 Avril 1834 (Rue Transnonain, on April 15, 1834) is a man lying on his back, with his head propped up. He is dead. His white shirt, bunched around his thighs, is not merely dirty—it is bloodstained. He is lying on top of a child, whose  head and little hands are visible among smears of blood. More corpses lay to his left and to his right, hidden in the shadows, revealing the somber aftermath of violence.

Daumier was a French painter and lithographer who rose to prominence amid the tumultuous social and political occurrences of the early 19th century. This striking image, a reflection on a real event, represents a marked difference from his typical work satirizing and commenting on contemporary French life and politics. Daumier frequently contributed to print publications likethe daily Le Charivari and the monthly L’Association mensuelle lithographique, where this print was published six months after the title event in 1834.

His career as a political satirist often reflected the current events of Paris and France as a whole. The 1830s were a period of uncertainty and unrest in France as a popular uprising had ousted Charles X and a new king, Louis-Phillippe, took the throne. Hopes for a more liberal monarchy were dashed when it became apparent that Louis-Phillippe’s reign, known as the July Monarchy, would be marked by corruption and scandal. In 1832, Daumier was imprisoned for six months for depicting the king Louis-Phillippe as Gargantua, a glutton devouring money in exchange for political favor. In addition to corruption, the July Monarchy was also defined by military violence from colonial conflicts in Algeria and the Caribbean to unrest within the state of France. 

In 1831 and again in 1834, silkworkers in Lyon, known as canuts, went on strike, both times to protest reductions in wages. Both strikes resulted in clashes between the military and the workers, many of whom were killed or imprisoned following episodes of bloodshed. During the second revolt, violence spread throughout the country, and the National Guard was called to the streets of Paris in 1834. On April 15, a shot was fired from an upper floor of a building on Rue Transnonain. The National Guard broke in and slaughtered the men, women, and children they found there, marking an already bloody conflict with a particularly horrible act of senseless violence.

“In this image, there is no caricature or witty comment…images carry immense power to both inform and sway public opinion.”

Daumier heard eyewitness accounts of the massacre and tied them together to imagine what the scene of might have looked like after the violence abated. The somber tone of this scene distinguishes Rue Transnonain from the rest of Daumier’s oeuvre of social and political commentary. In this image, there is no caricature or witty comment. Instead, he is using his skill to show the story of what happened on April 15, 1834, on Rue Transnonain, documenting an historical event of government-sponsored violence against its own people. He toes the line between news and art in an era before photography, before instantaneous sharing via social media and the internet. The massacre on Rue Transnonain occurred a full six months before Daumier published this print, yet its impact was still explosive. The stone used to create the print was confiscated; many copies of the image were destroyed. Louis-Phillipe’s continued efforts to censor political caricature is testament to the fact that images carry immense power to both inform and sway public opinion.

– Contributed by Bailey Pekar, Curatorial Intern, 2020–2021



Bibliography

  • Andrews, Naomi. “Selective Empathy: Workers, Colonial Subjects, and the Affective Politics of French Romantic Socialism.” French Politics, Culture and Society 36, no. 1 (March 1, 2018): 1–25. Accessed March 1, 2021. https://doi.org/10.3167/fpcs.2018.360101.
  • Bezucha, Robert J. The Lyon Uprising of 1834 : Social and Political Conflict in the Early July Monarchy. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1974.
  • Cuno, James. “Violence, satire, and social types in the graphic art of the July Monarchy,” in The Popularization of Images: Visual Culture Under the July Monarchy, ed. by Petra ten-Doesschate Chu and Gabriel P. Weisberg. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  • Gregory, Sharon. “The World of Daumier.” The World & I 14, no. 11 (1999). Accessed March 2, 2021. http://search.ebscohost.com.turing.library.northwestern.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=2410402&site=ehost-live.
  • Melot, Michel, and Neil McWilliam. “Daumier and Art History: Aesthetic Judgement/Political Judgement.” Oxford Art Journal 11, no. 1 (1988): 3-24. Accessed March 1, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1360319.
  • Raissis, Peter. “Rue Transnonain, 15 April 1834,” The Art Gallery of New South Wales,Accessed February 25, 2921. https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/90.2012/.

Block Collection Spotlight invites a closer look at objects in the Block Museum permanent collection from students, staff, faculty, and museum audiences


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