DAUMIER’S RUE TRANSNONAIN
Jeremiah S. O’Leary ARTH-110-01
Honore Daumier’s Rue Transnonain captures the politically charged artistic
movement that took royalty caricature to the mainstream. The French monarchy had recently enacted legislation that restricted workers’ union formation, thereby allowing unacceptable working conditions to continue to occur without repercussion. Highranking government ofﬁcials also began slipping work contracts to friends and followers rather than the rightful qualiﬁed citizens. The French took to the streets with a series of riots, culminating in the event that Daumier turned into a lithograph that moved beyond caricature and turned public’s eyes on the horrors that the oppressed, and repressed silk workers of St. Martin experienced ﬁrst hand. The attack took place on April 14, 1834 when the French National Guard, under the command of King Louis Philippe (October 6, 1773 - August 26, 1850), retaliated on civilian silk workers. Rue Transnonain, created in the same year of the attacks, added fuel to an already growing tension between France and the French working force. The violent acts of the French National Guard, while not highly supported or lauded by the public, still would be deemed as acceptable under today’s rules of engagement. The artist’s political agenda, and anti-government opinions, breached upon propaganda and highly inﬂuenced the print’s style in its attempt to escalate the protests themselves. Rue Transnonain, viewed
by many as a reaction to the patriotic sentiments of a Frenchman to his countrymen, may, assuming the French National Guard were well within their right to react, be equivalent to domestic terrorism.
The Rue Transnonain lithograph is housed in a
33.9cm x 46.5cm frame and portrays a dramatic interpretation of the carnage left in the wake of the French National Guard when they dispatched twelve citizens1 occupying a living quarters built for the silk weaver workers. The lithographs shows the deceased silk weavers laid about the ﬂoor of their home. The foreground features empty space, as if the viewer is standing in the doorway seeing the work of the French National Guard for the ﬁrst time. The most prominent ﬁgure is that of a male adult worker, lying dead on the ﬂoor next to his bed, surrounded by two other adult bodies assumed to be his family members. The adult male is seen with his head loosely tilted to the right, with his limbs draped lifelessly around him. Pain and defeat emanates from the silk worker, as he lays, legs naked, with his bedclothes thrown up onto his torso. The body seems simply cast aside, a rumpled sheet and bag of skin sullying Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, ( N e w Yo r k : V i n t a g e B o o k s , 1 9 9 0 ) . 1
the room and its ﬂoors. The French Guard did not even give this man the dignity to die gracefully or humanely. While the silk worker’s body is the most immediate focal point, the most powerful aspect of Rue Transnonain lies below him. The bloody dead body of the man’s infant child, resting beneath him within the pool of blood created from both man and child, is seen as sheltered by his body. Further, on the far left of Rue Transnonain is what appears to be a slain woman, somewhat shrouded in darkness, outside of the light projected into the room by an open doorway. The far right features yet another slain elderly man, possibly the man’s father, lying on his back, mouth partially open. The woman is shoeless. The child has on his night cap. On the right side an overturned chair is visible, suggesting not a struggle, but an effort to either create a defensive position, or a frantic escape from incoming bullets. Regardless of the events that actually transpired in the silk worker’s house, Daumier portrayed it as an unjustiﬁed massacre. The evils of the French government coming down on the innocent working poor. A government that will not...