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Honore Daumier was born in Marseilles, France on February 26,
1808. He was the son of a Marseille glazier who wrote a little
poetry on the side and who thought so much of his own talent that in
1816 he decided to move himself and his family to Paris. Over the
next dozen years, the family lived in eight different apartments in
Paris. There was never enough money, and the experience of hard
times would mark Daumier for life.
At the age of twelve,
Honore became a messenger boy for a process server's office and then a
clerk for a bookstore - jobs that opened up to him every corner of
Paris. He sketched everything he saw and finally started studying art
with an academician whose idea of instruction was to have his pupils
copy plaster casts hour after hour. "This is not life," said Daumier,
and he struck out on his own.
A year later, the boy enrolled in
the Academy Suisse, an informal school where students could draw from
the model in the mornings and still hold down jobs. Though Daumier was
never a flamboyant bohemian, he was soon part of a group of young
artists from the school, some of whom became lifelong friends. If
the teenager didn't have the money for oils or canvas (presumably why
so little of his student work survives), in studios and cafes he drew
the way other people talked. Daumier was on his way to becoming
one of the greatest draftsman who ever lived.
The lithograph was
a comparatively new art in those days, but it quickly became Daumier's
bread and butter. He began turning out political cartoons for an
ardently antiroyalist magazine called La Caricature. One
cartoon portrayed King Louis Philippe as Gargantua gobbling up every
last sou in France. For such indiscretions Daumier spent six
months in prison. He was the first French artist to get to the
hall of fame because the people liked his little drawings, instead of
the aristocracy liking his big salon paintings.
No sooner was he
out again than he started producing more cartoons for another
magazine. In 1846, at the age of thirty-eight, he married a young
seamstress called Didine and settled down in an apartment on the Quai
d'Anjou. There, in a bare attic studio, using crayons until they
were so worn he could no longer hold them, and whistling the latest
music-hall tunes, Daumier turned out lithographs of arrogant
aristocrats, greedy landlords, sour-faced men and nagging wives,
sinister lawyers and pompous judges. Sometimes his humor was
gentle; occasionally it was savage; it was always perceptive.
made lithographs, 3958 in all, until he went blind at sixty-five.
But all along he was painting, though no more than a handful of his
canvases were shown in public before the last year of his life.
Compared with the more spectacular romantics, he seemed rough and
unfinished. Nor did he understand the work of the new
impressionists. He was a superlative draftsman whose brush drew
spare and strong, and whose preoccupation was people. No matter
how ordinary their acts, Daumier gave drama and dignity to their
lives. He was ruthless in his candor, but his candor was born of
The painter Daumier was a rotund gentle person who
cared far more for others than for himself. There were never any
extras for Daumier. A year before he died at seventy, a group of
friends, led by Victor Hugo, arranged a show of his paintings. It
closed dismally with a deficit of 4000 francs.
celebrated work was a series of 'Robert Macaire' published in the
'Charivari'. His graphic works are unsurpassed for clarity,
expressiveness, truth to type and nervously rhythmic life. He did
not draw directly from nature, but from human nature, and this he did
as fully as any artist who ever lived. But he was thought for
years unworthy to occupy a single foot of space at the official Salon's
shows. One Saturday night at Theodore Rousseau's barn in the
village of Barbizon, a gathering that included Corot, Millet,Daubigny,
Diaz and Bayre, along with Daumier himself, voted to form their own
anti-Salon Independent Artists' Society.
No one ever
represented with greater truth the varied type of Parisian
character. He became blind in 1877, then died suddenly in 1879 of
a stroke at Valmondois (Seine-et-Oise) in a house given him by Corot,
the landscape painter.
Compiled and submitted August 2004 by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California
Time Magazine, July 7, 1961 and October 1, 1979
Peter Plagens in Newsweek, March 8, 1993
Pete Hamill in Art & Antiques Magazine, February 1993.
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