Daumier and van Gogh


Vincent van Gogh was one of many artists who greatly admired Honoré Daumier. He was very impressed by Daumier’s art and we find comments on Daumier in many of his letters to his brother Theo. “Daumier is also a great genius.” He wrote in his Letter B13.

In another letter he urges his brother to buy Daumier prints:

“I am very glad that you have bought the book on Daumier, but if you could

make a complete job of it by buying some more of his lithographs, it would

be all to the good, for in the future the Daumiers will not be as easy to

get hold of.”

(Letter 490)

Have a toothache? Look at Daumier!

“These days I am troubled with a bad toothache which sometimes affects my

right eye and ear; however, it may be partly due to nerves. If one has

toothache, one becomes indifferent to many things, but it is curious that,

for instance, Daumier’s drawings are so true that they almost make one

forget the toothache. I have two new prints of his, “Un Train de Plaisir”

[Excursion Train], travellers with pale faces and black coats in rough

weather arriving on the platform too late, among them women with crying babies.”

(Letter 255)

In the following letter van Gogh tells his brother Theo what he especially likes about Daumier’s drawing and why he prefers Daumier to other artists.

“I must ask you something: Are there any cheap Daumier prints to be had,

and, if so, which ones? I always found him very clever, but it is only

recently that I have begun to have the impression that he is more important

than I thought. If you know any particulars about him or if you have seen

any of his important drawings, please tell me about it.

I had seen some caricatures of his before now, and perhaps for that very

reason had the wrong idea about him. His figures always impressed me, but I

think I know only a very small portion of his work, and that, for instance,

the caricatures are not at all the most representative or most important

part of it.

I remember we spoke about it last year on the road to Prinsenhage, and you

said then that you liked Daumier better than Gavarni, and I took Gavarni’s

part, and told you about the book I had read about Gavarni which you have

now. But I must say that since then, though I have not come to like Gavarni

less, I begin to suspect that I know but a very small portion of Daumier’s

work and that the very things which would interest me most are in the

portion of his work which I do not know (though I already greatly

appreciate what I know of him). And I have a vague recollection, but I may

be mistaken, that you spoke about large drawings, types or heads of people,

and I am very curious to see them. If there were more things of his as

beautiful as a print I found recently, “Les 5 ages d’un buveur [the five

ages of a drinker], or like that figure of an old man under a chestnut tree

which I mentioned to you before–yes, then he would perhaps be the greatest

of all. Can you perhaps give me some information about it?

Do you remember the figures by De Groux from the “Uilenspiegel,” which I

used to have but have lost, alas. Well, those two prints by Daumier just

mentioned are like them, and if you can find more of them, those are what I

mean (I care much less for the caricatures).”

(Letter 239)