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On a Bridge at Night

Honoré Daumier ( between 1845 and 1848 )

Collection item 0377
  • Period Nineteenth-Century
  • Materials Oil on wood panel
  • Object Number 0377
  • Dimensions 10 3/4 x 8 5/8 in.; 27.305 x 21.9075 cm.; Framed: 17 3/8 in x 15 3/8 in x 3 1/4 in; 44.13 cm x 39.05 cm x 8.26 cm
  • Credit Line Acquired 1922

Duncan Phillips once referred to On a Bridge at Night as “one of the most perfect examples of pictorial art purged of all irrelevance”, a touching tribute to the artist Phillips held in the highest esteem. Daumier painted several austere scenes of a woman burdened with a parcel, sometimes laundry, taking a child by the hand. In the present work his experience as a cartoonist is apparent. Details of appearance and dress are suppressed as the two figures are described with the distinctively expressive outlines of a caricaturist’s vocabulary. Daumier’s painterly talents are also much in evidence: employing a restricted palette, he skillfully rendered the effects of lamplight falling on the pair and suggested a row of buildings across the Seine. Perhaps having witnessed many such scenes, he sympathetically captured the weary pace of the homeward journey of the two anonymous figures, their shadows cast in the artificial light pointing the way. The silent intimacy between the two is conveyed not only by their joined hands, but also by the manner in which their shapes relate to one another: the woman inclines toward the child as she balances the parcel at her side; the child, determined to keep up, leans toward the woman. Whether in lithographs, sculpture, or oil paintings, Daumier’s gift for observation extended not only to his subjects’ occupations, but also to the tone of their daily lives, as is so evident here.