Sulpice-Guillaume Chevallier (known as Paul Gavarni) (1804-1866) Partis en Guerre Pour Tuer Les Ennemis (They went off to war to kill their enemies), ca. 1850, 13” x 8”, Watercolor, gouache, pen and grey ink on light tan paper. Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Michael Schlossberg
Sulpice-Guillaume Chevallier (known as Paul Gavarni) (1804-1866) Partis en Guerre Pour Tuer Les Ennemis (They went off to war to kill their enemies), ca. 1850, 13” x 8”, Watercolor, gouache, pen and grey ink on light tan paper. Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Michael Schlossberg

By Karen Head

One of the lesser-known jewels in the Atlanta art scene crown is the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art. Their recently opened exhibition, “The Sorrow of Too Many Joys: Satire in 19th Century France” is an exceptional and rare assemblage of 96 original master drawings and sculptures (with works by such artists as Daumier, Isabey, and Forain) on loan from a highly selective group of private donors, as well as Atlanta’s High Museum of Art and Memphis’ Dixon Gallery.

With the recent news about the attacks on satirical artists like those at Charlie Hebdo drawing international attention, this exhibition offers an historical context for the development of satirical art in France during the Second Republic, and provides some insight for how such art continues to be part of the social, cultural and political fabric of modern day France.

If you are a fan of French Impressionist painters, you will find much that feel familiar to you in this exhibition, albeit by artists with whom you may be much less acquainted. There are works that immediately call to mind Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec.

Apart from traditional satirical sketches, there are sculptures, including some in fetal jars (the one of Edward VII of England is particularly striking). One muted representation of a suffragette out at night is meant to evoke the idea that proper women would not act so — only prostitutes would walk alone at night in Paris. It is a beautiful work that isn’t clearly satirical to the casual viewer, although audiences of the time would have surely understood. Some of the sketches and small paintings are, at first glance, even less obvious in their satirical nature — a deliberate move by artists to protect themselves. Even in the 19th C. satirical art was a dangerous practice.

Many of these works on display have never been shown together, so this is an excellent opportunity to get a broader understanding of the artists and their work — rather than seeing only one or two pieces in isolation. To fully understand the breadth of any artist’s work (and the historical sensibilities of when they lived) requires a comprehensive exploration, but in the case of satirical artists I believe such effort is especially true. The Oglethorpe University Museum of Art makes that task a little easier for us all. A must-see for Atlanta art lovers this autumn!

For more information about the exhibit visit this link.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.