The Caricatures of Honoré Daumier

Gargantua, a lithography by Honoré Daumier

Gargantua, a lithography by Honoré Daumier

On February 10, 1879, French printmaker, caricaturist, painter, and sculptor Honoré Daumier passed away. A rather prolific draftsman, Daumier produced over 500 paintings, 4000 lithographs, 1000 wood engravings, 1000 drawings and 100 sculptures. He was perhaps best known for his caricatures of political figures and satires on the behavior of his countrymen, although posthumously the value of his painting has also been recognized.

Honoré Daumier was born in 1808 in Marseille, France. His father, Jean Baptiste Daumier, belonged to an elite artisanal class and moved the family to Paris in order to try his hand at poetry. Altough Daumier’s financial success remained quite small, Daumier was able to present some of his poetry to the King of France and publish a few works. Honoré Daumier however, began working at the age of 12 since the family was struggling financially. Still, the young man knew early that he wanted to pursue an artistic career, which his father did not allow at first. Daumier began working as an assistant for a book shop around 1821 and it is believed that he completed his first drawings there. [1,2]

Honoré Daumier

Honoré Daumier
(1808 – 1879)

By the age of 16, Daumier was finally allowed by his family to study drawing and art with Alexandre Lenoir. After a while, he attended a formal training at the Académie Suisse. He began working for Belliard, a publisher who taught him lithography which had just become very popular in the early 19th century in France. Daumier made use of these skills in satirical works and the first known journal he worked at was called ‘La Caricature‘ and was founded by Charles Philipon. Daumier published a cartoon of the King as Gargantua, depicting him as a monster, which Daumier was imprisoned for at the Sainte-Pélagie Prison. These happenings generated a great public attention and Daumier received even more followers. Since a new law from 1834 banned outright satire of the government, Daumier began to focus on bourgeois and his Robert Macaire series became quite famous. [1,2]

Honoré Daumier is best known or his caricature works and he mostly used the techniques of physical absurdity to depict the “cruelty, unfairness and pretension of 19th century French society and politics“. During his career, Daumier also created many paintings on religous and historical topics and he tried out sculpting. Although the art of sculpting was not too popular back then, his works are known to be notably life-like. [2]

Baudelaire [3] noted of him:  One of the most important men, not only, I would say, in caricature, but also in modern art. An exhibition of his works was held at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1901. Today, Daumier’s works are found in many of the world’s leading art museums, including the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rijksmuseum. He is celebrated for a range of works, including a large number of paintings (500) and drawings (1000) some of them depicting the life of Don Quijote, a theme that fascinated him for the last part of his life.

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