Daumier is one of my favorite artist and an artist whose work has had a great influence on some of my work. He is one of those rare artists who is not only a great technician, but his work has the added value of being political and useful in its depiction of French society in it’s time. The great thing about viewing his work now is it stands as a historical documentation of life in France in the 1800’s.
Traits of Daumier’s ancestry—a violent temperament, a generous and rather fanciful turn of mind, and an easily aroused capacity for pity—all form part of his character. His mother’s family was from a village in which samples of unique ancient sculptured reliefs—fierce primitive human heads—had been found. His grandfather and father both worked in Marseille as “glaziers”—that is to say, dealers in frames (or passe-partout pictures) and decorative tableaux that they painted themselves. His godfather was a painter. When Daumier was seven, his father abandoned his business in order to go to Paris and, like so many Provençals, seek his fortune as a poet. He was presented to the king, Louis XVIII; but his swift fall from favour—he was famous only for a fortnight—unbalanced him mentally. After apparently being confined for many years, he died in the Charenton asylum.
Daumier received a typical lower middleclass education, but he wanted to draw, and his studies did not interest him. His family therefore placed him with an old and fairly well-known artist, Alexandre Lenoir. Lenoir, a student and friend of Jacques-Louis David, a leading classicist painter, was more an aesthetician than a painter. He had a pronounced taste for Rubens, one of whose works he kept in his collection. A connoisseur of sculpture, he had saved the most beautiful medieval and contemporary sculptures from the Revolutionaries, which inspired a lasting interest in Daumier.
Daumier was then not at all the uncultured, self-taught genius that most art historians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries have depicted. He did not rise from an artistic void—he was the child of artists, however modest and unsuccessful they had been in making a name. Added to the advantage of this ancestry, he also benefitted from a more interesting artistic education than his contemporaries.
As a cartoonist, Daumier enjoyed a wide reputation, although as a painter he remained unknown. His fame was not based, any more than it is today, on critical appreciations but, rather, on the smiling or laughing admiration of those who read the satirical journals.
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica