A Criminal Case
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Honoré Daumier
French, about 1865
Watercolor and bodycolor, with pen and brown ink and black chalk
15 1/8 x 12 13/16 in.

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An astute observer of human nature and an often biting satirist, Honoré Daumier here masterfully employed watercolor to illustrate the foibles of the French judicial system. Poverty forced Daumier to begin work at an early age; he once took a job as a messenger for the city's law courts, where he was exposed to the complexities and inequities of the legal system. The strong, dramatic, diagonal of this composition focuses the viewer on the accused murderer. He leans over the dock to consult with his lawyer, who clearly controls the exchange, raising his right hand and seizing a sheaf of papers for reference. In contrast to the well-groomed and elegant lawyer, the criminal is wild-eyed and coarse. In the background a guard stands stiffly, oblivious to the exchange before him. In the gray courtroom, the empty space behind the guard suggests an air of anxiousness and uncertainty.

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