Michelangelo of Caricature
Honore Daumier worked incessantly revealing the heart of the French people for the world to see in a monumental body of work produced over 58 years. Honoré Daumier, the “Michelangelo of Caricature”, was a beloved caricaturist, but an unrequited painter. Today he is considered a master of lithographic caricature, French Realist painting and comic sculpture. He produced more than 4,000 lithographs, 1000 wood engravings, 500 paintings, 1000 drawings, and 100 sculptures in a career that is difficult to grasp in light reading. Poverty drove him to produce. Love of people and Republican values inspired him. He spent much time on his own, drawing and painting, not needing constant attention. He did need to observe people in a variety of situations. This led him to linger at places all over Paris where he would catch Parisians in the act of being human and record their activities, in his memory, to later bring to life in the solitude of his studio overlooking the Seine River. Daumier would discuss people, politics and painting with his contemporaries, including Baudelaire, Balzac, Hugo and his more everyday coworkers and friends. The artist enjoyed a song, a bit of brandy and good conversation. Honoré Daumier wanted to do something great with oil and canvas but would not achieve recognition for that in his lifetime. As he neared the end of life, his vision left him and he lived in poverty somewhat relieved by the kindness of friends. He died never realizing his greatest dream, but in fact having achieved greatness.
NOTE: Some of the references to lithographs in this post link to The
Daumier Register, which is a
website with an extensive Daumier archive. These items are linked to
what The Daumier Register calls a “Record Detail” page. You
should be able to browse through items in the series by clicking the
next “DR Numbers” at the bottom right of the page. References to
the Brandeis Institutional Repository often link to search results
that may contain more records than desired. The relevant records
should be listed first. Also, some of the works of Daumier referenced below are provided with more than one link. In those cases an alternative link will be indicated with this abbreviation in parentheses: (alt).
Dad was a sad poet
Honoré Victorin Daumier was born February 26, 1808 in Marseille, France to Jean-Baptiste Louis Daumier and Cécile Catherine Philippe. The elder Daumier was a picture framer, painter and an aspiring, but unsuccessful, poet. The family followed Jean-Baptiste to Paris, in 1816, where he was seeking poetic fame.
In 1820, Jean-Baptiste Louis Daumier began suffering overwhelming mental problems and was not able to support his family of five. It became necessary for Honoré Daumier to contribute to the family income at age 13. Honoré Daumier had started drawing at age twelve, but His father wanted his son to pursue a more certain career path than the arts, so he got him work as an errand boy in a court bailiffs office. Many texts cite this experience with the bailiff as influencing Daumier's later depictions of lawyers and judges in a less than flattering manner.
The artist left the bailiffs office and began working as a bookseller's helper at Palais-Royal in 1821. This job exposed Daumier to publishing and to many works of lithography and engraving.
Daumier was allowed to study painting beginning in 1822. He became a student of Alexandre Lenoir an archeologist, artist and controversial art preservationist. Lenoir was 61 at the time and was administrator of the Museum of French Monuments. He had served in that post from 1795 to 1825. Lenoir exposed the young Daumier to a wide variety of art including the work of Rubens and Titian, the Baroque and other schools of painting and Classical sculpture.
Daumier roams the Louvre, studies Rubens
That same year Daumier attended Académie Suisse where he frequently took advantage of the free life-drawing sessions. His education included visiting the Louvre and eagerly making copies of famous paintings by Millet and Rubens and others. The need to help support his family brought his formal studies to a premature end.
Two possible examples of Daumier's work that he created when he was fourteen can be seen at the Brandeis Institutional Repository. They are titled “J'suis d'Garde à la merrie” and “Le Dimanche. Soldats s’amusant à regarder les parades des boulevards. Par H.D.” These can only be attributed to the young artist with reservation.
In 1825 Daumier became an apprentice of portrait lithographer and publisher Zépherin Belliard. He would stay in this position for a short, yet productive, time. During the second half of the 1820's, Daumier became an excellent lithographer. He took inspiration from the work of Nicolas Toussaint Charlet and other prominent artist-lithographers of the time. The enterprising youth found work with many publishers including Achille Ricourt and Hautecoeur-Martinet. He produced plates for print sets, books, sheet music, and illustrations for advertisements.
In Honoré Daumier: A Collection of His Social and Political Caricatures by Elisabeth Luther Cary published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1907, Cary describes documentation of a print that might also be Daumier's first signed published work:
In the admirable catalogue raisonné of the lithographs, edited by Mm. Hazard and Delteil, the earliest known lithograph is tentatively ascribed to 1829. This represents a fatuous old man (Mayeux) seated between two ambiguous charmers who are plying him with champagne. In the background is a maid leaving the room with a bottle and a plate in her hands. - page 4
Much of Daumier's work at this time was published under the signature of his employers or anonymously. He created caricatures that were published as single prints by various publishers including Gabriel Aubert, Philipon's brother-in-law and partner.
“Dieu ai-je aimé cet être-là” (God how I loved that fellow there) is an example of a caricature that was published as a single print by Aubert, this one on October 21, 1831.
Daumier and Charles Philipon's Illustrated Newspapers
Charles Philipon published La Silhouette from 1829 to 1831. This was followed by La Caricature which was launched on November 4, 1830. You can view the first edition of La Caricature at Archive.org in PDF format.
Daumier contributed to La Silhouette sometime after the first issue in 1829. He started drawing for La Caricature in 1831. In the beginning, his work for Philipon was unsigned or signed with the pseudonym, Rogelin. Later he used his own name. Some notable artist contemporaries at La Caricature were: Achille Devéria, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, Auguste Bouquet, Auguste Desperet, A Menut, Auguste Raffet, Benjamin Roubaud, Edme-Jean Pigal, Eugène Forest, Eugène Lami, Henry Monnier, Hippolyte Bellangé, J.J. Grandville, Job, Nicolas-Toussaint Charlet, Paul Gavarni, Traviès, Vattier and Victor Adam.
One of Daumier's contributions to La Silhouette that is viewable online is “Des victimes de la Révolution. Comme c'est amusant la politique.” (Victims of the revolution. Aren't politics amusing?) published on October 24, 1830.
Daumier and others were sentenced to six months confinement and fined five hundred francs for a caricature that was presented for review to the censor on December 16,1831. The work was titled “Gargantua”(alt) and mocked the greed of King Louis-Philippe. It was based on Francois Rabelais's gluttonous main character in Gargantua and Pantagruel. The caricaturist was held for two months in prison and four months in a mental institution. This punishment was probably designed to paint dissenters as insane. Daumier kept drawing caricatures in captivity. Upon his release he returned to La Caricature and continued to poke his pencil in the eyes of the powerful and the pompous. He was not brought up on charges by the censor again.
The following is a description of “Gargantua” from Honoré Daumier: A Collection of His Social and Political Caricatures Together with an Introductory Essay on His Art By Elisabeth Luther Cary published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1907:
(Gargantua) represents Louis-Philippe seated on his throne and swallowing bags of coin which have been extracted from the poor by his ministers, and which are carried by lilliputian personages up a plank that stretches from the ground to his mouth. At the foot of the plank is a crowd of miserable men and women handing over their money. About the throne are fat little favourites gathering up peerages, decorations, commissions, and the like, into which the enforced offerings have been converted. Here still the drawing is to the last degree immature, the only suggestion conveyed by it of the later richness and solidity of Daumier's work appearing in the good round contour of Louis-Philippe's heavy body, pendent over his small legs. - page 6
The artist developed one piece based on his experience in prison titled “Souvenir de Ste. Pélagie” (Memories Of Ste. Pélagie). It was published in Le Charivari on March 14, 1834. Again according to Elisabeth Luther Cary:
“It shows two young men and one old man in a prison cell. One of the younger men is reading to his companions from the Tribune. The coarse furnishings of the cell are shown in detail. The three men are said by Champfleury to be Daumier's companions in captivity, Lerouge, the engraver, Landon, the lawyer, and Masse, the writer of romance.” - page 7
Between 1831 and 1835, the great caricaturist produced over a hundred lithographs for La Caricature. The first of Daumier's cartoons published in La Caricature is captioned “très humbles, très soumis, très obéissans............... et surtout très voraces Sujets”(very humble, very submissive, very obedient............... and above all very voracious subjects). It appeared in the February 9, 1832 issue.
In the next post in this series Honoré Daumier's primary publisher, Charles Philipon, launches a new illustrated newspaper named Le Charivari where Daumier would ultimately contribute over 3,900 illustrations.