“There is a lot of Michelangelo in that fellow,” observed realist author and playwright Honoré Balzac in reference to Honoré Daumier. As one of the better-known artists of the French Realism Movement, which took place from 1840 to the late nineteenth century and was an era of artists who honed in on real life often featuring commoners and laborers as their subjects, Daumier captured the moments of the time on a variety of mediums, including painting, lithography, sculpture, satirical cartoons and caricatures.
Honoré Daumier: Realism, Satire and Caricatures
The National Gallery of Art’s Lorenz Eitner notes that his body of work highlights “the characteristic look and demeanor of every segment of Parisian society, ranging from the crotchets and timidities of the urban middle class with which he fondly empathized (Les Bons Bourgeois), to the frauds of speculators (Robert Macaire), the pomposities of lawyers (Gens de justice), the self-delusions of artists, the rapacity of landlords, and the vanity of bluestockings. “ His abhorrence for lawyers appears to stem from his early employment as an errand boy for attorneys. He also paid particular attention to King Louise-Phillipe, which eventually provoked the sovereign to sentence Daumier to jail for six months due to the harshness of Daumier’s wit in the satirical cartoon of the king.
His 40-year career creating satirical cartoons was chronicled in the French journals, La Silhouette, La Caricature and Le Charivari. His ascent into cartooning stems from the help of a family friend, Alexandre Lenoir, who provided Daumier informal training in drawing since Daumier’s family couldn’t afford to send him to art school. After copying Lenoir’s art collection and the works from the Louvre, Daumier landed a fortunate apprenticeship with a lithographer who taught Daumier the technical aspects of printmaking. From there, the publisher of La Silhouette, La Caricature and Le Charivari hired Daumier around 1829 to be a cartoonist for the satirical publications.
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