The great caricaturist of late nineteenth century Paris, Honoré Daumier, lived through turbulent times. His productive life started at the same time that Louis Philippe I became king of France in 1830 after the overthrow of Charles X. Among Louis Philippe’s liberal policies was a relaxation of censorship of the press. This allowed Daumier the unprecedented opportunity to directly caricature the king. In Europe, only English caricaturists enjoyed similar freedom.
Daumier’s gleeful caricatures frequently portrayed the king as a pear, and often as corrupt, and by 1835, the king had reinstituted censorship of images, so Daumier could no longer caricature the king. Many of his prints are of the foibles of Parisians; fads of the bourgeoisie, lawyers, and feminists were all regular targets. They are not personal caricature, but pokes at types of his fellow Parisians. Daumier also created a cast of recurring characters including Robert Macaire, an unrepentant confidence artist always running a new, outrageously fraudulent company. Political events slipped in as well; when the streets of Paris crumbled as the result of poorly made asphalt, Macaire was shown as a corner-cutting contractor. When Daumier wanted to criticize conservative politics, he frequently portrayed the editor of a conservative newspaper—not a government official, but a well-known apologist for conservative causes. Eventually, politicians (especially conservative politicians) re-appeared in his satires. Even Louis Phillipe made a final appearance after his abdication, fleeing Paris with chests of money. When Napoleon III took the throne, Daumier found a new way to criticize the government without satirizing the king; he invented Ratapoil. Ratapoil was the political henchman of the new king: a vehement, paid supporter always shown with a cudgel, his preferred tool for political debate.
Selected from the Chazen’s collection of nearly 900 prints by Daumier, the exhibition follows Daumier’s development as the foremost satirist of his day.
IMAGE: Cancelled subscriptions and La Caricature gives the poor Constitutionnel a nightmare. (Les désabonnemens et la Caricature font le Cauchemar du pauvre Constitutionnel.), 1834, lithograph, 9 1/8 x 11 15/16 in., gift of Helen Wurdemann, 1983.101