Honoré Daumier, the nineteenth-century French artist, became most widely known during his lifetime as a skilled caricaturist. Indeed, he continues to be roundly considered the “Michelangelo of Caricature.” Daumier’s work for Le Charivari, a French daily newspaper, and for the journal La Caricature, both founded in the 1830s, remain at the apex of caricature as social satire. To draw a modern parallel, perhaps, Daumier might be considered the Jon Stewart of French satirical commentary.
Still, there was more to the man than caricature. His other talents, particularly in terms of painting and sculpture, remained largely unrecognized until after his death in 1879 at the age of 71. A panegyric collection of essays celebrating Daumier and his work, published in 1922, suggests that “In his day [he] was celebrated as a caricaturist and only a few of the more discerning artists and critics realized that he was one of the giants of Arts, one of the salient individualities [sic] of the nineteenth century.” A catalogue printed for a 1993 Daumier exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York describes the him as “an artist of exceptional genius and power.” Posthumous reevaluations of Daumier’s work laud, in addition to lithography, his paintings, sculpture, and drawings; he also worked in oil, watercolor, prints, and wood.
Today, Daumier remains widely collected. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty, and the Hammer Museum at UCLA are only a few among the many world-class institutions that exhibit and/or hold Daumier works.
Our collections here at Salisbury House include Daumier images as well. While we are still in the process of researching our Daumier holdings, they’re just too cool not to share.
As you will see below, we have found translations and descriptions of the headings and captions paired with the works. Still, even for those of us who are not conversant in French, Daumier’s work transcends language. His renderings of human expressions and situations speak for themselves.
This first set of Daumier images below are both amusing and puzzling. We do not yet know who created these cutouts of his caricatures, or who added paper tabs to the reverse of the cutouts that allowed figures’ arms and other appendages to be moved back and forth. The cutouts seem to be Daumier’s images, anonymously translated into folk art. Put simply: they’re awesome.
Translation: Ladies and gentlemen! Silver mines, gold mines, diamond mines are only thin gruel and stale rolls in comparison with coal . . . But even so, (you’re going to say), you’re selling your shares for a million? . . . I’m not selling my shares, gentlemen, I’m giving them away for 200 miserable francs, I’m giving two for every one, I’m giving away a needle, an ear-pick, a bodkin, and what’s more, I give you my blessing into the bargain. Bring out the big drum!
Description: Here, Daumier is aiming at [French politician] Girardin who had been offering mining shares to the public. The entire project was a scam and all participants, with the exception of Girardin, were sent to prison.
The reverse: the paper tab at the bottom, when pulled up and down, maneuvered the main figure’s right arm.
Translation: Crrrrr !…… woman….!…to leave a man alone for four hours with three crrrrrrrying children……. !
Description: A man is in a state of frustration over three crying babies.
Translation: Robert Macaire hypnotist. Here is an excellent subject……… for hypnosis……. Certainly ! there is no connection between us, I do not have the honor of knowing Mademoiselle de St. Bertrand and you will see gentlemen, the effect of sleepwalking… (in her sleep Mademoiselle de St. Bertrand gives diagnoses on everyone’s diseases, advocates hidden underground treasures and gives investment advice to Mozart paper company, in gold mines and a host of other very fine operations).
Description: Robert Macaire is hypnotizing a woman. Robert Macaire may seem to be a realistic figure, however one should remember that in reality he is an artificial personality, created in 1823 by Benjamin Antier for his play “L’Auberge des Adrets.”
The figure of Robert Macaire became a proxy for Daumier and his publisher at Le Charivari, Charles Philipon, for their criticism of French social and political life under Louis-Philippe (r. 1830-1848). Philipon often provided the captions for Daumier’s work, and they both had good cause to create a buffer between their work and their satirical commentary about the monarch. Daumier had been imprisoned for six months in 1832 for his caricature of the king as “Gargantua” while he was on staff at Philipon’s La Caricature. After Daumier’s release from prison, Philipon founded Le Charivari and continued to publish his work. Macaire remained particularly useful after 1835, when political satire was banned in France and Le Charivari ostensibly focused on French daily life instead.
Our collections include a bound set of Daumier prints from Le Charvari. The collection is undated, but the originals would have been produced during Daumier’s tenure at the French daily from the 1830s to the 1860s.
Translation: How silly!. . . . just look at how they run away! . . . . that is what you get when you are in the wrong place!!! . . . . My little love, when you prevent to pass, you will burn the pellets from Sérail. . . . .
Description: A terrified couple is walking very fast because they are afraid of two men who are looking at them and commenting on their behavior. Daumier succeeds to show the bourgeoisie with humor but also with that certain touch of bitterness and at the same time endeavors to help us understand how much we are all fighting to climb up the social ladder, while often forgetting our roots and damaging our own self-esteem as well as that of our surrounding.
Translation: Robbed! . . . . Empty pocket street . . . . . .
Description: A man realizes that he has just been robbed. Reportedly, this street was the former “rue Vieille-Doucet”. Before the reconstruction of the Parisian roads was done by Haussmann, most street in Paris were narrow and dark, an ideal situation for pickpockets.
Translation: Oh here you are, darn it, how handsome you are! Come and give your father a kiss.
Description: Daumier portrays generational (and class) differences between father and son.
Translation: This proves that when you patrol, you should never pass by your own house.
Description: A soldier is patrolling the streets and happens to look up at his window and see his wife with another man.
Another bound set of Daumier’s work in the Salisbury House collections is entitled “Les Cosaques Pour Rire,” or, “The Cossacks in Jest.” Daumier created these images during the Crimean War (1853-1856), and used his considerable skills to skewer Russian military command, soldiers, and the czar, though not all the images included in this set necessarily pertain to either the Crimean War or to the Cossacks.
Translation: The best-disciplined soldiers in the world.
Translation: IN BUCHAREST. – It’s here.. come in… we’ll pay you!…
Description: Some soldiers sitting in a tent in Bucharest are inviting an old man to join their forces.
Translation: Having to also consult his little table in order to be sure that he is definitely the winner.
Description: Nicolas I, Nicolas Pavlovitch (1796-1855), became Emperor of Russia in 1825. Daumier pokes fun at the czar.
Translation: Russian blind men’s bluff – New game, but more dangerous.
Description: A blindfolded soldier is playing blind man’s bluff.
Daumier’s prolific career reflected his uncanny ability to skewer both the machinations of kings and empires and the foibles of the everyday. Our collections include a selection from his Croquis de Chasse (Hunting Sketches) from the 1850s in which Daumier takes aim at the appearance of hunting mania among the French middle class, brought on by the loosening of laws which had traditionally maintained the hunt as the preserve of aristocrats.
Translation: What a hideous Thing this wild Boar is… without this tree I would be lost… it has the air of considering… wouldn’t it be nice if it just went
Description: A hunter is frightened by a wild pig.
Translation: A misplaced shot.
Description: A hunter shooting at a hare has missed and accidentally shot another hunter in the buttocks.
Translation: – Blast, what bad luck… he passes just when I am unable to fire!….
Description: A hare hops past a hunter just as he has put his gun down [and is pulling his pants back up].
Translation: Two hunters were living in peace. A partridge passed and behold, the war began.
We are still learning more about our Daumier collection here at Salisbury House, but the selection of images included here exemplify the artist’s remarkable skills and legacy.
We are indebted to the Brandeis Institutional Repository’s translations within their Honoré Daumier Digitized Lithographs collection.