Honoré Daumier (French, 1808–1879) Combat des écoles, L'Idéalisme et le Réalisme (Battle of the Schools—Idealism and Realism), 1855 Lithograph Mrs. F.F. Prentiss Fund, 1953.2
In this print, the popular proto-realist lithographer Honoré Daumier imagines a battle between the two rival aesthetic schools of mid-century France: neoclassical idealism and contemporary realism. Realism is portrayed as a working-class underdog—his rustic clogs, disheveled, ill-fitting clothes, and short, stocky physique contrast sharply with the athletic nakedness of his rival Idealism. Realism’s small, square palette and clumsy paintbrush seem to be no match for Idealism’s long, uplifted maulstick (used to steady a paintbrush) and great, oval-shaped palette-shield. And yet, Realism’s low center of gravity and determined expression suggest that these forces are not as mis-matched as they may at first appear. The fact that Idealism might be losing his touch (and his relevance) is suggested by his old man’s face and the round spectacles he wears—so at odds with his classically well-proportioned body.