An Artist is Born

Honore Daumier’s The Third Class Carriage (detail) 1862-64 (LEO Design)

Daumier’s The Third Class Carriage (detail) 1862-64 (MMA)

On this day in 1808, French artist Honoré Daumier was born in Marseille.  Daumier’s father, a working class tradesman with dreams of becoming a poet, moved his young son and family to Paris in pursuit of his goal.  Young Honoré soon became interested in art and eventually enrolled in the Académie Suisse.  He took a job working for a lithographer where he developed great skill in print-making.

Having honed his skills as a draughtsman, Daumier next worked making advertisements (mostly anonymously) then joined the artistic team of the comic journal La Caricature.  Here he lampooned the entitled bourgeoisie, incompetent politicians, and corrupt lawyers & judges.  But he (and the journal) went too far when they portrayed the king in a caricature titled Gargantua.  Daumier ended-up in prison for six months and La Caricature was eventually shuttered.

In his lifetime, Daumier was appreciated mostly as a caricaturist and prolific print-maker—having made thousands of lithographs and woodcuts.  But he was a wonderful painter and sculptor, too.  After his death, Daumier’s skill in these other areas became apparent.  It turned out, Daumier had sculpted dozens of busts of French royalty, parliamentarians, and other notables in unbaked clay. Some of these had been reproduced in plaster, but never in bronze.  In the early Twentieth Century, after the artist’s death, some of these busts were cast in bronze from the original Daumier plaster castings.  And his paintings often captured—in gritty reality—the plight of France’s poor and working class.

Toward the end of his life, Daumier became enchanted by Cervantes’s Don Quixote, drawing, painting and sculpting the character.

Daumier, now blind, lived his final years in a country cottage loaned by painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.  The “Michelangelo of Caricature” died on 10 February 1879.  He is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.