DAUMIER, HONORÉearly political caricature
DAUMIER, HONORÉ (1808–1879), the leading French caricaturist from 1830 to 1872.
Honoré Daumier's nearly 4,000 satirical lithographs appeared up to thrice weekly in the illustrated Parisian press and provided a running critical commentary on politics and society. Daumier's work includes 991 book illustrations, some 281 paintings, 826 drawings and watercolors, as well as sculpture.
Born in Marseilles in 1808, the son of a glazier and aspiring poet and playwright, Daumier came with his family to Paris in 1816. By 1832 he was their sole support, working as a messenger boy for a bailiff at the law courts, assisting in a bookshop, and then working with a publisher of lithographic portraits. Daumier reportedly studied with Alexandre Lenoir (1761–1839), founder of the Museum of French Monuments, and intermittently attended life class at the Académie Suisse.
Daumier's lithographs were first published in La Silhouette in 1829 and in La Caricature in 1830. Gargantua (December 1831) depicted Louis Philippe (r. 1830–1848), king of France, enthroned, being fed bribes and defecating honors. Daumier was given a six-month suspended sentence for offense to the king, subsequently imposed. Further caricatures of Louis Philippe were banned but censorship led to subterfuge. Together with his editor Charles Philipon (1800–1862), Daumier devised the symbol of the pear, le poire, also meaning fat-head, a pun for the pear-shaped bourgeois king.
Le Ventre législatif (The legislative paunch) was published in January 1834 by the monthly sub-scription print club established to avoid censorship and offset the fines to Le Charivari, which succeed La Caricature. Daumier drew analogies between the political and anatomical body of the glutinous deputies. Numerous portraits-chargés (charged portraits) appeared beginning in 1832, inspired by Célébrités du juste milieu (1832–1835; Celebrities of the mediocre majority), some thirty-six clay busts commissioned by Philipon. With the September Laws of 1835, the censors halted all political caricature.
After the censorship laws were put into effect, Daumier turned to social types and situations, often with political overtones. Robert Macaire, the quintessential con man, was depicted in different professional guises in the 101 Caricaturana (1836–1838) with captions by Philipon. Daumier's ignoble lawyers, often implying political complicity, appear frequently. Les gens dejustice (1845–1848; The people of the courts), with thirty-eight plates, was particularly successful. He grasped the professional structure—doctors, teachers, landlords—of the expanding bourgeoisie. Independent ambitious women were treated critically. Daumier also caricatured the Parisian population by avocation and diversion and by class and character, in daily situations and social disjunctions, with an acute grasp of physiognomy, bearing, and gesture.
With the Second Republic (1848–1852) and the lifting of censorship laws, Daumier resumed political caricature, most notably with the sculpture and thirty lithographs of Ratapoil, an agent provocateur. Daumier's painting submitted to the competition for a represention of the Republic was among eleven finalists. He also painted and drew themes from mythology, religion, history, literature, as well as lawyers and street life: two paintings were in the Salons of 1850–1852. The motif of fugitives or emigrants appears in Daumier's plaster reliefs, paintings, and drawings.
When Napoleon III was declared emperor in December 1852, Daumier returned exclusively to social caricature, featuring the spectator motif and the Haussmannization of Paris, the massive urban redesign and development, with its inconveniences and obstructions, new boulevards and transportation. He drew twelve hundred lithographs on contemporary life during this period.
In 1860 Charivari fired Daumier, claiming viewer dissatisfaction and police complaints. Daumier subsisted on sales of his watercolors, including a series on railway passengers. There are also paintings of The Third Class Carriage, c. 1862–1864, as well as washerwomen, lawyers, actors, audiences, art connoisseurs, and themes from Jean de La Fontaine, Molière, and Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, arguably his alter egos, whom he painted thirty times from 1849–1873.
In 1863 Charivari rehired Daumier, who then drew Paris diversions and country excursions. Daumier returned to political caricature exclusively in 1866 when censorship was lifted and
shifted from national to international politics using symbolic figures: Prussia as obese, Diplomacy as an old hag, and France as Prometheus. The threat of war predominates, then the disastrous Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), and the defeat of Napoleon III. The recurring figure of the jester with a pen as witness and chronicler is emblematic of Daumier's own role.
Daumier's last caricatures in Le Charivari were published in September 1872. His late drawings include drinkers at cafés (prefiguring the impressionists), poignant street performers, tragic clowns, and sideshows. Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) compared the quality of his drawing to the old masters. Among his last paintings (1873–1875) are images of the artist before his easel. Daumier died in Valmondois (near Barbizon), where he lived his last years, poor and nearly blind.
Daumier expanded the definitions of art to include popular imagery, influencing Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Rouault, Pablo Picasso, and the cartoonist TIM (the name Louis Mitelberg used in signing his caricatures). He set the standard for caricature.
Baudelaire, Charles. "Quelques caricaturistes français." In The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, translated and edited by Jonathan Mayne. London, 1986. Early, highly perceptive section on Daumier.
Bouvy, Eugène. Daumier: l'Oeuvre gravé du maître. Paris, 1933.
Clark, T. J. The Absolute Bourgeois, Artists and Politics in France, 1848–1851. London, 1973. Chapter on Daumier in political context.
Daumier, 1808–1879. Paris, 1999. Catalog of 1999 exhibition, detailed chronology.
Delteil, Loÿs. Honoré Daumier. Paris, 1925–1930. Available from http://www.daumier-register.org.
Ives, Colta, Margret Stuffmann, and Martin Sonnabend, eds. Daumier Drawings. New York, 1992. Reevaluation of the drawings.
Laughton, Bruce. Honoré Daumier. New Haven, Conn., 1996.
Maison, K. E. Honoré Daumier: Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Watercolours, and Drawings. 2 vols. London, 1968.
Prevost, Louis. Honoré Daumier: A Thematic Guide to the Oeuvre. Edited by Elizabeth C. Childs. New York, 1989.
Wasserman, Jeanne L. Daumier Sculpture. Greenwich, Conn., 1969.
Wechsler, Judith. A Human Comedy: Physiognomy and Caricature in 19th Century Paris. London, 1983. Chapters on Daumier and the press in the context of urban change.