A small gallery on the top floor of the house features the work of Honoré Daumier and Patrick Oliphant. It is a small display–four works by Daumier and five by Oliphant–and will be on view through the Presidential Inauguration in 2013. Oliphant earned the ire of more than a few of those in power with his crafty drawings, and he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1966. After nearly 50 years, he is still producing his visual commentaries on world events.
Daumier, however, received no accolades during his lifetime for his caricatures, paintings and sculptures satirizing contemporary life. Instead he was imprisoned for months for his troubles. He didn’t let that stop him. One could simply change the title to Senate or House or Congress of his lithograph Le Ventre Legislatif (1884), and it would resonate today. By comparison, Oliphant’s Naked Nixon (1905) would have definitely landed him in prison back in Daumier’s day.
Honoré Daumier was one of Duncan Phillips’s favorite painters. He often cited The Uprising (1848 or later) as the greatest work in the collection. For Oliphant, Daumier is a personal hero, and he has portrayed himself next to The Uprising studying it with astonishment (or perhaps he is listening to it, hoping to hear advice or encouragement). Pat Oliphant’s work can also be seen at the National Portrait Gallery, which has about 90 of his drawings and sculptures in its collection.
The next time you glance at the political cartoon on the editorial page of your newspaper, remember that this powerful art form was at the birth of modern art.
Ianthe Gergel, Museum Assistant