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Paul Gavarni, also known as Sulpice-Guillaume Chevalier, 1804-1866

Actors

Description:Read An Essay On This Drawing

Paul Gavarni trained at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers and worked as a mathematician for a period before devoting himself to illustration and printmaking. By the end of his career, he had published more than 4,000 lithographs and wood engravings. His first works were fashion plates and costume studies for popular magazines in Paris, where he met Honoré de Balzac and Henri Monnier (see cat. no. 61), and he is credited with having created the costume of the débardeur/débardeuse, or dockworker. He joined the staff of La Caricaturein 1831 and worked with Honoré Daumier and Jean-Jacques Grandville (see cat. no. 35). Six years later, he contributed to the satirical journals Le Charivari and L'Artiste. In 1847, he crossed the English Channel and stayed in Great Britain until 1851, producing images for the Illustrated London News. Although he was welcomed into elite social circles in London, where his elegance and wit were greatly admired, he eschewed this company and chose to live among the poor and destitute. His imagery became darker and more poignant, and he developed a facility with watercolor that was lacking in his earlier work.

Highly ambiguous, this drawing can be read in a number of ways, and the caption only serves to make the image more enigmatic. The central character of this vignette wears an elaborate costume and covers his mouth in a gesture of deep contemplation. We are given access to his thoughts in the inscription: "I have hurt Pamela." But if the dancing girl behind him is Pamela, she looks anything but hurt! Either Pamela is not really hurt, and the man is presumptuous in his belief that she is, or this woman is the object of Pamela's disaffection. The lack of any setting further enhances the mystery. Although it is called "Actors," a title curators assigned it when they originally catalogued it into the collection in the 1930s, there is nothing to indicate that this is a scene from a play, and it could just as easily represent an event during carnival season or a masquerade ball.

The character Pamela appears in a number of Gavarni's prints dating to the 1840s, most frequently in the series Les Lorettes, but also in Les Créanciers (The Creditors). With Pamela, Gavarni shows us the transformation of a naive young lady into a Lorette, a woman who uses her charm with men in exchange for gifts. Lorettes were not prostitutes in the strict sense of the word; rather they were kept women and often affected an air of propriety and sophistication. In one scene, an older gentleman arrives at Pamela's house to take her out for the evening and meets her mother, whom he recognizes as his former chambermaid. The implication is that he may very well be his companion's father. In another scene, Pamela is shown walking with a man whom she addresses as "Arthur,"

the equivalent of a modern-day "John."1 In the Walters drawing, the dancing woman appears to have succumbed to the debauchery endemic of the demi-monde.

This is one of more than sixty ink drawings and watercolors that William-and to a far lesser extent, Henry-Walters collected. William acquired more works by Gavarni than any other artist, except Antoine-Louis Barye and the American artist Alfred Jacob Miller. Given the considerable number of drawings he purchased, there are very few records of the prices he paid for them. We know that Walters paid 80 francs for a Gavarni ink drawing in 1865 and 274 francs for two watercolors of Scottish subjects in 1866, roughly equivalent to what he paid for the Daumier drawings that he commissioned.2 Walters apparently esteemed Gavarni more highly than Daumier; for while the Gavarni drawings were carefully arranged in two fine leather albums embossed in gold with the collector's monogram, five Daumier drawings (The Amateurs [cat. no. 36], The First-Class Carriage, The Second-Class Carriage, and The Third-Class Carriage, and The Omnibus [cat. no. 35]) were "found" inserted as an afterthought into the back of one of these albums in 1936, when the collection was catalogued.3 Cheryl K. Snay

1. M. Alhoy, "Les Lorettes," in Les physiologies parisiennes (Paris, 1841-43), 5.

2. The Walters Art Museum Archives.

3. A. Mongan, "Six Rediscovered Satires by Daumier," Art News 35 (August 1937): 11-12. Note that the Daumier drawings were never put on display or mentioned in any of the catalogues of the collection. Two of the drawings were known in photographic reproduction, but their location was unknown until they were published in 1937.

Medium: transparent watercolor with graphite underdrawing, brown iron gall ink and red ink on cream, moderately thick, smooth wove paper
Dimensions: height: 33.3 cm, width: 21.2 cm.
Date: 1855-1857
Category: literary
Subject: man | woman
Inscriptions and Markings: "Gavarni" in iron gall ink, lower right; "J'ai fait de la peine ? Pam?la" in iron gall ink, at bottom
Exhibition History: Watercolors and Drawings by Gavarni, Smithsonian Institute / Walters Art Gallery, circulating exhibition, 1953-54, no. 33, [p. 6]
Bibliography: Ross, Marvin C. Watercolors and Drawings by Gavarni from The Walters Art Gallery and the Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute. 1953.: p. 6.
Provenance: William T. Walters, Baltimore, 1865 [George A. Lucas as agent].
Collection: The Walters Art Museum
Credit Line: Acquired by William T. Walters, 1865
Object Number: WAM 37.1455