Honoré Daumier's Bluestockings

January 23 – May 20, 2018
Wolcott Gallery

In 1844, famed French caricaturist Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) published Les Bas Bleus, or Bluestockings, a series of forty lithographs satirizing groups of upper-class women who sought intellectual stimulation in defiance of their narrowly proscribed roles in society. Daumier’s combination of word and image as well as his depiction, albeit mockingly, of the flouting of gender norms makes it a fascinating counterpoint to the work of Alison Bechdel, who cites Daumier as an early influence.

The Blue Stockings Society began in mid-eighteenth century England as a women’s literary discussion group, which represented a radical departure from the acceptable activities for upper-class women of the time. Though hosted by women, the society included learned men as well, and focused on equal intellectual exchange between the sexes. They supported each other’s creative pursuits, and many members became published authors. The name of the group is said to refer to the fact that participants were encouraged to wear their everyday blue stockings, rather than more formal black ones.

In France, Les Bas Bleus evolved into an informally organized women’s movement that continued to advance women’s literary and intellectual opportunities and ambitions. The term came to have derogatory implications, as men and women opposed to this liberation mocked bluestockings for being unattractive and insufficiently feminine. In Daumier’s images, women are depicted abandoning their domestic responsibilities of housekeeping and childrearing in favor of novel- and poetry-writing, intellectual discourse, and what was seen as “salon socialism”—the support of socialist causes from the comfort of a well-appointed salon.

Though Daumier’s message ridiculed women’s emancipation efforts, today we can see in his humorous cartoons the beginnings of a revolution, one that would eventually lead to women’s suffrage, women in the work force, and women’s freedom from reliance on men for their education or economic security.

These prints are generously loaned from the Arthur Ross Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery, whose donor intended that the works be shared with other teaching museums throughout the country. We are grateful to Kimberley Adams, M.D., for facilitating this loan.

IMAGE: Honoré Daumier (French, 1808-1879), Les Bas Bleus, no. 11 (Take that away farther...It's impossible to work in the midst of such a brouhaha...Go take a walk on the outskirts of town and on your way back buy some more formula on Choiseul Street! ...Ah! Monsieur Cabassol, This is your first child, but I swear to you it will be your last!), 1844. Lithograph on paper, 9 1/4 x 7 1/2 in. Yale University Art Gallery, The Arthur Ross Collection, 2012.159.62.11