My favourite room: Gerald Scarfe

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 29, Winter 2011

Page 80

I love Paris and I love the Musée d'Orsay – a fascinating building that used to be a railway station, and still has the station clock and huge station windows. Within the museum is my favourite room, Salle 4, which contains the work of one of my heroes, the caricaturist Honoré Daumier.

This room in the museum contains Daumier's maquettes, tiny figures made of clay about four inches high. They are caricatures of members of parliament, Les Célébrités du Juste milieu. They were not extremists but average parliamentarians of the time and they supported Louis Philippe who was king of France. Caricature is an offensive art and Daumier was actually gaoled for six months for drawing Louis Philippe.

Daumier was not allowed to draw in parliament. It's the same in our country, although I once had special dispensation from the Serjeant at Arms to sketch Winston Churchill on the last day he was appearing in the House of Commons. The story goes that Daumier, unable to sketch or be seen to be making any images at all, went into parliament with a piece of clay and fiddled with it in his pocket to make tiny caricatures. He would then take them home and make drawings from them for a satirical magazine called Charivari.

The models in Salle 4 were made between 1832 and 1835. There are about 30 and he's painted them – some have red noses. They are just like the types of politicians that I draw myself – stupid, arrogant, snobbish and out for themselves. Luckily I haven't been gaoled like Daumier...

In the end Daumier went blind and died when he was 70. He was an interesting man and like Hogarth – another of my heroes – he wasn't just a caricaturist, he was a painter as well. The museum also houses his paintings and drawings – a favourite subject was Don Quixote. Daumier was also good at depicting the ordinary man-in-the-street. One picture called Le Train de Plaisir shows a train going to the countryside, probably from Gare d'Orsay. There is a crowd of people trying to get onto the train, shoving and pushing. The irony of the 'train of pleasure' is that they are all going somewhere lovely, but the journey is horrible.

Salle 4 is not particularly spectacular, it's a room with glass cases all around, but Daumier's little busts are so unusual and, as they are made of unbaked clay, it's amazing that they haven't crumbled away. I don't think a lot of people know they exist. 

Gerald Scarfe's drawings are featured in Private Eye: The First 50 Years at the V&A, London, on show until 8 January 2012.

Musée d'Orsay, Paris,

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