(Abstract by PHILIPPE KAENEL from “Revue de l’Art” n° 137/2002-3, p.41-48)
Ratapoil is Daumier’s most emblematic and documented iconographical invention. It has been associated with many models reflecting the artist’s visual culture. Yet one probable source has been ignored: the Hercule Farnèse by G. Comino (a copy of which was erected in the Tuileries in 1797). Ratapoil is a satirical inversion and survival of classical statuary. It is a sort of Pathosformel in A. Warburg sense of the word. It also works like the process of condensation analyzed by S. Freud in his famous studies on dreams and wit (Witz). Ratapoil is a perfect expression of condensation on every level. It is a pun (Rat-à-poil can also be read Rat-tape-poil). From a social point of view, his posture looks aristocratic and martial, his clothes are bourgeois but also proletarian because they are worn out. He is modeled after the most protean figure of the nineteenth-century urban society: the spéculateur. The parodic inversion of mythology and of the antique is also symptomatic of Daumier’s position as a caricaturist. In other words, Daumier expressed his admiration for the antique and for historic and heroic forms through a sculpture which had all the caracteristics of the freudian Witz: Ratapoil.
Philippe Kaenel, Chercheur au Fonds national de la Recherche scientifique, Ch. du village 67, CH-1012 Lausanne, Suisse.