Notes on Honoré Daumier, Don Quixote (1868)

He’s instantly recognisable, though he has no face. He has no face because he doesn’t know who he is. He’s Don Quixote, famous for his confused identity.

In this blurred image, he really could be a knight-errant. His armour could be magnificent armour, his lance a sturdy lance, his shield a strong shield. His horse could even be a powerful warhorse. The line between reality and illusion is blurred. We’re seeing Don Quixote as he sees himself.

The landscape behind him stretches for miles. He’s far from home, and in a sense a knight-errant doesn’t have a home. And in this wilderness, where is Sancho Panza? Don Quixote has forgotten about him. He’s puffed up, forgetting how he relies on his servant. Don Quixote is essentially forgetful.

And that clear blue sky, the sun beating down from it. How Don Quixote suffers in that sun, from thirst, from hunger, from assailants who would surely benefit from the clear day, they can see this old man coming for miles. They don’t see Don Quixote as we see him in this picture. They see something quite different, the cold reality, the confused old man.

But in the distance, the sun reflecting off his makeshift armour a certain way, Don Quixote might look like this, easily mistaken for a knight. Although it seems that we’re right next to him, perhaps we’re seeing him as if in the distance, confused to see a knight-errant now, in the 17th century. From this distance, it’s still possible to believe his dream is true, that he really is a knight.

This is realism.” We’re glimpsing the moment the illusion seems true, how nature––the sun, the distance across the plains––can conspire to fool us, and lull us into dream.

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