A little pear-shaped

Commenting on the role of social media memes in ending Ted Cruz’s never-stellar campaign, The Guardian mentions Honoré Daumier’s 1831 caricature of king Louis-Philippe, Gargantua. King Gargantua, pictured on his toilet-throne, is not merely gobbling down the taxpayers’ money but is also excreting what looks to be royal privileges and concessions to his backers and other corrupt politicians. In today’s simplified political language, that would be tax breaks for the rich. Brief explanations of the caricature can be found here and here. Also see this article by Elizabeth Childs, available for free via JSTOR (with free registration).

The puzzling detail in The Guardian‘s piece is the striking claim that Gargantua dates back to 1803. Daumier would only be born in 1808 and Louis-Philippe would be proclaimed king in 1830. In fact, Napoleon was not Emperor yet but, nominally, the first consul in 1803. A few readers have pointed that out in the comments section but in the afternoon, the incongruous date was still there. Perhaps the author meant to write 1830 – the start of Daumier’s career as political cartoonist – but somehow the digits 0 and 3 got transposed in print. Europe changed a lot between 1803 and 1830, to put it mildly.

It turns out that The Guardian covered the 2013 Daumier exhibition at the Royal Academy in at least two helpful, well-informed pieces. There must be a disconnect between the arts people and the social media people at the newspaper.


  1. I think I read an anecdote once claiming that Napoleon was so bothered by British caricatures of him that he tried to make it a condition of the Treaty of Amiens to suppress them. Unfortunately, I can’t find it at the moment so I have no idea if it’s true.

    • Very interesting. Just in case, I ran a Russian search and found this anecdote retold on the blogs of two Russians writing about satire and caricature (but not history). Then I searched some more and found this. The book is Napoleon in Caricature by A. M. Broadly, published in 1911 in Edinburgh. He cites Die Karikatur der Europäischen Völker by Edward Fuchs as his source. The German book is also available on archive.org, but is not searchable.

  2. The great man had never quite purged himself of his Italo-Corsican beginnings. But I’m not done checking yet.

    • Found it:

      “He insisted that the British government prevent criticism and satire aimed at him and his family in the press – a matter he took extremely seriously. As a sop, a leading émigré journalist, Jean-Gabriel Peltier, was prosecuted in London for criminal libel of the First Consul, and the judge directed the jury to convict him. This proved, thought the pugnacious journalist William Cobbett, that the British were ‘a beaten and a conquered people’.”

      Tombs, Isabelle; Tombs, Robert. That Sweet Enemy: The British and the French from the Sun King to the Present (pp. 242-243).

      So very like Erdogan. Not that Erdogan resembles Napoleon in much else.

        • Reading round, it appears Napoleon wanted to use Peltier as a test case. His aim was to have Great Britain expel troublesome émigrés, the ultimate prize being the Comte d’Artois (the future Charles X).

          As well as impugning the honour of Josephine and Napoleon’s sister, Peltier also accused Napoleon himself of being bad at maths (a real insult to an artillery officer) and a sore loser at cards.

          • “…accused Napoleon himself of being bad at maths…” It seems that Napoleon was genuinely interested in math, especially geometry. We don’t know whether he proved the theorem known as Napoleon’s Theorem and formulated the problem known as Napoleon’s Problem, but at least someone thought that a possibility.

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