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Honore Daumier: The Michelangelo of Caricature

Satirizing France’s bourgeoisie and justice system, and masterfully exposing the misery of the masses through the emerging medium of lithography, the prolific French caricaturist, painter and sculptor, Honore Daumier, is revered for his cartoons and drawings focusing on the foibles of 19th-century France.

Known as the “Michelangelo of Caricature”, Daumier was born on February 26, 1808, in the South of France in the port city of Marseille. In 1814, his parents relocated their family to Paris when young Daumier was only six. As a boy, he showed an inclination towards art, which his father tried to discourage, and so he put him to work as an usher. But, Daumier’s talents could not be dissuaded, and after working as an assistant to a bookseller, he was allowed to begin taking informal art lessons with artist and antiquarian, Alexander Lenoir, who was a friend of his father.

In 1823, Daumier began studying at a well-known Academie Suisse, which provided artists with low-cost opportunities to draw live models. At the same time, he was employed with publisher and lithographer Zepherin Belliard, with whom he began learning and experimenting with lithography. Afterwards, he began a career producing lithographic plates for music producers and advertisement illustrations.

Daumier began working for the comic journal La Caricature during the reign of King Louis Phillippe and produced many caricatures outlining corruption on law, the mistakes of the bourgeois, and the incompetence of the government. It was at this time that he published a satire of the king as Gargantua, which landed him in prison for six months, after which the journal La Caricature ceased publication. He also produced caricatures for the publication Le Charivari, holding the bourgeois up to more scrutiny.

One of his favorite themes was Don Quixote, of which he drew 49 drawings, and completed 29 paintings depicting his life. While his output of lithographs and illustrative drawings was most prodigious (circa 4,000 of each), Daumier also sculpted busts of members of parliament and painted religious and historical themes in the naturalist style.

Daumier received little recognition until 1878, a year before his death when his works were put on exhibition, yet they are acclaimed today for their experimental techniques. Posthumously, more recognition has been placed on Daumier and his revered social commentary.

At the age of 70, Honore Daumier died on February 10, 1879, in Valmondois, France.


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