Honoré Daumier had an eye for the details of his era and a wink at the timeless foibles of politics and society, he excelled at this by pricking the pretensions of 19th century France.
As for artists, Daumier might have said,
'there's always the possibility of transforming disappointment into delight.'
The primary purpose of his art work was to show the brutality of the French government while dealing with the working class, dedicating much of his life and art to social realism. Concentrating on the inequities between the classes, and atrocities committed by the government. Daumier mocked those in power, mostly in lithographs for the newspaper Cariacture Even his boss, activist publisher Charles Philipon, was the subject of caricature. But the king was Daumier's first great theme, and while King Louis Phillippe did have Rue Transnonain confiscated, the most nefarious cartoon was The King on the Pot, which landed Daumier in jail for six months, plus a 500-franc fine, thousands in today's dollars.
Despite serving time in prison for the content of his political cartoons, Daumier continued to criticize the French government,and this is where the true meaning of the Rue Transnonain lies.
French workers rioted in April of 1834 because of harsh working conditions and a new law forbidding the formation of Unions for workers. Because of an sniper's bullet a French Police Officer was killed and the reckless retaliation by the Police many innocent people were killed. It is this event that was the source of inspiration for this particular lithograph published in L'Association Mensuelle.
Unlike his earlier work, there is a total absence of caricature. Instead, the victims are portrayed with realism and similar to Francisco Goya's The Third of May, 1808 as a depiction of harsh social reality. Daumier's ideas of using art as political commentary creates a sharp, realistic angle of vision. Rue Transnonain is also important because the central dead adult was appropriated from Eugéne Delacroix's earlier revolutionary image Liberty Leading the People(1830). More than likely, the contemporary French audience would have noticed how the prostrate figure in Daumier's image is placed in a similar pose to that of Delacroix's dead man in the right foreground below the allegorical figure.
However, we are not shown the dramatic moment of execution but the terrible aftermath. The broken scattered forms lying in the midst of violent disorder, are reported as if newly found. Duamier uses every device of skill he can muster to make the situation real letting the harsh facts speak for themselves. It was obvious and evident, there was no need for interpretation from the artist. The army had rushed in and indiscriminately murdered these people. The gravity of the figure of the man, who has fallen onto his child-- he's dead; the child dead-- and the intimacy of this domestic room was profoundly moving to people. At first glance one sees the initial scene of a man in his pajamas lying dead against his bed, then the viewer is drawn to pay closer attention to the work. there is a baby crushed under the man with just its head and arms coming out from under the weight of this man. There is a pool of blood forming from the baby which intends to play on the viewers sympathy eliciting violent emotions of hatred towards the murderers who took the lives of these innocent people so obviously sleeping as indicated by the attire and disarray of the bed. The scenario is used by Daumier to elicit strong emotion and a need for social reform. The print's significance is in its factualness. What was new this time in art was the increasing artistic bias toward using fact as subject. Daumier's manner is rough and spontaneous; carrying expressive exaggeration as part of its remarkable force. He is true to life in content, but his style is uniquely personal.
Despite his high standing among other artists, the poet Charles Baudelaire called him the,'Michelangelo of caricature.' Daumier spent much of his life in debt and when things got too hot for politics, he would turn to safer subjects. We see a tremendous interest in not as an illustrator, not to describe incidents in the book in any detail at all, unlike his contemporaries, but instead his desire to express their human experience. For example, in Miguel de Cervantes' book about human experience, the aspirations of Don Quixote, and then the human folly that the book contains. Daumier finds as a subject for lampooning Don Quixote, a wonderful symbol and image for the political cartoonist and his talented social satire -- the familiar, the tilting of the windmills, the idealism, the line, the uplift of the lanky, elongated form, and then there is Sancho Panza who was, down in the dirt, in the muck of the earth. In true satire there is always a display of disappointment in the world.
Honoré Daumier aided, abetted and recorded the emergence of so many aspects of modern art and life as we know it.
De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.