The Genius of the Other Daumier

“Monsieur Daumier, Ihre Serie Ist Reizvoll!” Die Stiftung Kames [“Monsieur Daumier, Your Series Is Delightful!” The Kames Collection]

an exhibition at the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München in the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, December 6, 2012–February 17, 2013
Catalog of the exhibition by Franziska Butze, Birgitta Heid, Christien Melzer, Silke Reiter, Alexander Roob, and Andreas Strobl
Munich/Berlin: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 360 pp., €35.00
Staatliche Graphische Sammlung München
Honoré Daumier: ‘It’s a bit hard to be obliged to live in a barrel when one wasn’t born to be a Cynic’; from the series ‘Tenants and Landlords,’ Le Charivari, March 4, 1854. The lithograph illustrates the housing shortage in Paris under Napoleon III by playing on the story of the Greek cynic philosopher Diogenes, who slept in a barrel.

The Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich has a remarkable new acquisition: over three thousand lithographs and thirty woodcuts by Honoré Daumier produced between 1833 and 1872, the politically and socially stormy decades in France between the reign of the Citizen King Louis Philippe and the Third Republic. In adding them to the more than seven hundred Daumier lithographs and woodcuts already in its possession, the museum now has the largest collection of his prints in Germany—where the French caricaturist is frequently exhibited—and not many collections elsewhere can match it.* But the popularity of his works often goes no further than finding them entertaining and misses their explosive political significance and their physiognomic perceptiveness. Daumier’s prints reflect a critical public culture that has largely been forgotten.

On the eve of the July Revolution of 1830, the police of the doomed regime of Charles X confiscated the presses of liberal and radical newspapers. The demand for freedom of the press was one of the most important motives for the revolution that forced Charles X, the last Bourbon monarch to be crowned in Reims, from his throne and replaced him with the Citizen King Louis Philippe. Paris at the time was a hothouse of opposition newspapers: Les Amis du peuple, Le Patriote de 1830, L’Avenir—to say nothing of Le Journal des Ouvriers. One of the revolutionaries manning the barricades in July 1830 was a completely unknown twenty-two-year-old graphic artist named Honoré Daumier. He would remain a fervent republican to the end of his life.

At the same time, satiric journals—both dailies and weeklies—were being founded in Paris, journals whose heir Le Canard enchainé survives to this day. Although a more liberal press law was enacted in December 1830, it still did not put a complete halt to punitive interventions by the censors. Again and again, these publications were forced to retreat from vehement political commentary to a critique of society and manners that was only apparently harmless. In 1829 La Silhouette, the first publication of this kind, appeared, but it lasted only two years. It was followed in 1830 by La Caricature, which survived until 1835. Baudelaire called it “a satirical comedy in which all the political dignitaries appear in ridiculous costumes.” The next satirical paper to come along, Le Charivari, appeared in late 1832 and became an established part of the Parisian scene. Its subtitle was “The Journal That Publishes a New Picture Every Day.”

The same journalistic entrepreneur, Charles Philipon (1800–1861), was behind all three papers. He…

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