Art: Daumier: Vitality's Signature

The drawings of Daumier powerfully capture the muck and detail of life

The French artist Honore Daumier (1808-1879) is the cartoonist's god, though of course he is much more than that. It's impossible to think of an outstanding 20th century caricaturist, from David Low to Ronald Searle and David Levine, who doesn't owe something fundamental to him. Most people know him only through his prints, those distillations of vengeance in which, through a long career, Daumier impaled the dignitaries of bourgeois France on his lithographic crayon. No greater visual satirist ever lived; none, one may be fairly sure, ever will.

The diffusion of Daumier's satirical prints has been such that they tend to...

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