Honoré Daumier was a French printmaker, caricaturist, painter, and sculptor, whose many works offer commentary on social and political life in France in the 19th century. A prolific draftsman who produced over 500 paintings, 4000 lithographs, 1000 wood engravings, 1000 drawings, 100 sculptures he was perhaps best known for his caricatures of political figures and satires on the behavior of his countrymen, although posthumously the value of his painting has also been recognized.
Daumier was born in Marseille, but move to Paris in 1816, with his father seeking to be published as a poet. Daumier showed in his youth an irresistible inclination towards the artistic profession. In 1822 he became protégé to Alexandre Lenoir, a friend of Daumier's father who was an artist and archaeologist. The following year Daumier entered the Académie Suisse. He also worked for a lithographer and publisher named Belliard, and made his first attempts at lithography.
Having mastered the techniques of lithography, Daumier began his artistic career by producing plates for music publishers, and illustrations for advertisements. This was followed by anonymous work for publishers and displayed considerable enthusiasm for the Napoleonic legend. Daumier was almost blind by 1873. During the reign of Louis Philippe, Charles Philipon launched the comic journal, La Caricature, Daumier joined its staff, and started upon his pictorial campaign of satire, targeting the foibles of the bourgeoisie, the corruption of the law and the incompetence of a blundering government. When the publication of La Caricature was discontinued, but Philipon provided a new field for Daumier's activity when he founded the Le Charivari. Daumier produced his social caricatures for Le Charivari, in which he held bourgeois society up to ridicule in the figure of Robert Macaire, hero of a popular melodrama.
Around the mid-1840s Daumier started publishing his famous caricatures depicting members of the legal profession, known as 'Les Gens de Justice', a scathing satire about judges, defendants, attorneys and corrupt, greedy lawyers in general. A number of extremely rare albums appeared on white paper, covering 39 different legal themes, of which 37 had previously been published in the Charivari. It is said that Daumier's own experience as an employee in a bailiff's office during his youth may have influenced his rather negative attitude towards the legal profession.
Daumier was not only a prolific lithographer, draftsman and painter, but he also produced a notable number of sculptures in unbaked clay. In order to save these rare specimen from destruction, some of these busts were reproduced first in plaster. Bronze sculptures were posthumously produced from the plaster. Eventually Daumier produced between 36 busts of French members of Parliament in unbaked clay. Bronze busts are all posthumous, based on the original, but frequently restored unbaked clay sculptures. The clay in its restored version can be seen at the Orsay Museum in Paris.
In addition to his prodigious activity in the field of caricature — the list of Daumier's lithographed plates compiled in 1904 numbers no fewer than 3,958 — he also painted. Except for the searching truthfulness of his vision and the powerful directness of his brushwork, it would be difficult to recognize the creator of Robert Macaire, of Les Bas bleus, Les Bohémiens de Paris, and the Masques, in the paintings of Christ and His Apostles (Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam), or in his Good Samaritan, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Christ Mocked, or even in the sketches in the Ionides Collection at South Kensington. There is a splendid room-full of caricatures in the gallery "Am Romerholz" at Wintertur.
As a painter, Daumier, one of the pioneers of realistic subjects, but treated with a very subjective point of view, did not meet with success until 1878, a year before his death, when Paul Durand-Ruel collected his works for exhibition at his galleries and demonstrated the range of the talent of the man who has been called the "Michelangelo of caricature". At the time of the exhibition, Daumier was blind and living in a cottage at Valmondois, which Corot placed at his disposal. It was there that he died. He painted about 500 oil paintings.