Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Honore' Daumier: Artist of the People, For the People

Can't say why, but I am drawn to artists who create art in spite of the danger of doing so. Goya, Pissarro, and Luce all paid a price. So did Honore' Daumier.

Honore' Daumier (1808-1879) was a lithographer, caricaturist, sculptor and painter. Born into a family  with hard financial circumstances, young Daumier took a job at age 12 as a delivery boy. In his spare time, he sketched from paintings at the Louvre.


When Daumier was age 22, he studied lithography and found work with small publishing houses. He became a very good satirical political cartoonist poking fun at the king and the upper class.  He often showed the king as a pear shape and wealthy aristocrats as "fat cats."




Eventually, his lithograph titled "Gargantua" of Louis-Phillipe, the reigning monarch, would lead to a 6-month stint in jail. Nevertheless, he continued to "voice" his displeasure with the French oligarchy. 



 Daumier is considered one of the most prolific artist of the 19th century. During his lifetime, he produced 4000 graphics, 300 paintings, 800 drawings, 1000 woodcuts and sculptures. He is most remembered for his lithograph titled, "Rue Transnonain, le 15 avril 1834" To fully appreciate what Daumier was portraying, it helps to have a little background.

 During Louis-Phillipe's reign, there were anti-worker laws enacted such as those that prevented forming labor unions. The terrible working conditions that existed and the new laws generated resistance. During the resistance, a sniper shot a police officer and the police went on a rampage in the building where they thought the sniper was located.

The police shot everyone they could find in the building - even women and children. Daumier, who lived only 3 blocks from the building, was so upset that he created a large lithograph. A print seller placed one of the prints in his shop window. 

Daumier was enraged. Out of this anger, he produced the finest lithograph of his career. He knew the risk because he'd gone to jail for "Gargantua." Whereas, his caricatures had caused amusement, this one was different.

When the authorities learned about the lithograph, all known prints were confiscated and the original lithographic stone was destroyed. Fortunately, some prints were successfully hidden away from the authorities. Daumier didn't go to jail this time. Instead, presses were shut down and caricatures were legally forbidden.

Look carefully and closely at the print. Did you note the little child? It was Daumier doing what photos and videos do today - making repression and brutality real.