Daumier was a great painter, a great draughtsman and a great sculptor - the scope of his work went far beyond the remarkable lithograph caricatures which so justly made him famous.
This exhibition, Paris' first retrospective of the artist's work since 1934, explores all the facets of his genius through over 300 works. It brings together paintings and drawings scattered all over the world, almost all his sculptures, and a large selection of his finest prints. Daumier, admired by Baudelaire and Degas, thus takes the place he deserves among the major artists of the nineteenth century.
Honoré Daumier was bom into a humble family. His father was a glazier and an amateur poet. In 1815 he moved to Paris - joined shortly afterwards by his family -and launched into a short-lived literary career. From the age of 12, Honoré had to work, first as a messenger boy for a bailiff then as a clerk for a bookseller in the Palais Royal, near the Louvre, which he probably began to visit. He started drawing at an early age, then began painting under the guidance of Alexandre Lenoir, the founder of the Museum of French Monuments. He also attended the Suisse and Boudin drawing academies.
Daumier's talent blossomed in the political and social ferment of the July Monarchy (1830-1848). He was a Republican, taking part in the "Three Glorious Days" which whipped up revolutionary fervour in Paris on 27, 28, and 29 July 1830 and is rumoured to have received a sword wound on the forehead. He opposed Louis-Philippe's regime, and his lithographs were published in the satirical weekly journal La Caricature, founded in 1831, and from 1832 in a daily newspaper Le Charivari, directed by Charles Philipon. The same Philipon commissioned the burlesque portraits of "célébrités du juste milieu" (politicians or magistrates). This set of small busts in polychrome clay, a particularly fragile medium, is one of the highlights of the exhibition.
The lithographs dating from the beginning of Louis Philippe's reign were the most virulent. Two of them, Gargantua and La cour du roi Pitaud earned the artist a six-month prison sentence in 1832, but he soon obtained his transfer from Sainte Pélagie to Dr Pinel's lunatic asylum. His later lithographs carried on the "Philipon versus Philippe" battle; in them, the king's face became increasingly pear-shaped.
In 1834, Daumier paid homage to the victims of repression in his famous engraving Rue Transnonain. After Fieschi's assassination attempt (28 July 1835) and the laws against the freedom of the press which followed, he turned his mind to social satire. Later, as censorship eased up, he returned to political caricature.
His social satire in Le Charivari made a real human comedy, particularly the series on Robert Macaire - a comic figure and the archetypal dishonest bourgeois -, Paris Types, Blue Stockings, and Lawyers, themes which gave rise to several paintings and watercolours. At the same time, Daumier illustrated various romantic writings (Balzac, Eugène Sue ... ). He was then working at 9, Quai d'Anjou, where he lived with his wife Marie-Alexandrine on the top floor of a building, not far from Baudelaire and Théophile Gautier.
Symbolically, the sketch for the figure of The Republic (Musée d'Orsay) marked the turning point in the 1848 revolution. He was thereafter able to concentrate on "his dream" (Edmond Duranty) - not just painting, but sculpture as well. Indeed, Daumier responded to political events with two new sculptures: the Refugees reliefs, which probably referred to the mass deportations after the repression of the June 1848 uprising, and, much admired by Michelet, the statuette of Ratapoil, a powerful adjunct to Bonapartist propaganda preparing the coup d'Etat of the future Napoleon III. Going beyond its political context, Refugees fulfils Daumier's ambition to combine painting, sculpture and drawing on the same theme.
After the state commissions under the Second Republic, Daumier occasionally exhibited paintings at the Salon. When he was fired from Le Charivari in 1861, he turned towards amateurs who began to show an interest in his watercolours. The end of the Second Empire enabled Daumier to return to political caricature. During the "terrible year" he produced great gloomy, patriotic allegories. His canvases reveal the influence of the seventeenth century Flemish masters, Rubens (the Marie de Medicis series in the Louvre in particular) and eighteenth century French artists from Boucher to Fragonard. Almost blind, Daumier was unable to attend the exhibition organised in 1878 on the initiative of his friends. It was held in the Durand-Ruel gallery in Paris, under the patronage of Victor Hugo, but it was a failure. Daumier died a few months later, on 10 February 1879, in his house in Valmondois, near Pontoise.
The unfinished or apparently unfinished aspect so typical of Daumier's painting - which critics never failed to point out - reveals a fear of sacrificing the essential for the nonessential. The harassed washerwomen he painted in the Quai d'Anjou series have the same slow gestures, the same droop as Millet's gleaners; like Millet, Daumier raised familiar subjects to the level of historical painting. Baudelaire termed him "the painter of everyday events and the universal element they contain" (Curiosités esthétiques).
Daurnier was certainly one of the greatest artists of the nineteenth century. The exhibition presents the works in a chronological arrangement - from the first lithographic sketches in 1822 to the inspired paintings of the 1870s - which allowed for some thematic groupings, such as the outstanding series on Don Quixote. The scenography is designed to emphasise the intimist, humanist aspect of Daumier's work. The last room explores documents, some unpublished, on Daumier and his contemporaries.