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A Wit Still Sharp: Daumier Turns 200

This exhibition celebrates the lithographs of Honoré-Victorin Daumier (1808–1879), the great French satirist of politics and society. Daumier is perhaps best known for his scathing caricatures of constitutional monarch
Louis-Philippe and members of his government, published in liberal newspapers such as La Caricature, and some sold by subscription to pay fines imposed by government censors. Working from clay sculptures he made of prominent government officials, Daumier perfected the art of exaggerating a subject’s physical features to communicate stupidity, greed, vanity, and a host of other unsavory characteristics. Combined with the acerbic wit and double meanings of the captions provided by his publisher, Charles Philipon, the effect was devastating.

In 1835, the banning of political caricature by government censorship ushered in the next great period in Daumier’s work. His lithographs for another weekly, Le Charivari, show the artist’s perceptiveness in depicting France’s changing social classes and professions, and the bustle of city life. Charlatans and robbers prey on rich bourgeois in the streets of Paris, husbands are undone by adulterous wives, and drunkards in alleyways lament the holes in their boots.

It is not surprising that in an age of French industrial progress and economic prosperity, Daumier’s lithographs also reflect the new leisure class and the growing public interest in art. His humorous sketches of middle-class visitors to exhibitions and Salons and the psychological crises of rejected artists set the stage for the phenomenon of the less academic and more populist style of art represented by the Impressionists in the generation following Daumier’s death.

Andrew C. Weislogel
Assistant Curator / Master Teacher