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Honoré Daumier
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Kings, legislators, lawyers, artists and the bourgeoisie were among the many who were skewered by the sharp wit of Honoré Daumier, the best-known French caricaturist of the 19th century. His paintings anticipated the techniques of Impressionism. A prolific artist, he created nearly 4,000 lithographs, designed about 1,000 wood engravings, painted hundreds of oil paintings and watercolors and was a talented sculptor. Born in Marseille, Daumier’s family later moved to Paris. At age twelve Daumier began working as an office boy for a bailiff and the next year became a clerk in a bookstore at the Palais-Royal. He observed all the characters of the “comédie humaine,” who became models for his caricatures. He became the pupil of his father’s friend Alexandre Lenoir (1761-1839) in 1822 and also enrolled in the Académie Suisse. Through Lenoir’s introduction in 1825, Daumier was apprenticed to Zéphirin Belliard (1798-1861), a lithographer and print publisher. Charles Philipon (1806-1862) and others founded the weekly satirical journal La Silhouette in 1829 and soon employed Daumier along with other more-established artists to create caricatures. Daumier’s first documented print for the journal, Passe ton chemin, cochon! (On your way, pig!, Delteil 1) was published on July 22,1830, directed against King Charles X (1757-1836). The three-day revolution that dethroned Charles began five days later. The next year Philipon founded La Caricature, a satirical weekly journal aimed at the new king, Louis-Philippe (1773-1850). Daumier published his first caricature in the journal in February 1831. An 1831 print that may have been intended for La Caricature led to Daumier’s conviction for violating the censorship law. Gargantua (Delteil 34) shows an obese King Louis-Philippe seated on a toilet, being fed baskets of money and excreting military commissions and other rewards to government officials. Daumier spent two months in a prison and four months in a mental sanatorium. While incarcerated, he continued to create drawings that were engraved and published. Philipon also commissioned Daumier to create a number of portrait busts of politicians in the style of caricatures for display in the shop windows. The sculptures were not intended for publication but served as models for study while preparing drawings. Thirty-six of the busts survive and are now in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. In late 1832 Philipon founded another journal, Le Charivari, a daily paper that included a drawing in each issue; Daumier was a frequent contributor of politically-charged lithographs. After an attempt to assassinate King Louis-Philippe, strict censorship laws were passed in September 1835, causing La Caricature to fold and Le Charivari to change its target to bourgeois society. Daumier continued to create satirical lithographs and designs for wood engravings for that journal and for other publications. Scholars disagree about when Daumier began to pursue painting seriously, surely by the 1840s and perhaps earlier. He was largely self-taught, and his lack of technical expertise in painting, has created condition problems for many of his works. Daumier’s paintings were not highly finished, a precursor of Impressionism. Despite his painting style, his paintings were accepted for the Salons of 1849 and 1850. In 1853 Daumier began making summer visits to Valmondois (west of Paris) and Barbizon (south of Paris), where he socialized with Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), and other artists. He continued to create drawings and lithographs for Le Charivari until Philipon fired him in 1860. Daumier then concentrated on painting and drawing, but found that it did not provide sufficient income. His friends lent him money and found new commissions for his graphic work. After Philipon’s death in 1862 Daumier was rehired by Le Charivari, improving his financial condition somewhat. His earnings from sales of paintings and watercolors improved in the mid-1860s. Daumier continued to create caricatures for Le Charivari until 1872, although his eyesight began to fail in 1867. He rented a house in Valmondois in 1865, where he lived primarily for the rest of his life. He was able to purchase the house in 1874, using 6,000 francs given to him by Corot. Daumier lived in relative poverty despite a pension from the French state. By 1877 he was nearly blind. A large retrospective exhibition of his works was mounted at the Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1878, but was unsuccessful, incurring a loss of 4,000 francs. He died in Valmondois in 1879. (TNB 4/2011) Selected bibliography: Noack, Dieter, and Lilian Noack. The Daumier Website. Prevost, Louis. Honoré Daumier: A Thematic Guide to the Oeuvre. Edited with an introduction by Elizabeth C. Childs. New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989.