Lockhart hosts 19th century caricatures

The Lockhart Gallery currently hosts a surprisingly funny and interesting exhibit of the work of the 19th century French caricaturist Honore Daumier. Located inside the McClellan House at 26 Main Street just off campus, the Lockhart Gallery regularly hosts free exhibits of fine art including paintings, sculptures and drawings. Often lectures complementing the exhibits are held on campus.

The current exhibit, "Honore Daumier 1808-2008: Caricature as Social Commentary," is a series of lithographs by Daumier taken from French newspapers. Some are political, while others use humor to comment on important events of the time.

"Nadar Elevating Photography to Art," for example, satirizes the rise of photography during Daumier's lifetime by depicting a man with his camera rising in a hot air balloon and literally elevating photography.

"An Unpleasant Encounter" marks the invention of the steamship by showing one on a collision course with a rowboat, in which one of the rowboat's occupants yells to the other, "Bernardel, Bernardel! Here comes the steamer ... we will sink!"

The best pieces by far, however, are the purely comical works that make timeless jokes. The humorously titled "Everything is Paid for? And We Didn't Insult Anyone … Bye" depicts two drunks saying goodbye to a bartender as they stagger out.

In the equally funny print "Wife … it Bites, it Bites!" an oblivious fisherman looks excitedly toward the water while his wife and another man make love in the bushes.

In another lithograph called "The Desperate Fisherman," a hapless man fishes in a sewer filled with garbage.

The Lockhart Gallery's exhibit on Daumier's work gives an interesting glimpse into a social world that is both familiar and very different. The small black and white prints describe a different time, but much of the humor is just as funny today.

The well-drawn caricatures are, in fact, very similar to the ones seen in today's newspapers, but Daumier's themes are either specific to his time or far more suggestive in content.

After seeing the exhibit, it is easy to see how many of the issues of Daumier's time are relevant to today's world. The exhibit leaves viewers wishing that modern newspapers featured as provocative and even racy drawings as papers did in Daumier's time.

The Daumier exhibit will be shown until Dec. 6 at the Lockhart Gallery. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and noon to 6 p.m. Friday through Saturday. The Gallery's Web site is llbgalleries.geneseo.edu.