Daumier, Honoré Victorin

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Daumier, Honoré Victorin


Born Feb. 26, 1808, in Marseille; died Feb. 11, 1879, in Valmondois, near Paris. French graphic artist, painter, and sculptor. He was the son of a glazier.

In 1814, Daumier moved to Paris, where in 1820 he studied painting and drawing. At this time he also learned lithography and created some minor lithographic works. Daumier’s art developed through his observation of the street life of Paris and a careful study of classical art. Apparently Daumier took part in the Revolution of 1830, and when the July monarchy was established he became a political cartoonist, earning public recognition through his merciless, bitter, grotesque caricatures of Louis-Philippe and top figures of the ruling bourgeoisie. Possessing political insight and the temperament of a fighter, Daumier consciously and deliberately linked his work to the democratic movement. His cartoons were sold individually or printed in illustrated publications to which Daumier was a contributor (in Silhouette, 1830-31; and C. Philipon’s Caricature, 1831-35, and Charivari, 1833-60. and 1863-72). Sculptured busts of bourgeois politicians that had been modeled with boldness and precision out of colored clay (c. 1830-32), of which 36 have been preserved in private collections, were used by Daumier as the basis for a series of lithographic portrait-caricatures (The Famous Figures of the Golden Mean, 1832-33). In 1832, Daumier was sentenced to six months in prison for his caricature of the king, the lithograph Gargantua (1831). There his association with imprisoned republicans strengthened his revolutionary convictions. In his lithographs of 1834, Daumier attained a high degree of artistic generalization, powerful sculptural forms, and emotional expressiveness of contour and chiaroscuro; these works expose the mediocrity and self-interest of the men in power and their hypocrisy and cruelty (the group portrait of the Chamber of Deputies, The Legislative Belly; Honest Men, Let Us Embrace; and This Man May Be Set Free). His depiction of the brutal treatment of workers is deeply tragic (Transnonain Street, April 15, 1834). In the lithographs Freedom of the Press and The Modern Galileo, Daumier created a heroic image of the worker revolutionary.

The ban on political cartoons and the closing of Caricature in 1835 compelled Daumier to confine himself to satires of everyday life. In the lithograph series The Parisians (1839-40), Married Life (1839-42), Red Letter Days (1843-46), The Lawyers (1845-48), and The Worthy Middle Class (1846-49), Daumier caustically ridiculed and condemned the mendacity and egoism of middle-class life and the spiritual and physical inferiority of the bourgeoisie and revealed the nature of the bourgeois social environment shaping the personality of the Philistine. Daumier created a stereotype in which the vices of the entire bourgeoisie as a class were concentrated (1836-38). This series of 100 plates told of the exploits of the adventurer Robert Macaire. In the series Ancient History (1841-43) and Tragiclassical Physiognomies (1841), Daumier scathingly parodied academic bourgeois art and its hypocritical cult of classical heroes. Combining grotesque fantasy and accurate observation with his virtuosity, Daumier imparted journalistic accusatory incisiveness to the graphic medium: the caustic, stinging expressiveness of line seems to tear the mask of decency from the bourgeoisie, exposing the heartlessness and vulgar complacency underneath. Daumier’s mature lithographs are dynamic and drawn with rich velvety strokes. They freely transmit psychological nuances, movement and light, and air. He also did sketches for wood engravings (mainly book illustrations).

A brief revival of political caricature in France came about with the Revolution of 1848-49. Daumier welcomed the revolution and exposed its enemies; Bonapartism was embodied in the stereotype of the rascally politician, Ratapoil, first created as a grotesque and dynamic statuette (1850, bronze, in the Louvre, Paris) and later used in a number of lithographs. In 1848, Daumier did a pictorial study, The Republic of 1848, for a competition. (A variant of it is in the Louvre.) Thereafter Daumier devoted himself to painting in oils and watercolors. His painting, innovative both in subject matter and artistic treatment, embodied the fervor of the revolutionary struggle (The Uprising, c. 1848; Family on the Barricades, National Gallery, Prague) and the irrepressible movement of crowds (The Emigrants, c. 1848-49, Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal). One senses the artist’s respect and sympathy for the workers (The Washerwoman, c. 1859-60, the Louvre; Third-class Car, c. 1862-63, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and the caustic mocking of unprincipled bourgeois justice (The Defender, watercolor, private collection).

Daumier was fascinated by the subject of art: its role and status in society, the psychology of creation and apprehension; Daumier’s favorite motifs were the theater, the circus, art print stores, theater audiences, actors, itinerant comedians, artists, and collectors (Melodrama, c. 1856-60, Neue Pinakothek, Munich; Crispin and Scapin, c. 1860, the Louvre; Advice to a Young Artist, 1860, National Gallery of Art, Washington). Daumier did a number of portraits and pictures on literary, religious, and mythological subjects; he did one series of paintings about Don Quixote, whose comical appearance merely serves to emphasize the spiritual greatness and tragic fate of the seeker after truth (Don Quixote, c. 1868, Neue Pinakothek, Munich). In Daumier’s painting the artist’s ties with the romantic movement and a reinterpretation of its traditions are very strongly felt. Heroic greatness is interwoven with the grotesque, drama with satire, and keen characterization with a free painting style, bold generalization, expressiveness, and a powerful plasticity of contrasts in form and lighting. During the 1850’s and 1860’s the dynamic composition became ever more intense and impetuous, and the three-dimensional effect was achieved by means of terse spots of color and energetic, luscious brush strokes.

At the end of the 1860’s, satire on everyday customs and manners in Daumier’s lithographs began to be replaced by new themes: the artist anxiously observed the growth of militarism and colonialism, the putting down of national liberation movements, and the intrigues of the military and the church. Daumier’s last masterpiece, the Siege Album, was devoted to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71; the allegorical images in the album are full of intensely tragic feeling and profound bitterness, the language of the lithographs astounds the viewer with the strength of its generalizations and the terseness of its precise, resilient lines (The Empire Means Peace, 1870; Shocking Inheritance, 1871). Daumier’s enormous legacy (about 4,000 lithographs, more than 900 drawings for engravings, more than 700 paintings and water-colors, and more than 60 sculptures) reaches the summit of critical realism in modern art and characterizes Daumier as a great modern artist and defender of the interests of the working people.


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Kalitina, N. Onore Dom’e, 1808-1879. Moscow, 1955.
German, M. Iu. Dom’e. Moscow, 1962.
Dau̇mier raconté par lui-méme et par ses amis, Vésenaz-Gen. Paris, 1945.
[Adhémar, J.] Honoré Daumier. Paris, 1954.
Balzer, W. Derjunge Daumier und seine Kampfgefährten. Dresden, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.