This is the fourth blog post in our series about about a Grand Tour of Paris with Victor Hugo in the nineteenth century. Here we talk about the hot spots for French politics and political satire.
Honore Daumier, “Victor Hugo,” from Le Charivari 20 July 1849. In the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 54.557.7. Creative Commons Zero.
Daumier, political satire, and Hugo's Paris
The rise of the press in the long 19th century created some of history’s most fascinating political caricatures and the darkest critique to be drawn, and Honore Daumier (1808-1879) was certainly at the forefront. A powerhouse of this era, the cartoonist Daumier was the master of French satire. And Victor Hugo’s distinctive visage did not escape Daumier’s pen. Here Hugo is depicted thinking. The caption reads:
On vient de lui poser une question grave, il se livre à des réflexions sombres - la réflexion sombre peut seule éclaircir la question grave ! - aussi est-il le plus sombre de tous les grands hommes graves !
[We have just asked him a serious question, he is engaged in deep reflections - deep reflection alone can shed light on the serious question! - is he also the most somber of all great somber men!]
France in 1849 was a political maelstrom, having just been through the upheaval of the Revolutions of 1848, and Daumier captured the mood of the time in Hugo’s concerned expression.
Hugo was not specifically a satirist, and to fully understand the debate that Daumier brings up in the cartoon, it helps to realize the importance of the satirical cartoon overall to the way that Parisians understood (and understand) current events.
Daumier certainly influenced Hugo. By the late 1840s, Hugo's thoughts had parted ways from the conservatives as he began to express the misery of the lower classes in his writing. If you were in Paris during this decade, you were aware of Daumier and his constant ridicule of the rise of the bourgeois.
In The Curio of Norfolk’s collection, we have another of Daumier’s works from Le Chiavari: "The New St. Sebastian," 1849.
This is a political cartoon imagining politician and opera diector Louis-Desire Veron, who called himself Doctor but was not a doctor, as the saint shot with arrows St. Sebastian. Veron was known as an opportunistic gadfly about town displaying the newest of bourgeois fashions at all the most chic restaurants after seeing the theater that was certain to provide him just the right kind of... well, he was a showman. The bulbous and pock-marked nose and rotund midsection all point to a man in perfect health.
There are so many questions when looking at this piece...
Who is the small man with the oddly placed quiver who is shooting the corpulent (and usually poshly peripatetic) Doctor who is uncharacteristically donning a Plebeian cap as if he lives the life of a common man?
Why is the self-styled Docteur Veron, founder of the La Revue de Paris and Le Constitutionel which were both crucial to the election of Bonaparte, depicted as St. Sebastian, the patron saint of archers (obviously), soldiers, the plague stricken, and athletes?
Was Daumier hinting at something else? Le Charivari was a French daily satirical magazine, the title meaning a ritualistic roast of someone to celebrate a marriage. There must be more to this story...
What is certain, however, was that in February 1849, Daumier was commissioned by Beaux-Arts to do any work of his choosing, and by 1852, he had produced Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, which the Musée d’Orsay describes as “possibly a metaphor for the fate of the Second Republic.” In fact, it seems that the role has been switched. The wretched Empire France seems to be shot with arrows by a flying assassin that vaguely resembles the rotund Veron, representative of the flaws of the republic.
For fun, we pictured our "The New St. Sebastian" with Bernard de Montfaucon's Balistes (Crossbows) from L'Antiquité expliquée et representée, Vol IV: Qui comprend la guerre, les ponts, les aqueducs, la navigation, les phares & les tours octogones, published in Paris in 1719.
We have since matted and framed this and four other related prints we have gathered from the book into a lovely series. Bernard de Mountfaucon, who was confessor to Kings Louis XIV and XV, died and was buried where Rene Descartes thought, was, and, after he could be no longer, was buried - at The Abbey of Saint-Germain-de-Prés.
The Hugo Tour, Part IV: The Swamp - Le Marais
Rue Transnonian to Rue Beauborg
But, let us cross the Seine and see a different side of Paris. Take a pause at the site of Daumier’s most famous work Rue Transnonain, the site of the massacre of April 15th, 1834. Originally put in the window of the publisher of Le Charivari, La Maison Aubert at 38 Galerie Véro-Dodat in the 1st arrondissement, it attracted a crowd and the attention of the police.
Officials literally confiscated the press and began destroy all impressions of it. As a result of this exposure of unlawful and despicable political violence upon the people, Louis-Philippe's made political caricatures illegal, and in one hissy-fit made art and free speech illegal... until that touchy leader was deposed in 1848. This impression at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a very rare survivor of the massacre.
Honore Daumier “Rue Transnonain, le 15 April 1834.” Originally published in Association Mensuelle. In the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 20.23
In 1851, this street was absorbed (and its power of its name doomed) into a new street, Rue Beaubourg, which means beautiful town. The French love irony. This street was at one point Rue Trace-Putain: Find-a-Whore Street. Erased because Veron and his ilk wanted it erased without a trace.
But if you look up at the corner of rue Beaubourg and rue Chapon, you will find the original street sign chiseled into the side of a survivor from the Middle Ages. The demolition was not instantaneous as this image from 1907 showing the former site of Rue Transnonain in a state of reconstruction at the corner of Rue Michel Le Comte.
If you can still stomach it, on the narrow street in between these two is Paris’s oldest restaurant-hotel, L'Auberge Nicolas Flamel at 51, rue Montmorency in the 3rd arrondissement. Flamel was a noted scribe and seller of manuscripts - and a real-life alchemist of Harry Potter fame in the first book The Sorcerer's Stone (more appropriately called The Philosopher's Stone in the UK). Dating from 1407, you dine with white tablecloths, silver, and ancient exposed beams overhead. The wine list is expansive, and they are known for their fois gras.
After your meal, descend into the swamp...
On the Paris's "Insalubrious Island Number One," "îlot insalubre parisien no. 1," is the site of a modern masterpiece (or eyesore, depending on which Parisian you ask) that was designed in the 1970s by Renzo Piano and Richard Rodgers: the modern art center Le Centre Georges Pompidou.
Le Centre Pompidou is a multi-use building with a theater and floors and floors of art from early 20th century masters to today, and, unfortunately, a restaurant which mostly features a good view. The unusual building is nicknamed "Beaubourg" to continue the legacy of the least beautiful neighborhood in Paris.
For a bit of dining that is something more for the people, perhaps the spot where Leon Trotsky waxed politic with other Russians in exile, try Les Philosophes at 28, rue Vieille du Temple in the 4th arrondissement. This establishment has been in continuous operation but is now under the watchful gaze of Xavier Denamur, founder of the Slow Food movement.
Under Denamur, Les Philosophes is essentially well-sourced food prepared traditionally for the same price you'd pay at the place that uses the microwave or does not keep their milk at the right temperature. The duck breast is simply divine, and the wine by the glass list is always changing and always good. The design is something else, down the typically steep set of stairs to get to les toilettes underneath, you will find the world's strangest place for a bookstore. Ask at the bar when you are done and they will bring it to your table and add it to your bill. Make like a Parisian and sit for a long while with a book in one hand and a fork in another.
Where to stay? Nearby to the Marais, and on the Île Saint Louis (also in the 4th arrondissement) is a historical hotel of interest, Hotel du Jeu de Paume, located at the center of the island at 54, rue Saint Louis en l'île. This island was once two: Île Notre Dame and Île aux Vaches, the Island of our Lady and the Island of Cows, and they were married in 1614.
Jeu de paume was the indoor tennis of Tennis Court Oath of Versailles Fame, and this was the last operating seventeenth century royal court in the capital. Built in 1634 by Louis XIII, it was no longer used for “real tennis,” as by 1747 as the rage had passed. The staff is more than hospitable, especially dear Laurent, the poodle that likes to greet you at the door.
More Paris with Hugo tour tips coming soon! Check back for our next blog post.