Viewed from any direction, the swaying, strutting Ratapoil
is Daumier's brilliant stab at the political ambitions of
Louis-Napoleon, who would proclaim himself emperor of France in 1852.
Daumier strongly supported the nascent French democracy and used his
art -- both his drawn caricatures of Ratapoil that appeared in the
satiric journal Charivari and this vigorous sculpture -- to oppose the idea of a return to monarchy. He fashioned Ratapoil (Ratskin) as one of Louis-Napoleon's agents-provocateurs,
a cudgel-carrying bully whose job was to stir up crowds, using bribes
and force when necessary, to convince the people to return
Louis-Napoleon to power.
used a rough-modeled realism to detail the character of Ratapoil. With
hat crumpled and smashed down over a bony skull, eye glaring, nose
broken, mustache and beard pointed to a Satanic extreme, and outmoded
frockcoat and trousers streaming over an emaciated torso, Ratapoil
seems a mix of self-confident dandy and has-been thug. Sweeping
diagonals invigorate the figure: Ratapoil's neck and jaw turn hard to
one side, shoulders, chest, and right leg propel him forward as he
arches his back in a dramatic curve, grasping his club behind him.
Though less than 18 inches tall, Ratapoil,
as political symbol, was given monumental status by Daumier's fellow
Republicans. Because of his fear of government reprisals after
Louis-Napoleon's successful coup in 1851, Daumier reportedly hid the
statuette for the rest of his life. The original clay Ratapoil
is lost; the National Gallery's bronze version is one of a series cast
from a plaster model in 1891, thirteen years after the artist's death.
model 1851, cast c. 1891
DIMENSIONS: 43.5 x 16.4 x 18.2 cm (17 1/8 x 6 7/16 x 7 3/16 in.)
COLLECTION: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Rosenwald Collection
ACCESSION NUMBER: 1951.17.3