Honoré Daumier (French, 1808–1879),
A Frenchman Portrayed by himself, 1849, lithograph, gift of Mrs. Charles C. Bovey, 1924
Saturday, June 28, 2008Sunday, December 7, 2008
"That fellow has Michelangelo in his bones."
-Honoré de Balzac
It is not exaggeration to say that French caricaturist Honoré Daumier (1808-79) was a master of lithography. His expertise with the medium was matched by his genius for composition, enabling him to pour life into what would have been simple illustrations in less-gifted hands. Daumier’s flair for gesture and facial expression resulted in timeless images that recognize the comedy of everyday life.
Throughout his forty-year career, Daumier created nearly 4,000 lithographs, first for the political journal La Caricature and later for the daily Parisian periodical Le Charivari. His early political images addressed the inequality and corruption of King Louis-Philippe’s July Monarchy. One drawing landed Daumier in jail for several months, indicative of the government’s repression of political caricature during much of his lifetime. After strict censorship laws were passed in September 1835, the artist shifted from political attack to social satire. His victims were the members of the French middle class, of which he was one. His images poked fun at pompous politicians, pretentious lawyers, picturesque individuals at the community baths, artists and writers in the throes of creativity, as well as urban development and the trials of commuting—all things that vex us to this day!
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts owns more than 3,000 Daumier lithographs. Most came to the museum as a group in 1924, purchased from the collection of the famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923). The works in this exhibition represent a small selection from the MIA’s holdings in the Department of Prints and Drawings.