Realism in France was not only revolutionary in an artistic sense; many of the artists, especially Daumier
and Courbet, took strong antigovernment positions, which they expressed in their work.
Honoré Daumier was an artist employed by
newspapers, and his lithographs are the direct
forerunners of the political cartoons we see every
day on editorial pages. Daumier was arrested twice
for criticizing the government in his prints, and
many of his prints deal with the theme of freedom
of the press. Daumier also looked at contemporary
life in Paris and used his cartoons to poke fun at
businessmen, lawyers, and politicians. His print,
Gargantua, which satirizes the “citizen-king” Louis-
Phillippe, shows the caricature-like faces and loose
drawing technique that is typical of Daumier’s work.
Daumier was able to transform his sketchy manner of drawing into a print through the use of lithography.
Of all the printmaking techniques, lithography gives artists the ability to work most freely because the image
is simply drawn on a prepared stone with a greasy crayon or painted on with oil-based wash. The
preparation of the stone to hold ink is entirely chemical—no cutting or scraping is needed. Lithography,
which was invented at the end of the eighteenth century, became popular with both romantic and realist
printmakers who appreciated the ease with which they could create sketchy effects and broad areas of
Gustave Courbet is the artist who most clearly represented the realist movement, and his A Burial at Ornans
is the painting that most visibly shows the characteristics of the style. Although the painting has the huge
scale of history painting, there is nothing heroic about the people or the event being depicted. The piece
illustrates an ordinary funeral; the deceased (who has been identified as Courbet’s grandfather) has already
been lowered into the grave. Clergy members and onlookers show varying responses ranging from
disinterest to real grief, and some in the back row are already moving away. To complement the
ordinariness of the subject, Courbet avoided most artistic conventions: the figures are arranged in a row
(rather than a pyramid or some other shape), the brushwork is coarse, and the colors are drab.