The Truest Mirror of Life: 19th Century French Caricatures

The Truest Mirror of Life: 19th Century French Caricatures

8 August 2017- 21 January 2018
Hunterian Art Gallery
Admission free

Honore Daumier, 1830 & 1833, 1833.


‘Trivial images, sketches of the crowd and street life, caricatures, are often the truest mirror of life’.
Charles Baudelaire

Described as an art of discernment, subtlety and caustic wit, caricature features strongly in The Hunterian collections. The Truest Mirror of Life reflects the rising popularity of the genre in 19th century France, showcasing some of its greatest exponents, most notably Honoré Daumier, Gavarni and Cham.

The display also provides an intimate look at aspects of 19th century Parisian society at a time of great change.

Above: Honoré Daumier, 1830 & 1833, 1833, lithograph.

This caricature depicts the French King Louis-Philippe, who descended on his father's side from the brother of Louis XVI. Proclaimed King of the French in 1830 following a revolution that threw out his cousin Charles X, Louis-Philippe aged remarkably during the early years of his reign. One consequence was the loss of the pear shape that had come to symbolize not only his head but also the entire regime. He was forced to abdicate in 1848.


Chevalier Paul Sulpice Gavarni, Mes respects chez vous, M’ame veuve Tout-le-monde! (My respects to you, Madam Widow-of-everyone!), 1854 © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow.Sulpice-Guillaume Chevalier (1804-66), known to the public as Gavarni, was an illustrator who published drawings in the printed press satirizing aspects of contemporary Parisian society. The series featured here, Les Lorettes Vieillies, Masques et Visages, looks at elderly lorettes, women on the margins of respectable society who in their youth had occupied a position somewhere between those of the street prostitute and the courtesan. 

Right: Chevalier Paul Sulpice Gavarni, Mes respects chez vous, M’ame veuve Tout-le-monde! (My respects to you, Madam Widow-of-everyone!), 1854, lithograph.

A street vendor’s barbed greeting alludes mockingly to the many past lovers of the elderly woman in mourning.

Though the lorette was typically from a working class background, she often became estranged from her own roots; novelist Honoré de Balzac wrote that ‘the word lorette has passed into the language of every class in society, even where the lorette herself will never gain an entrance’.


Honoré Daumier, L’Odorat (Smell), 1839 © The Hunterian, University of Glasgow.A caricaturist, painter and sculptor, Honoré Daumier (1808-79) made his name at Charles Philippon’s satirical journal La Caricature. In a series entitled The 5 Senses and published in La Caricature in 1839, Daumier offers a wry interpretation of the place of the senses in daily life. The display features a selection of Daumier’s satires of contemporary politics and society which delighted press readers in a changing France. Word and image enter into a lively dialogue, as the caricaturist exploits all the humorous possibilities of popular speech.

Right: Honoré Daumier, L’Odorat (Smell), 1839, hand coloured lithograph.

A wizened old figure in his nightcap is absorbed by the scent of a single flower in the morning light. The crammed window sill and birdcage together suggest something of the man’s confined existence.


Charles Amédée de Noé, known as Cham (1818-79) was one of the most celebrated caricaturists of his day, but has since remained a largely neglected figure. The series shown here dates from the period of the Paris Commune, the largest urban insurrection of the 19th century. Les Folies de la Commune offers a none too sympathetic account of the Commune, as it reflects on the everyday experience of politically disaffected lower middle class Parisians during this violent period.