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Honoré Daumier
Biography and the exhibition at the Phillips Collection, Washington
Books about Honoré Daumier at, and
Article added in May 2000

Born in Marseille, Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) spent most of his life in Paris. Raised in a poor family, he took drawing lessons for the first time in 1822 from the renowned artist and archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir. In his spare time, Honoré Daumier sketched at the Académie Suisse and at the Louvre. The financial situation forced him to find work as a young man. At the age of 14, he began to experiment with lithography and to work for daily newspapers. His observation skills were the basis for the nearly 5,000 satirical prints on political and social themes he made during his career that took flight in 1830 when a brief popular uprising led to the abdication of the repressive Bourbon king, Charles V, and gave birth to the more liberal monarchy under Louis-Philippe, of the House of Orléans.
His caricaturist works were published in the weekly newspaper La Caricature, founded by Charles Philipon. Daumier was sentenced to six months in jail for his creation of two lithographs, one of which depicted King Louis-Philippe as Rabelais' gluttonous gigantic Gargantua. The positive side of this unpleasant incident: instant celebrity for Daumier. The case is one of history's most famous examples of an artist's prosecution by the state. In 1835, the government passed laws suppressing political caricature that forced Daumier to abandon political satire. The editor Charles Philipon was forced to close La Caricature. But he had foreseen this type of events and, already in 1832, created a new daily newspaper, Le Charivari, for which Daumier created satiric social portraits, mainly of the bourgeois society in Paris.

During his lifetime, Daumier was known as a lithograph and caricaturist. His paintings were less appreciated because they were quite different from his work for the newspapers. Other painters recognized his talent and Delacroix, Monet, Manet and Degas owned paintings by Daumier. But the first solo exhibition of paintings dedicated to Daumier was only organized in 1878, in the year before he died.
In the 50 years of his career, Honoré Daumier created about 4000 lithographs, 300 paintings, 800 drawings, 1000 woodcuts and 50 Sculptures. The exhibition at the Phillips Collection in Washington which has been shown before at The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and at the Grand Palais in Paris, is the first retrospective totally dedicated to Daumier in the United States. 243 works by the French artist are on display, among them 74 paintings, 56 drawings, 74 lithographs and 39 sculptures from 39 countries and 71 museums and private collections.
The comprehensive catalogue (Daumier 1808-1879) with its 599 pages includes the reproductions of all exhibited works, their detailed descriptions as well as five articles by renowned Daumier-specialists. They try to define Daumier's position as an artist, examine his relation to painting, sculpture, the media and politics.
It is incomprehensible why the catalogue's extensive list of collectors, dealers and admirers of Daumier as well as the index does not comprise the name of Oskar Reinhart. He collected nine paintings, several watercolors as well as some 1800 lithographs. He not only created one of the largest, but also one of the finest private Daumier collections in the world that can be seen at the Sammlung Oskar Reinhart Am Römerholz (paintings, watercolors) and at the Museum Oskar Reinhart am Stadtgarten (lithographs) in Winterthur, Switzerland.
Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.: Daumier exhibition: until May 14, 2000.
Books about Honoré Daumier at, and

Trois avocats causant (ca. 1862-65). Photograph: exhibition catalogue.

Scène de comédie oder Le Malade imaginaire (ca. 1860-65). Photograph: exhibition catalogue.