Tuesday, January 13, 2015

le stylo mightier than the sword

Long before Iranian cartoonist Mahmoud Shokraiyeh was sentenced to 25 lashings for drawing a parliament member in a soccer jersey in 2012 or the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were gunned down and murdered this past week, a 19th-century caricaturist Honoré Daumier and his colleagues at the weekly Paris journal La Caricature endured prison sentences, fines, and litigation for their portraits of king Louis-Philippe I of France, who came to power after the Revolution of 1830. 
 In 19th century France Honoré Daumier mocked kings, emperors, politicians, ministers, their censorship of the press, their role in the inequalities of French society lawyers, doctors, blue stockings, art collectors and the good, self-satisfied bourgeois citizens of nineteenth-century Paris.
A critic called him 'Molière with a crayon'.
He was a caricaturist—a satirist in ink— as Henry James said in his essay on Daumier, which is a kind of “journalism made doubly vivid.” Of him Balzac said, “He's got Michelangelo in his system.” Degas declared him the equal of Delacroix. The young Rodin, when he saw Daumier’s statuette Ratapoil —a caricature of Louis Napoleon— said, “What a Sculptor!”

Daumier was born in 1808 in Marseilles, the third child and first son of Cécile-Catherine and Jean-Baptiste Daumier, a glazier. Daumier père died insane in 1851. Daumier had little formal education. “The streets of Paris,” Howard Vincent wrote, “were his school and college, his occupation and pastime. They were his career. They formed him, made him aware." In 1821, Daumier took a job as a clerk at a bookstore in the Palais-Royale, near two important printsellers and the Louvre. Here is the famous lithograph Gargantua which earned him a six month prison sentence.
 We see a bloated, pear-headed Louis-Philippe perched on a commode. The starving citizens of France struggle up a plank to deposit the country’s treasure in his gaping maw. Down below, ministers and favorites scurry about eagerly with the sundry writs, honors, and ribbons that the king obligingly excretes. In August, 1832, Daumier was arrested and incarcerated in Sainte-Pélagie prison: “a charming resort,” he wrote to a friend, “where not everyone enjoys himself.”
 In the last year of the Second Empire, Daumier was offered the Legion of Honor, which he refused from a government he detested. He died blind and poor in a house, the painter Courbet, bought for him secretly. But his message hasn't dimmed.

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  1. This is a great tradition to carry on. Vive la France!

  2. Satirists and caricaturists are truly some of our greatest treasures, they help us remember to question and be more self-aware, to be more alive in the moment.

  3. I agree, a great tradition and treasure. A cartoon is the sugared pill we not only swallow without realising, but we smile while we're doing so.

    I have pens printed that say:
    "The pen may not be mightier than the sword
    But you can still do some damage with one ..."