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Honore Daumier


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Daumier, Honere-Victorin
(1808-1879 )

Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) was a French lithographer, painter, and sculptor who gained wide notoriety for his social and political commentary on the monarchy, politicians, and the middle class. Daumier was witness to three revolutions (1830, 1848, and 1871) which transformed France from a monarchy to a republic.

Daumier was 22 years old when Louis-Philippe became the constitutional monarch of France in 1830. In July 1830, a pro-republican revolution in French ousted the reigning king, Charles X, and the Bourbon regime. Although the working class favored a republican form of government, the Marquis de Lafayette threw his influence behind a limited monarchy, and the new legislature then instituted a constitutional monarchy. Louis-Philippe was offered the crown in exchange for honoring a charter that limited his powers.

Louis-Philippe's reign, known as the July Monarchy, lasted 18 years, from the revolution of 1830 to the revolution of 1848. Throughout this time France was torn between various rival factions: Royalists (who supported the old monarchy), Orléanists (who backed the new monarchy), republicans, and Bonapartists. In the early years of his reign, Louis-Philippe’s basically conservative outlook was strengthened by a number of workers’ demonstrations and by several attempts on his life. Although he was a constitutional monarch, Louis-Philippe gained considerable personal power by splitting the liberal movement and appointing weak ministers. As the new legislature proved to be equally unresponsive to the economic needs and political desires of the lower classes, Louis-Philippe became increasingly unpopular.

In November 1830 a print publisher named Aubert and his son-in-law Charles Philipon started an anti-monarchist weekly paper called La Caricature. Daumier, an ardent republican, began contributing political cartoons to the publication. His caricatures of Louis-Philippe were so popular that the monarch was prompted to re-introduce censorship. Daumier was eventually sentenced to six months in prison for his anti-monarchy lithograph titled Gargantua, published in La Caricature in December 1831. The lithograph portrayed a bloated Louis-Philippe on a commode, waiting while the starving citizens of France struggled up a plank to deposit treasure in his gaping mouth. Below the commode, various favorites of the King scurry about picking up the honors and ribbons obligingly excreted by the King.

In December 1832, Aubert and Philipon began a second publication, Le Charivari, credited with being the first daily paper to be illustrated with lithographs. Daumier continued to contribute his political satires to both publications. In 1834, in order to pay the censorship fines imposed on his newspapers, Philipon started a large-format publication (essentially a "print-of-the-month" club) titled L’Association mensuelle lithographique. Many of the lithographs contributed by Daumier to this publication are considered to be among his masterpieces, including the lithograph titled Rue Transnonain (1834). In this lithograph Daumier portrayed a poor, working-class family mistakenly shot to death in their home by troops from Louis-Philippe’s army. The King attempted to have all copies of the print confiscated and destroyed.

In 1835 the French government prohibited political caricature entirely, and so Le Charivari was forced to restrict itself to satires of everyday life. Daumier published nearly 4000 lithographs in this publication between 1835 and 1860, averaging eight lithographs a month. He created a critical panorama of France’s social classes in transition from an agrarian society to an urban, industrial society. Modern technologies such as railways, steamships, and photography emerged during this time, adding material for the social criticism and satire of the growing inequalities of nineteenth-century French society.

Famine, unemployment, and a financial crisis provoked the revolution of 1848, causing Louis-Philippe to abdicate. During the winter of 1847-1848, a shortage of food drove prices high, particularly in the cities. Workers held demonstrations to demand affordable food. They were joined by liberals who were interested in promoting their own political goals, including gaining the right to vote. To put down the protests, the French government sent its army to dispel the crowds. The crowds resisted, building barricades in the narrow city streets of Paris to stop the soldiers. The turning point came when shopkeepers and master artisans, who made up about one-fifth of the population of Paris, joined the demonstrators. When they sided with the workers and the liberals the balance of power turned against the king, who fled the country. The Second Republic had begun.

In late 1848, Louis Napoleon, nephew of Napoleon I, was elected the first President of the Second Republic. Bonaparte served only three years as President before he did precisely what many had feared he would do - he abolished the Republic and its rights of free speech, free assembly and free elections and made himself Emperor.

Daumier once again returned to political satire, publishing lithographs in other publications in addition to Le Charivari, where he seemed to be losing favor. In 1860 Le Charivari abandoned Daumier completely, claiming that readers had "tired" of him. He continued to create political satires, publishing primarily in the newspaper Le Boulevard, founded in 1862. Ironically, Napoleon III’s administration proved to be more liberal than the past regime, allowing and even encouraging caricature. Le Charivari once again hired Daumier (in 1863), where he continued to publish lithographs until 1872.

In 1870, the Franco-Prussian war erupted. Emperor Napoleon III surrendered to the Prussians on September 2, 1870. Two days later, the Republicans in Paris staged a bloodless revolution and proclaimed the establishment of the Third Republic, definitively marking the end of centuries of monarchy. In January 1871 Paris fell to the Prussians after a four-month siege. By the terms of an armistice signed later that month, the rest of France elected members to a National Assembly in February, which was to vote on whether to make peace with the Prussians. A majority of the members were Royalists who wanted to restore the monarchy and favored acceptance of the peace terms dictated by the Prussian prime minister, Otto von Bismarck. However, the radical Republicans and socialists in Paris considered Bismarck's terms humiliating and continued fighting. On March 17 and 18, the Republicans in Paris led an uprising against the national government. They established a proletarian dictatorship in Paris and called for the election of a municipal council. This council became known as the Commune of 1871, and its members as Communards.

The National Assembly sent troops to Paris to suppress the revolt. From May 21 to 28, a savage civil war ensued. More than 20,000 Communards were slaughtered by government troops. The Communards in turn burned numerous public buildings in Paris and shot hostages. The Commune fell on May 2 8, 1871.

The provisional republic created after May 1871 juggled several competing political groups: The Radical Left; The Conservative Republicans; and the Monarchists. In 1875 the National Assembly passed, by a margin of one vote, a resolution establishing a republic. The new laws provided for a president, a parliament in two chambers, and a council of ministers, or cabinet, headed by a premier. At the end of 1875 the National Assembly dissolved itself, and the provisional phase of the Third Republic came to an end.

When the first Chamber of Deputies was elected in 1876, the Republicans won more than two-thirds of the seats. In 1879 the Republicans won control of the Senate.

Daumier died in February, 1879. His funeral, on February 14, coincided with the consolidation of power by the Republican party.

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