Honoré Daumier, The Connoisseur, c. 1860-65
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
Daumier spent most of his life drawing for the wide audience reached by France’s popular press. But when he was temporarily let go from the magazine “Le Charivari” in 1860, he began to produce highly finished watercolors designed particularly for collectors. The Paris art market of the late nineteenth century, no longer the exclusive realm of princes and barons, flourished thanks to the keen interest of art-loving lawyers, bankers, industrialists, and merchants. Daumier often pictured the broad spectrum of enthusiasts attending exhibitions or visiting artists’ studios; here he portrayed the model connoisseur engaged in the rapt contemplation of his collection.
The special object of this collector’s appreciation is a tabletop replica of the Venus de Milo, the monumental Greek marble that came to symbolize the beauty of antique art upon its installation in the Louvre in 1821. As if aware of the admiration directed toward her (by the sculpted and painted men in the room as well as by the connoisseur), the statuette returns the collector’s gaze, somewhat impudently, it seems, and with exaggerated body torsion—which was modified in the original sculpture when its upper and lower parts were readjusted in 1883.