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The work of 19th century Realist Honoré Daumier has always intrigued me because his work runs the gamut from comically amusing to deadly serious. Today, February 26 (1808) marks his birthday, so I'd like to honor Honoré today with an article about his artistic extremes.

In this satirical lithograph above, Battle of the Schools, 1855 ( Harvard Art Museums-Fogg Museum), Daumier stages an imaginary battle between himself as the representative of Realism and the beautifully rendered idealized figure recalling ancient Greco-Roman art. As Realism dictates, he shows himself as a common man with a bulging belly and pendulous nose waging war with the idealized figure representing Realism’s nemesis, Neoclassicism. The artwork certainly makes its point!

At first glance, we seem to have encountered another satirical composition by Daumier. Did this intoxicated drunkard just fall out of bed? The lithograph is called Rue Transnonain, 1834, (Yale University Art Gallery), and this work is an example of Daumier’s penetrating Realism. Here he shows three of the victims of a massacre that occurred during the riots of April 1834, when government troops opened fire on the residents of an apartment building located on the  corner of Rue Transnonain and Rue de Montmorency.

Workers in the neighborhood had protested against the repression of a silk workers’ revolt in the city of Lyon. On the night of April 15, soldiers of the civil guard entered the building going from apartment to apartment shooting, bayonetting, and clubbing the innocent residents, some of whom were asleep in their beds, as in this illustration. There is certainly nothing funny about this work of art.

Let’s conclude our tribute with one of Daumier’s political cartoons, Gargantua, 1831, (Yale University Art Gallery). The lithograph depicts King Louis-Philippe I as François Rabelais’s rotund and insatiable character named Gargantua. The king sits on a royal commode ingesting tax money pilfered from the poor. Baskets of coins are conveyed on a steep ramp to the king’s gaping mouth. The king simultaneously defecates awards and honorariums to his sycophants assembled below .

We can all appreciate Daumier's talent to portray his political opinion so clearly through art, but Louis-Philippe was not amused. Daumier received a six-month prison term, the image was barred from publication, and the lithographic stone was destroyed. I admire this artist for his courage to express his disdain for corruption at the risk of persecution. As a Realist, Daumier was always true to himself and authentic in his drawings, lithographs and paintings.

As an artist I am available for commissions. As an art historian, I present a range of art topics for groups and organizations. Go to for more information.

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