Honoré Daumier (1808-1879)

For those of you who, when the newest edition of your daily fishwrap thwaps against the front porch in the morning, excitedly run out and crack it open straight to the political cartoons - this is the guy you wanna thank. Daumier is one of the first political cartoonists, and he's probably the Greatest of All Time, too (Ali notwithstanding, of course).

But this is not to say that Daumier's influence extends only to the Opinion page. He raised the caricature up to high art, giving the cartoon the respect it deserved. Daumier had a near perfect sense for the economy of line - five strokes with his pen and you not only had a recognizable face, but it had soul, too. He was also a painter of some renown, although I always felt his sense of color was only serviceable. Still, his gestural style translated well to the canvas, as shown his painting 'Two Sculptors', with one man's face being nearly abstract yet utterly familiar. And his subject matter places him right at the forefront of the Realist movement, with Gustave Courbet.

Daumier got his start working for the paper La Caricature, where he quickly became lead artist and Public Enemy No. 1. His print 'Gargantua', comparing King Louis Phillippe to the gluttonous title character in Rabelais's story, got him a six month stint in the pokey. He was only 23 at the time. His distaste for the two upper classes of French society only grew after this, and he skewered them at each and every opportunity, while making heroes of the lower classes. In fact, I can't find any other artist who treated the poor with such respect. His painting 'The Third-Class Carraige' is the best known work of this style - a glowing woman breastfeeding in a car, on old person, back from shopping, patient. Compare this to any of his caricatures of merchants or judges, with their deformed faces and bodies, beaklike noses and hard eyes.

Other mediums that he worked in - Daumier sculpted for a bit, focusing on his most hated public figures of the day. We may not recognize any of the names now, but the facial expressions are still priceless. More importantly, Daumier was an early adopter of the new medium of lithography, and the first that gave it mass exposure through La Caricature and other papers.

Daumier was only really respected by his peers during his lifetime - most of his works were found in the private collections of other artists, most notably Corot, Délacroix, and Degas. In fact, Corot kept Daumier in the black during the last part of his life - Daumier was nearly blind and infirm.

The government gave Daumier a fitting sendoff at his funeral - at least one well-known government informer was present to keep an eye on the proceedings, and to keep sentiment against it from being stirred up. Daumier wielded great power even in death.

This is the third time I've written this node - IE kept crashing on me.

At the time of his work Honoré Daumier had been well known for satirical lithography he submitted his work often to the liberal French Republican Journal, Caricature In these pieces, he made derisive fun of the foibles and the misbehavior of lawyers, politicians and middle class gentry. In touch with the acute social and politacal unrest in Paris at that time he depicted events that were the result of the rapid development of an urban industrial society. As might be expected, the sting of his critical wit often put him in conflict with the government. In his unfinished The Third-Class Carriage
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Daumier's quick penmanship style shows the viewer his interest in the political community. At that time it was an in your face realism, a way to cover events in an unidealized vehicle. The rude railway compartment of the 1860s. The people are poor and can only afford third-class tickets, he would repeat this subject many times in his many works.

He shows them to us in the unposed attitudes and unplanned arrangements of the millions thronging the modern city--anonymous , insignificant, dumbly patient with a lot they cannot change. Daumier saw people as they ordinarily appeared, their faces vague, impersonal blank--unprepared for any observer.

Art Through the Ages

As discofever tells us King Louis Phillippe was Daumier's first great theme, he aslo had a biting way to get across the inherent need for the social reform of the French hierarchy depicted in the tragic portrayal of current events in Rue Transnonain,1834. Crafting from the ordinary continuum of life he randomly gathered isolated views ..... unrehearsed details of human existence. His unique efforts would go on to achieve a reality antecedent to the candor and spontaneous settings being captured by the snapshot camera at the end of the century.


Lometa. "Artists and Art in the Classroom" Tucson, Arizona.
1994. (Lecture presented at St Joseph's Catholic School.)

Justus, Kevin. "Art and Culture II." Tucson , Arizona.
1992. (Lecture presented at Pima Community College.)

De La Croix, Horst, Richard D. Tansey, and Diane Kirkpatrick.
Art Through the Ages. University of Michigan: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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