In the Public Domain Review, Patricia Mainardi has a fascinating essay on how the image of the pear became a symbol of opposition to the French monarchy in the 1830s.
The most famous of the images was probably this: Daumier’s The Past, the Present, the Future, depicting Louis-Philippe’s pear head in triplicate, his topknot defining the fruit’s stem. The caption (possibly written by Philipon himself) notes: “What was in the beginning: fresh and confident; What is now: pale, thin, and anxious; What will be: despondent and broken. ”
While originally based on the supposed physical shape of King Louis-Phillipe, it quickly became a general symbol for the anti-monarchists.
The essay goes into great detail about how this symbol developed into a political tool — a proto-meme.
“While the government at first responded to these drawings with repression and seizures, they gradually came to adopt, however reluctantly, a laissez-faire approach. In the course of numerous prosecutions, Philipon had learned how to turn court cases into circuses, much to the amusement of jurors who often declined to convict him.”
A really interesting piece of political history.