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Two Lawyers Shake Hands

November 21, 2019

Honoré Daumier, in full Honoré-Victorin Daumier, (born February 20/26, 1808, Marseille, France—died February 11, 1879, Valmondois), prolific French caricaturist, painter, and sculptor especially renowned for his cartoons and drawings satirizing 19th-century French politics and society. His paintings, though hardly known during his lifetime, helped introduce techniques of Impressionism into modern art.

His life, devoted entirely to his work, was to be divided into two parts: from 1830 to 1847 he was a lithographer, cartoonist, and sculptor; and, beginning in 1848 and lasting until 1871, he was an Impressionist painter whose art was reflected in the lithographs he continued to produce. Constant work was not a burden to him; while producing 4,000 lithographs and 4,000 illustrative drawings, he sang sentimental songs whose foolishness made him laugh, and, “unconcerned with his works, he was always out drinking cheap wine with barge captains.”

Daumier’s sculptures have still not been sufficiently studied. The 15 or so small busts that he modelled in clay for the window of the satirical journal for which he worked and that remained there some 30 years occupy an important place in the history of sculpture. Scarcely differing from official busts, but with the accentuation of a detail that made them caricatures, they constitute an unforgettable gallery of the politicians of the July monarchy. The complete series has not been preserved: it included a Louis-Philippe, which Daumier hid, and other pieces that were broken in moving. A few copies of the busts were cast in bronze in the 20th century, and their originality is the more striking when they are compared with similar pieces of that period.

He did not do so, however, for he had become preoccupied with new technical studies; earlier than others, he had discovered Impressionism—faces and bodies devoured by the surrounding light and becoming one with the atmosphere. He painted a great deal, and the more so as his studies in the new technique did not interest the satirical journals to which he now submitted drawings devoid of humorous meaning. He was supported by Charles Baudelaire and by that poet’s friends. The two men had met in 1845 and saw each other more frequently after 1848. Baudelaire, who “adored him,” wrote in 1857 the only significant article on Daumier to appear in the painter’s lifetime.

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