THE THIRD-CLASS WAGON, BY HONORÉ DAUMIER.
The painting I have chosen is The Third-Class Wagon, by Honoré Daumier. It was painted between 1863 and 1865. At first, people didn’t like it so much because of its ordinary life theme and its technique. It is an oil painting on canvas and its dimensions are 65.4 x 90.2 cm. In 1878 it was bought by Paul Durand-Ruel in Paris (France) and it had different owners. Nowadays, this painting is located at the National Gallery of Canada, which acquired it in 1946. This gallery is located in the capital city of this country, Ottawa.
In the foreground of the painting you can see a family formed by an old woman who has a basket in her hands. On the left there is a younger woman, maybe her daughter, and she is nursing a baby, who maybe can be the brother of the child who is to the left of the old woman. This boy is sleeping and he has a box with him. It seems as if the viewer was sitting in front of the family on the wagon.
Behind the family, in the background there are a lot of people. All them are men. They are painted in a heterogeneous way, so you can distinguish the people very well. We can see nine persons. On the left there are two men who are wearing black clothes and top hats. And there are also more persons who are wearing something on their heads. The painting is very subdued and you can see in everyone’s expressions that they are sad, tired and distraught.
The Third-Class Wagon is also known as The Third-Class Carriage and there are three different versions of the same theme. The one that is finished is located in the National Gallery of Canada and there are other two unfinished versions.
Walters Art Museum of Baltimore
The First Class Carriage
The Second Class-Carriage
This painting belongs to a three-part series which was commissioned by William Thomas Walters. Walters was an American businessman and most known as an art collector. His collection formed the Walters Art Museum. Walters had a big passion for art and he started to collect works from local artists. He and his family went to Paris when the American Civil War started. In Paris he continued collecting art works from local artists such as Jean-Leon Gerome, Antoine-Louis Barye and Daumier. When he returned to America, he invested his money in banking and railroads. And this is why Walters took interest in the life of the passengers who travel in trains. The series he commissioned to Daumier was formed by The First Class Carriage, The Second Class-Carriage and The Third Class Carriage (The Third-Wagon Class).
The First Class Carriage
The Second Class-Carriage
Daumier was a Realist painter and during this period the main purpose of the artists was to represent reality through social themes. Most of them were problems of their society, like the children and women's work, the excessive working hours, the unhealthy housing… and he thought they had to denounce all these things.
On his Third-Class Wagon Daumier represented peasants who are travelling to the city, probably to look for a job. In this way he wanted to denounce the hard life of the popular classes in the big cities. He symbolized the fatigue of the working class in a very good way. A deep silence is noticeable on the painting. We can see that everyone is on their own, they show a big indifference about the persons who are with them and about what is happening on the wagon. They are looking one another, but they don’t talk. Each figure is individualized and we can see their gestures and expressions of boredom and weariness. The new industrial world was so inhuman.
Daumier dedicated more space to the background than to the foreground, but the figures of the family are bigger, so this means that the family is more important. The family represents three generations: young, middle-age and old people. We can see that the women travel alone, without the presence of a man. The adult woman’s face is sweet, but we can notice the exhaustion in the old woman’s face, maybe because she had a hard life. Undoubtedly her face transmits much affection to the viewer. The boy is sleeping, probably he is tired because he has had to work in a very hard job for a child. Daumier symbolized the isolation and rejection of the family from the rest of society, because we can see the family faced away from the rest of the passengers.
We can see some differences between the three different versions of the painting. For example, in the version of the National Gallery of Canada the colors are cooler and the light is clearer, it’s evident that is daylight. But, as the others are unfinished, we can’t distinguish well. In the two unfinished versions we can see better that there are also women in the background, because their features are clearer. In first painting we can perfectly see a landscape through the windows, but in the other ones we can’t see anything. In the two unfinished paintings there are more people in hats. And the last most evident difference I see is that the boy doesn’t have any box in one of the unfinished versions. But in the three paintings we can see that the lines are very precise and Daumier used black color to enhance the lines, so that we can distinguish all the figures. After preparing the painting with previous drawings, he made the final composition with aquarelle and then he used the grid system to make the painting on the canvas. The light that he used reminds of Rembrandt and the color reminds of Baroque, a style Daumier admired. But the theme of the painting is completely contemporary.
In this period trains had three classes of wagons. Daumier painted the three of them because William Thomas Walters requested a complete series, although he was most interested in the working classes. But Daumier represented the three well. The first-class wagons had better seats, heating and not many passengers in a closed compartment. The second-class wagons were very similar, but with more passengers. And the third-class wagons had wooden benches and they didn’t have heating or compartments.
Daumier did other similar works about public transport and the working class. This means that he showed affection for the disadvantaged and he was a witty critic with the bourgeoisie. Here you have some of these works:
Voyageurs Appréciant de Moins En Moins Les Wagons de Troisi'eme pendant l'Hiver
Impressions et Compressions de Voyage
Daumier was a prestigious French caricaturist, painter and sculptor. He focused on the society of his time and showed affection for the disadvantaged. When he started losing his sight, he had to leave lithography and he started focusing more on painting. And in the same years he made this painting, he made also The Laundress (1863), which is his most famous painting together with The Third-Class Wagon. Both of them represented the hard lives of workers.
The way he captured people’s expressions and his love by the caricature had influence on the expressionist painters Nolde and Ensor.
I like this painting, because it transmits me very well what is happening on the wagon. When I see it, it seems so real that I’m there with them and I can see their faces and notice their sadness. I like paintings which transmit me something and this is one of them. I also prefer dark and cool colors to clear and warm colors.