Honoré Daumier (1808 - 1879)
By Lori Stranger
Honoré Daumier was a prolific French caricaturist, painter and sculptor, renowned for his cartoons and satirisation of nineteenth century politics and society. Born in the south of France on 26th of February, 1808, Daumier soon moved to Paris, where he would spend the rest of his life. This was anything but restful, as at this time, Paris experienced two revolutions, a war, and a siege. His work reflects the complex social, political and economic conditions of this tumultuous period.
In 1823, whilst enrolled at the Académie Suisse to study art, Daumier was simultaneously employed as a publisher and lithographer, which encouraged an innovative experimentation with lithography that would dominate his oeuvre.
The relaxation of censorship rules after the 1830 Revolution allowed Daumier the freedom to express more controversial political opinions through the mass production of pamphlets. He explored all echelons of Parisian society, and became a significant pioneer of Realism.
Daumier’s sharp criticism and scrutiny made him a powerful political commentator of his day. His wit and biting commentary drew the attention of the liberal journalist, Charles Philipon, to whose journal, La Caricature, Daumier was soon invited to contribute. His lampooning of contemporaries soon came under fire from none other than the King of France,Louis-Philippe I. In 1832, Daumier was sentenced to six months in prison, for which he spent two months in a state prison, and the remaining four in a mental hospital; a signal of what happened to those who dared oppose the King. However, even after his imprisonment, he continued his political satire, producing a work in 1834 called Le Ventre législatif (The Legislative Belly). The lithograph is a group portrait, caricaturing members of the National Assembly. However, by 1835, the reinforcement of censorship lead to the eventual shut down of La Caricature. Daumier then went on to depict safer subjects, whilst staying true to his artistic self by continuing to examine Parisian society.
The overthrow of the monarch in 1848 encouraged a loosening of the hierarchical structures of artistic establishments, allowing marginalised artists like Daumier to submit works to the Annual Salon. While Daumier was hesitant to submit, given his limited experience in oil paint, he did enter a competition to produce an allegorical representation of the French Republic, for which he came in eleventh place. Encouraged by this, he took to oil painting with rigour.
Daumier decided to spend the succeeding years of his life painting all levels of Parisian society. His Morals and Manners (la peinture de moeurs) series explore everyday life on the île Saint-Louis, depicting washerwomen, children playing in the water, people in a pub and masons on scaffolds. As with his early political commentary, Daumier remained interested in the life of Paris, particularly rapidly changing cityscapes; most evident in the construction of theatres and railroads. His 1862-64 The Third Class Carriage depicts an extraordinary rendition of urban Paris life and the anonymity of the working class.
In 1871, Daumier became a member of the Paris Commune. Increasingly blind and unstable towards the end of his life, his late paintings depict a personal darkness likened to Eugène Delacroix and Francisco Goya. His work from 1860-62, The Imaginary Invalid, though based on the comédie-ballet of the same name, illustrates a dark interior and thick black outline that one cannot help but liken to Daumier’s personal life. His last exhibition was in 1878 at the Durand-Ruel Gallery, Paris. He died on 10th February 1879.
Britannica, Honoré Daumier. Accessed 24th November 2019.
The Art Story, Honoré Daumier. Accessed 24th November 2019.