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Honoré Daumier - Don Quichotte

by Alexandra Tuschka

The Frenchman Daumier can undoubtedly be called one of the greatest caricaturists of European art. It is often forgotten that he was not only able to package his social criticism ironically, but was very capable of serious pictorial themes. This late painting seems to move at an interface. At first glance, one does not quite know who one is looking at here - is this "Don Quiotte" a figure of fun or an abstracted hero?

Perhaps he is both. Perhaps this is why Daumier's depiction is so apt: although Don Quiotte perceives himself as a noble and strong knight, he ultimately wages his battles against herds of mutton, hoses, and - the famous - windmills.

His self-perception is signaled by the upright posture, the helmet proudly tucked under his arm, and the lance raised high, even bursting the edge of the picture. The face is not present; possibly an expression of his madness. Moreover, this strong abstraction is to be understood as an invitation - the viewer may grin and imagine the proud expression on the man's face.

On the horizon, a fuzzy outline can still be seen: possibly Don Quiotte's faithful follower Sancho Panza follows here, at some distance. The horse Rosinante and also the gaunt legs of the rider remind of the exaggerated form representations of a caricature. The horse clumsily puts one step in front of the other; it almost seems to tip over forward.

The efficiency that Daumier learned in the course of his graphic training is also applied here: With only sparse means, few outlines and strong colors, Daumier creates an atmospheric and cleverly exhilarating painting.

Honoré Daumier - Don Quichotte

Oil on canvas, ca. 1868, 51 x 32 cm, Neue Pinakothek in Munich


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