Honoré Daumier (1808 - 1879) was a French caricaturist and painter.
Born in Marseille, he showed in his earliest youth an irresistible inclination towards the artistic profession, which his father vainly tried to check by placing him first with a huissier, and subsequently with a bookseller. Having mastered the technique of lithography, Daumier started his artistic career by producing plates for music publishers, and illustrations for advertisements; these were followed by anonymous work for publishers, in which he followed the style of Charlet and displayed considerable enthusiasm for the Napoleonic legend.
When, in the reign of Louis Philippe, Philipon launched the comic journal, La Caricature, Daumier joined its staff, which included such powerful artists as Devéria, Raffet and Grandville, and started upon his pictorial campaign of scathing satire upon the foibles of the bourgeoisie, the corruption of the law and the incompetence of a blundering government. His caricature of the king as "Gargantua" led to Daumier's imprisonment for six months at Ste Pelagic in 1832. The publication of La Caricature was discontinued soon after, but Philipon provided a new field for Daumier's activity when he founded the Charivari.
For this journal Daumier produced his famous social caricatures, in which bourgeois society is held up to ridicule in the figure of Robert Macaire, the hero of a then popular melodrama. Another series, 'L'histoire ancienne', was directed against the pseudoclassicism which held the art of the period in fetters. In 1848 Daumier embarked again on his political campaign, still in the service of Charivari, which he left in 1860 and rejoined in 1864.
In spite of 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 found time for flight in the higher sphere of painting. 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" at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, or in his "Good Samaritan", "Don Quixote and Sancho Panza", "Christ Mocked", or even in the sketches in the lonides Collection at South Kensington.
But as a painter, Daumier, one of the pioneers of naturalism, was before his time, and did not meet with success until in 1878, a year before his death, when M. DurandRuel collected his works for exhibition at his galleries and demonstrated the full range of the genius of the man who has been well called the "Michelangelo of caricature". At the time of this exhibition Daumier, totally blind, was living in a cottage at Valmondois, which was placed at his disposal by Corot, and where he breathed his last in 1879. An important exhibition of his works was held at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1900.