Honoré Daumier

Honoré Daumier
Born Feb. 26, 1808
Died Feb. 10, 1879 (at age 70)
Nationality French
Field Printmaking, Painting, Sculpture
Works View Complete Works

Honoré Daumier is one of the most interesting figures in the world of art, partly because of the sheer numbers and astonishing production of his career, but also because of the range of works he created, from day-to-day political caricatures for newspapers to magnificent oil-on-canvas paintings, and even sculptures.

Early Life

Daumier was born in Marseilles, France, in 1808, to Jean-Baptiste Louis Daumier, who worked with artistic glass as a glazier. His wife, the mother of Honoré, was Cécile Catherine Philippe. When Honoré was a small boy his parents moved to Paris where his father hoped to gain recognition in publishing as a poet, which he never achieved.

Despite Jean-Baptiste’s own risky career choice of poetry, he nevertheless strongly attempted to discourage Honoré from his early desire to become an artist. Yet, Honoré showed incredible talent and drive from a very young age. His father pushed Honoré to take a job as a hussier, or a doorman. He later also worked for a bookseller.

Artistic Training

But Honoré Daumier’s natural talent was an unstoppable force. At age 14 he landed an apprenticeship with artist and archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir, which in turn led to his admission into the Académie Suisse, a respected Paris art school.

After developing his skills and developing his talent, Honoré Daumier beginnings as a money-earning artist was in the field of lithography. This means he created images for commercial use, such as to illustrate sheet music books and advertisements. He also got work from other book publishers. He would go on to produce thousands of commercial lithographic images.

Caricature Work

Honoré_Daumier_Crispin-und-ScapinDaumier then moved into the work he was to become most famous for – that of creating caricatures, such as those used in political cartoons and social commentary for newspapers. He worked for a publication called La Caricature, which was a periodic comic journal. This publication went out of business, but Daumier was able to move on to work for Le Charivari, an extremely popular newspaper published in Paris.

There was far more artwork than news copy in Le Charivari – its focus was skewering government officials and social commentary illustrated in funny, sarcastic and biting cartoons. The government eventually banned the caricature of government officials, but Le Charivari survived by expanding to wider topics. Daumier worked in this capacity from the 1840s into the 1860s.

Great Artwork

Honoré_Daumier_The-Chess-playersSo Daumier had found a solid profession to pay his bills, and in his spare time, he applied himself with great energy to creating masterful works of art, including oil-on-canvas creations. As a painter, his style can be described as Realism, but his work is noted for its rather subjective point of view. Even so, most of his paintings were of real, every day people in common settings, such as travelers crammed into a third-class coach, two men playing chess or a court room scene. His colors are often dark-earthy and muted, and the general atmosphere is smoky or suffused in late-day, dirty gold sunlight.

Daumier’s fame and reputation as one of France’s leading newspaper caricaturists created the somewhat ironic situation in that he was pigeonholed as a caricaturist, and therefore his reputation as an important artist was ignored. In fact, Daumier was not recognized as a significant talent for his oils until near the time of his death at age 70 in 1879.

Work as a Sculptor

In between his newspaper work and painting, Honoré Daumier also found time to work in sculpture and he made an important contribution to this field. He produced more than 36 busts of government officials and well as a variety of figurines. Most of his works were done in plaster and baked clay. It was only after his death that many of them were cast in bronze.

Prolific Art Production

Honoré_Daumier_NADAR_nad_Parizi_1853In 1904 a count of Daumier’s surviving collection found 3,958 lithographic plates, 1,000 wood engravings, 100 sculptures and 500 paintings, an enormous body of work. His works spanned across a variety of genre of the arts – a talent which few other artists in history have achieved. Not only was his output enormous, but it was of consistently high quality.

Many of Honoré Daumier’s works are on display around the world today, including the pinnacle of the art world, the Louvre, in Paris. His work can also be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

The art world did not forget Honoré Daumier in 2008, his 200th birthday year. His art was put on display in galleries and museums all over the globe.

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