French caricaturist, painter, and sculptor Honore Daumier was famous for satirizing 19th-century French politics and society. Though his paintings (produced in a style similar to Realism) went unrecognized during his lifetime, his contributions helped introduce techniques of Impressionism into modern art. His distinctive style had a major influence on many painters who came after him.
Honore Daumier was born on February 26, 1808, in Marseille, France, into a lower class French family. The family moved to Paris when Honore was just eight years old. As a young boy, he suffered from an embarrassing stutter that caused him to seldom speak in public. He displayed a talent for art and found inspiration from hanging around studios and print shops. When he was old enough to support his family, he worked as a bailiff's clerk and later in a bookshop.
Largely self-taught, Daumier studied briefly with renowned artist and archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir, but found greater inspiration from studying classical sculpture and Dutch and Flemish painting at the Louvre in Paris.
The talented artist entered the Academy in 1828, but quickly rebelled against its doctrinaire methods. During this time, he learned the technique of lithography from a friend and began to work for small publishing houses. In 1830, a growing contempt for aristocracy and social politics inspired his political cartoons, which he submitted to the anti-government weekly ‘La Caricature’ founded by Charles Philipon. He served six months in jail in 1832 for his attacks on Louis-Philippe, and by 1835, the publication of La Caricature was discontinued when the government passed laws suppressing political caricature. And so, he turned to social satire, and joined the staff of ‘Le Charivari’. His caricatures ridiculed the bourgeois society of his day in a highly realistic graphic style.
In 1846, Honore Daumier moved to Ile Saint Louis where he spent the next decade painting whenever work at Le Charivari was slow. One of the pioneers of naturalism, he was born before his time. His paintings were Romantic in subject, with free and broad brushworks and a powerful feeling for humanity. One of his family scenes includes ‘The First Bath’ portraying a father embracing his child in shallow waters as his wife and older child look on. His major influences include Michelangelo, Rubens, Rembrandt and Goya. His paintings remained practically unknown until his first solo exhibition held at Durand-Ruel's gallery in 1878, a year before he died.
Daumier was rescued from poverty by Corot, who was one of his many artistic admirers. Corot invited him to stay at his cottage in the quiet town of Valmondois outside Paris where he spent his final days until his death in 1879. Old age had robbed him of his sight. Some of the artist’s most famous paintings and illustrations include 'Don Quixote and Sancho Pansa', 'Third-Class Carriage', 'Ecce Homo', 'The Chess Players' and 'The Spectators'.
In the fifty years of his career, Honore Daumier created about four thousand lithographs, three hundred paintings, eight hundred drawings, one thousand woodcuts and fifty sculptures. This compilation of works comprises the largest visual legacy of any artist before 1900.