Given the recent Charlie Hebdo shootings and the conversations they have spurred about satire and creative freedom, it seems appropriate to turn to one of the early masters of French satire, Honoré Daumier, for our spotlight series.
Daumier’s career as a published caricaturist began after the revolution of 1830, when, under Louis-Philippe (fondly known as The Citizen King for his supposed simplicity), freedom of the press was established in France. This gave rise to Charles Philipon’s journal La Caricature, which published both social and overtly political cartoons, some of which found enemies in the monarchy.
Though freedom of expression had been formally established, contradictions were rife under the Citizen King’s rule. Daumier’s drawings were actually frequently censored. One particularly iconic print, Gargantua—a cartoon of Louis-Philippe as the eponymous, gold-eating character in Rabelais’ obscene novel—landed him six months in jail for treason, despite the fact that the image was not published. Louis-Philippe, in fact, became a common character in Daumier’s oeuvre, often imaged as an exploitative misanthrope with a pear-shaped head. Due to Louis-Philippe’s imposition of the September Laws in 1835, which curtailed the freedom of the press to discuss the constitutional monarchy, Daumier was forced to tame his cartoons, turning to the realm of social satire. Daumier became known for his “expressive heads,” the sculptural faces of men that populated many of his prints. The heads were often modeled in clay and then drawn from the model, an interesting method for an artist known as a cartoonist and, later, painter rather than a sculptor.
While his comically exaggerated faces and sculpted bodies read, to many, as charming, accessible social commentary—looking at the images now, the satire seems hardly horrifying enough to offend—Voyage a travers les populations empressées (seen above) presents no discernible human faces, only that of a malicious horse looking back at the corpses littering the landscape. This print, which was featured in La Caricature, lacks the refinement of Daumier’s crisp, detailed portraits, and feels particularly critical, and disturbing, because of this lack. Though no records exist of this print being censored, it may be one of Daumier’s most bleak and biting caricatures. The figure on the horse seems, at first glance, unidentifiable, but some contend that the figure is the infamously pear-shaped Louis-Philippe. With this reading, the inscription, “Voyage a travers les populations empressées,” suggests that the Citizen King is traveling through a once eager population, now slain. Though the scenery is not particularly indicative of place, the bodies scattered throughout the barren countryside may refer to the workers killed in the Canut revolts of 1831 and 1834—worker revolts in Lyon that were suppressed by Louis-Philippe’s anti-republican rule. In Daumier’s print, Louis-Philippe does not even look at the casualties of his rule, but continues, slumped, through this valley of death. Here, Daumier plays the “expert moralist,” condemning the brutality of the Citizen King’s rule.
— Reya Sehgal, Curatorial Assistant
 Elizabeth C. Childs, “Big Trouble: Daumier, Gargantua, and the Censorship of Political Caricature,” Art Journal 51, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 26-37.
 Bruce Laughton, “Daumier’s Expressive Heads,” RACAR: Canadian Art Review 14, no. ½ (1987): 135-142.
 Elisabeth Luther Cary, Honoré Daumier: a Collection of His Social and Political Caricatures, Together With an Introductory Essay On His Art (London, 1907): 25.