Art & Politics

Honoré Daumier's Images of Poverty in France (1830s)

Honoré Daumier (b. February 26, 1808 – d. February 10, 1879) was a French printmaker, caricaturist, painter, and sculptor, whose works reflected social and political life in 19th century France.

He was a prolific artist and draftsman who produced almost 4000 lithographs and 1000 wood engravings as well as approximately 1000 drawings, 500 paintings and almost 100 sculptures.

This video shows a large number of Daumier's images on the poverty which he observed during the 1830's in Paris, where he lived. His preoccupations were with the people, with social lives and the political milieu of that time in Paris.

Daumier is also well known for his caricatures of political figures and for satires on the everyday life, social conditions and politics of his country. He did not glorify Paris, and he did not glorify aristocrats, or idealise the wealthy, political, religious figure, or powerful monarchists (as had been the normal role of pictorial art and artists for centuries). Instead his art mocked the wealthy and powerful, and those in public roles whose work 'propped up' this social and political system, based as it was on extreme inequality - both economic and political.

Daumier was instead siding with the humanity of the common people and portraying them and their poverty-ridden situations. This way if portraying and satirising powerful figures can translate very easily across the intervening 180 years and is just as relevant to many of today's political figures. These people have, in recent decades handed over our economies and societies to the international markets and to 'casino capitalism', whilst further enriching themselves and their wealthy friends - to the detriment of the mass of ordinary people.

Many of these images have resonance with the contemporary poverty that can still be seen, not only in the poorest parts of the world. They also resonate with the everyday poverty (now normalised) that we can see today in towns and cities within ‘developed’ countries. One of his images is a grotesque image of King Louis Philippe as Gargantua, consuming all that society can produce. This also suggests extreme Inequality, which is at least as extreme today in many societies around the world.