New Brunswick, NJ
In 1830, the Parisian journalist and publisher Charles Philipon hired Honoré Daumier (1808–1879) to join the team of artists creating lithographs for his weekly satirical journal La Caricature. As Philipon grew increasingly outspoken about the repressive government of King Louis-Philippe, he charged Daumier and his colleagues with composing critical and caricatural works featuring the king’s deputies and ministers. To that end, he commissioned Daumier, a budding sculptor as well as a masterly printmaker, to create a series of clay busts to serve as models for all of the artists working for Philipon to refer to for their caricatures. The Zimmerli Art Museum boasts a complete set of the Celebrities of the Juste-Milieu, as the sculptures are now collectively known, which is on permanent view on the other side of this gallery.
The prints in this exhibition, by Daumier and his fellow La Caricature artists J. J. Grandville and Charles Traviès, feature comic portraits of French political figures of the early 1830s based on the Celebrities of the Juste-Milieu sculptures. The consistent depiction of the deputies and ministers in the prints published in La Caricature (and later in Philipon’s other weekly journal, Le Charivari) widely circulated Daumier’s incisive portrayals of these functionaries. In an era before photography and daily newspapers, the lithographs published by Philipon essentially functioned as mass media, disseminating scathing views of the current state of affairs while specifically and repeatedly identifying those he considered responsible.
The prints on view also reveal the ways Daumier and his colleagues sought to elevate the recently invented printmaking medium of lithography to the level of serious art. Daumier’s prints of individual “celebrities” demonstrate his drawing mastery as well as his understanding of both current and historical approaches to formal portraiture. Grandville and Traviès similarly showcase their compositional talents and art-historical knowledge by making obvious references to earlier important works of art in their depictions of the “celebrities.” With Charles Philipon, Daumier and the other artists of La Caricature revealed new directions for caricature, printmaking, and the political press with their ambitious and unified presentation of the Celebrities of the Juste Milieu.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website