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Caricature: the critical eye of Honore Daumier.

Looking Carefully

Like his contemporaries, Honore Daumier (1808-1879) was impressed by the contradiction between the mighty forces st loose by the French Revolution of 1789 and the merger, less humane existence of most French citizens. Daumier's strong political consciousness and his great talents as a draughtsman found their perfect means of expression in lithography, a fairly new printing process which made multiple prints cheaply, and helped the artists to become a powerful adversary of early nineteenth-century French authorities. By the age of twenty-four Daumier had already served time in Saint Pelagie, the Parisian prison for literary and artistic rebels, militant revolutionaries, and democratic reformers.

After serving his prison term, Daumier's illustrations denouncing King Louis Philippe became even more caustic. Publishers of the popular journals La Caricature and Le Charivari recognized Daumier's ability to help taunt that royal regime. The focus of Daumier's works after 1832 became the French parliament, including the group composition show in the centerspread, The Legislative Belly, 1834.

The Legislature Belly represents the culmination of two years of exploration and study. After spending months in the viewing gallery of the parliament, the artist began by making thirty-six small portrait busts of his subjects. Daumier memorized every feature of these shrewd men who voted for the construction of railways in which they owned shares, swapped jobs for votes, and feathered their nests with political pluckings. There were men growing paunches and losing hair, rising inopportunely to a point of order, or contentedly sleeping out the session. Modeling their sagging jowls, pompous gesture, and idiotic facial expressions, Daumier sought to pinch and pull from clay, the character and essence of each man. The series of heads, five to seven inches high, were painted by Daumier and shown in the office windows of La Caricature, much to the public's enjoyment. Long after Daumier's death, the fragile pieces were cast in bronze.

In the Legislative Belly, Daumier has arranged thirty-five members of the bourgeois legislature in focus receding tiers. Working carefully on the sensitive surface of the lithographic stone, he used a blunt crayon for darker tones, a thinner and sharper crayon for lighter tones, and needle or knife blade to accent selected bellies. With a slow build-up of cross-hatched tones he suggests the surrounding depth and atmosphere and the deep texture of the silk top hat poised on the first tier.

What might have been a monotonous array of people has been made lively by the curving backs of benches, the slight diminishing scale and the backing of the foreground line by the figure standing in front. Most important is the satire of pose and gesture as men chat, smile, slide into stupor, or blow then noses. While the features of each man are individualized, the sagging overstuffed silhouettes spread themselves one after the other along the curved rail of the bench, revealing a united physiognomy of type or profile. Daumier has given us the clues we need to draw our own opinions of each man, and of the group. World you put the fate of your country, your hopes and dreams for a democratic republic, in the hands of these men?


Daumier executed the largest body of his work in lithography. This printing process, invented in 1798, revolutionized book and newspaper illustration in the early nineteenth century. The speed and directness with which a drawing could be reproduced was ideal when the majority of the French were illiterate and pictures alone could reach them. Popular newspaper needed many illustrations that could be produced quickly, and Daumier's satire was in great demand. Using the lithographic process, the artists draws on the flat surface of a slab of lime-stone known as a lithographic stone, with a special greasy crayon. This drawing is treated and fixed by a printer who wets the stone and rolls it with greasy ink. Only the artist's drawing remains inked and ready to print, the rest of the stone's surface, being damp, remains empervious to the ink. This technology gave artists like Daumier the freedom to experiment with the tonal range of the lithographic crayon, while giving his images a potent immediacy. With the rapid spread of lithographic shops in Paris, this low-cost reproduction process encouraged a new conception of art - art for the man in the street.


Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985), like Daumier, created portraits with brutal honesty and directness. In Jules Supervielle, Grand Banner Portrait, 1947, Dubuffet created a large-scale painting of the Uruguayan poet Jules Supervielle (1884-1960). Both Daumier and Dubuffet were fascinated by how the outward appearance of the head can reveal temperament and character, and how the facial features can reveal the thoughts and inner being of a subject. In Jules Supervielle, the pointed nose, large teeth and raised eyebrows are features that according to Dubuffet, "take on a force of intensified life."

Neither artists was interested in the traditional sense of what is ugly or beautiful. In Jules Supervielle, heavy black lines trace creases and wrinkles over a shocking texture of sand and organic matter. The smooth surface of skin as we know it, is absent. In its place is deterioration, as if we were asked to move beyond the surface toward the skeletal core or an inner essence. Where Daumier used his drawing tools to suggest textures relative to the actual physical properties of form, Dubuffet used texture as organic matter, as a physical substance that rises above the picture plane. Even the size of the head as it pushes against the edge of the frame, suggests pulsing energy and life - the will to go beyond.


In his lifetime, Daumier was known chiefly as a political and social satirist, but since his death, recognition of his qualities as a painter and sculptor have grown. His lithograph, also of 1843, La Rue Transnonain was one of the most powerful indictments against the bloody repression of the reign of Louis Philippe. After the King enacted strict censorship laws, Daumier's art turned to satirizing social life, creating such series as Les Baigneuses (The Bathers) and Les Bons Bourgeois (The Good Bourgeois). He turned to political satire at the time of the 1848 revolution and overthrow of King Louis Philippe. He is said to have made more than 4,000 lithographs out of demand from his admiring public, as well as financial necessity. In the 1870's his eyesight failed and he spent his remaining years in a house given to him by Corot at Valmondois-sur-Seine-et-Oise, subsisting on a small pension allowed him by the state.

Key Concepts

* Through caricature, artists selectively exaggerate the features of their subject to suggest what they perceive as the true character or essence. * Technique and materials become an important means in achieving the psychological impact of an image. * The response of a viewer to a caricature is in part determined by values and understandings brought to the work. * The lithographic planar process allows artists to produce multiple copies which can be crated on a stone with a variety of oil-based drawing implements.

Suggested Activities

Principle of Lithography

This activity is not designed to duplicate the lithographic process but to demonstrate a simple resist technique. Students can draw with soap, heavy crayon or candle, onto a textured paper or board. If students dip a sponge in water and wipe over the image they will see the wax-resists drawing. Apply tempera or a water-based ink over the image using a brayer or brush. Place paper over the image, rub carefully and pull the print.

Paper Lithography

The lithographic process can be successfully explored in middle and high school art classes through use of the Litho-Sketch process. Most catalog houses stock the materials for this process which uses treated paper than lithographic stones or zinc plates. The techniques is simple, non-toxic and relatively inexpensive.

Sandpaper Lithography

For the elementary grades, children can crayon heavily onto sheets of sandpaper. Apply printing ink with a brayer, place paper over the crayoned sandpaper and apply pressure. While not a true lithographic process, interesting images may be obtained from this process


In the style of Daumier

Materials: paper with a textured surface simulating the lithographic stone, litho crayons, conte crayons, or soft # 6 pencil, magazines or newspapers featuring contemporary events.

In the Style of Dubuffet

Materials: board, modeling paste or tissue and watered-down glue, water, mineral spirits, brushes.

With your critical eye, look through magazines until your recognize an individual whose features and character could be used successfully in a caricature. Cut out the image and study in for ways the face or body could be exaggerated (through simplifications), changing the scale, color, texture, or line, for example. A viewfinder could be used to help frame the image. Examine the Daumier print to consider the full range of values and textures that have been used to accent facial features, and to create form and space. Notice the scratching tool used to accent key points Examine the Dubuffet and consider the power of the roughly drawn black lines that seem to carve the skin with wrinkles, the use of color for accent, the shrunken body, and the overall impact of the rough and brutal face staring blankly at us.

Depending on the kind of materials available, create a caricature in the style of Daumier or Dubuffet. Plan the composition, thinking about the size of the subject in relation to the edge of the paper. Concentrate on distortion, exaggeration, and emphasis to stress the character's personality or essence. For Daumier, draw directly onto the paper. For Dubuffet, prepare the surface of the board in advance with the modeling plaster or tissues which have been wet with glue and crumpled. Add sand or other materials into the wet surface mixture to heighten the texture's effect. With the surface dry or wet, apply oil paint and printmaking ink alternately with brushes. Mix the oil paint with linseed oil or turpentine and draw back into the work with a brush./

When caricatures are completed, let students name the portraits, perhaps combining the real name with ideas suggested through the exaggerated facial features. Mount the portraits. Let the students in the class try to guess the identify of the caricatures.


Larkin, Oliver.

Daumier, Man of His Time.

New York; McGraw-Hill, 1966.

Rey, Robert.

Honore Daumier.

New York: Abrams, 1985.

Varnedoe, Kirk and Adam Gopkik.

High and Low: Modern Art

and Popular Culture

Exhibition Catalog. New York:

The Museum of Modern Art, 1991.

Seonaid McArthur is Coordinator of School Programs. The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Davis Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:McArthur, Seonaid
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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