Treasure: Daumier caricatured 19th-century France

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

French artist Honoré Daumier has been called “the Michelangelo of caricature,” according to the website He rose to prominence during the aftermath of the French Revolution, it explains, as a caricaturist of 19th-century politics and society.

The site says, “His determined focus on the foibles of 19th century France make him the one artist who comes closest to summing up this part of French history. Forced to quit school at the age of 12, Honoré Daumier developed a life-long sympathy for the poor. Unfortunately, he sympathized so much with them that he died in debt and was buried in a pauper’s grave. Honoré Daumier used his skills as a lithographer to ridicule French government and society. In his youth, he even wound up in jail for a caricature of the French King. An extremely productive artist, he made almost 4,000 prints before going blind. He was also a talented painter and sculptor, but these works mainly became known after his death.”

Alan Somershoe and his wife are among the many who admire and purchased examples of Daumier’s work. “About 45 years ago, my wife and I purchased 3 Honoré Daumier lithographs,” he wrote to the column. “We were told they were part of the “charivari” series by Daumier, printed on the back-side of newsprint paper. We had them framed at a gallery in Birmingham, MI, and they have hung in our homes ever since.”

The three works are named “Les Canotiers Parisiens #2,” featuring three standing men in conversation, “L’Exposition Universelle #33” featuring a man, woman and girl in a gallery, and “Croquis Dramatiques #9, with an actor and actress bowing on stage. They recently brought them in for an appraisal at DuMouchelles downtown, where Richard Fedorowicz took a look at them.

Daumier was born in 1808 in Marseille, he told them, and later moved to Paris. “Everything you ever wanted to know about Daumier is on the website,” he told the couple. Charivari was a popular periodical at the time.

Because he was so prolific, his works are plentiful, the appraiser told the couple. In the hierarchy of original works, the ones that ran in the newspaper or magazine bring the least money at auction. “His body of work is quite large,” Fedorowicz told the couple. “The original lithographs bring more than the pieces from the newspaper, which are old in their own right but not as desirable. They are from lithographic plates, but people prefer the originals or ones not on newsprint.”

People do collect ones like the ones bought by the Somershoes, but they do not bring a large amount of money. He valued them at $40-$60 each at auction, adding that he found a group of 34 similar lithographs that sold at a Swiss auction house in November of 2016 for $800.

Somershoe said he appreciated learning more and finds them interesting even if they’re not particularly rare or valuable. “Hopefully I didn’t pay a lot for them,” he added.

Fedorowicz said Daumier was not shy about expressing his dissatisfaction with politics, something to which today’s public can relate. “Daumier was a pot stirrer,” the appraiser said. “If he was alive today he’d be tweeting or writing for Saturday Night Live.”

About this item

Item: Daumier prints

Owner: Alan Somershoe

Appraised by: Richard Fedorowicz, DuMouchelles

Value: $40-$60 each