This being my day off, I got up late, but eventually hopped on a few trains (I’m becoming very good at this) and wound up in Itami City, in neighbouring Hyogo. It’s a fairly nondescript bedroom community (in fairness, though, parts of it were severely damaged in the 1995 earthquake), but it does have a small, cosy museum (which, of course, I forgot to photograph) which occasionally hosts small, affordable shows (I don’t think I’ve ever seen the permanent collection). The one at present is a collection of lithographs by the French cartoonist, Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), to celebrate his bicentenary.
Now, Daumier has been one of my heroes for as long as I can remember. What he does with charcoal and pens is amazing – and still funny. Some of the lithographs (for Parisian magazines of the mid-19th century) are over 170 years old, yet you still give a smile of recognition when you look at them. Not that I’ve ever seen many of these cartoons before (even online) – he’s more famous for his political cartoons, savaging whoever happened to be king or emperor in France at any given moment. This show is called “Daumier and the Human Condition” and deals mostly with his parodies of middle-class life in Paris (and that of the poor, whom these nouveaux-riches tried so studiously to ignore). The situations he portrays are universal – the exhausted new parents whose baby kept them up all night (some of the best stuff is the muttering of the put-upon fathers and husbands – “Babies? They’re a gift from the devil!”); the father who takes his son on an outing only to have the kid REFUSE to get into the pool (I note that in 1839, all the fat/skinny, bow-legged/knock-kneed men in the cartoons are wearing what look to be baggy, Ocean-Pacific-surferdood swim trunks, c. 2008, not the striped body-stocking they always show men wearing in the movies: was that introduced when pools ceased to be segregated by sex?); a very smartly-dressed young couple lounging fashionably in their supremely tasteful drawing room, both giving uncontrolled, wide-open yawns (caption: married six months).
(NB – This fragment was written in September, 2008, and was the first half of a review of a two-part exhibition. I was planning to go to the second half of the exhibition, which ran October-December, but went to Canada in October instead and completely forgot about it when I came back)