Works by French artist Honore’ Daumier on display at the Empire

Although they're more than 150 years old, the satirical cartoons of the French artist Honore' Daumier -- and the ideas they convey -- still resonate with audiences today, said Arthur Jones, professor and chairman of the UND Department of Art and ...

A visitor checks out one of 32 lithographs
A visitor of the Empire Arts Center checks out one of 32 lithographs by French artist Honore' Daumier Tuesday. Darren Gibbins, special to the Herald

Although they’re more than 150 years old, the satirical cartoons of the French artist Honore’ Daumier - and the ideas they convey - still resonate with audiences today, said Arthur Jones, professor and chairman of the UND Department of Art and Design.

The exhibit, featuring 32 lithographs by Daumier at the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks, presents a rare opportunity for people in the region to view the works of “an important, world-class visual artist,” Jones said.   

“Daumier’s work represents the 19th century, but many of the concepts relate to the present and to people in Grand Forks and anyone else in the world.”

This is the first time an exhibit of Daumier’s work has been shown in North Dakota, said Jones, founding director of UND Art Collections Gallery that was dedicated almost two years ago in the Empire as a permanent venue to display pieces from the UND art collection and the works of regional artists.

“It’s almost a little slice of a museum in a metro area,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of space, but we can do a lot in a little space.”    


The Daumier exhibit “is something that you’d have to go to Minneapolis or Chicago to see,” said Emily Burkland, executive director of the Empire Arts Center.

The lithographs were chosen from the 180 Daumier prints that Jones purchased in the past year, he said.

For this exhibit, they have been organized into categories, or themes, such as: political commentary; the art world; law and justice; classicism and realism; women and society; leisure and the bourgeoisie. 

Prolific artist

During his prolific career, Daumier created more than 4,000 lithographs, 550 paintings and 100 sculptures, Jones said.

He began working in lithography in 1822 just 25 years after the printing method had been discovered.  

Daumier, whose illustrations appeared in two radical newspapers in Paris, often targeted political and social issues of his day, Jones said.

Through those published images, Daumier reached “a more general audience,” he said, “not just the wealthy, who could afford to buy art to hang in their homes.”


His lithographs present “highly charged political messages from the period,” said Sarah Mosher, UND assistant professor of French, who helped curate the exhibit and translated the text to English.

“Anyone who could read a newspaper could access these cartoons.”

Because literacy rates were low in mid-19th century France, those unable to read could also understand the cartoons’ messages, she said. 

“These are images we still do today,” Mosher said, “like you would see in The New Yorker (magazine) or graphic novels.”  

Politically pointed

Daumier was opposed to the monarchy, Jones said. “During his life, he saw the pendulum swing between republican forms of government and constitutional monarchy.

“He had leanings toward the regular people,” he said. “He was a strong advocate for freedom of the press.”  

After European powers defeated Napoleon, they wanted the monarchy restored, Jones said.


Daumier’s images often ridiculed the politically powerful, he said. “He put his own freedom on the line.”  

One of his cartoons, published in December 1831, characterized Louis-Philippe, “King of the French,” as a gluttonous giant devouring paper currency, led to a six-month prison sentence, Jones said.        

After new censorship laws - which threatened harsher penalties for noncompliance - were passed in 1835, Daumier’s caricatures tended to be less political and more aimed at social issues, such as satirical commentaries on lifestyles of the bourgeoisie, Jones said.

“Bourgeoisie,” generally considered a negative term, Mosher said, refers to people who aspired to higher social class and indulged in the leisurely activities that wealth afforded them the time to do - hunting, dining out and viewing art.

“Today, we’d call them ‘posers’ or ‘wannabes.’”

While the art reveals Daumier as a “political progressive” for the most part, Jones said, his views on some issues, especially concerning women’s rights and politically active behavior, for example, “reflected the typical views of his time.”

“He was against women getting involved in any activity outside the home,” he said.

Although, if the artist were alive today, he would probably be more supportive of women’s rights, Jones said. 



In preparing the lithographs for exhibit, Jones collaborated with Mosher and other UND faculty members, Gary Towne, music department; Gregory Gordon, law school, and Kim Fink, art and design department. 

Those involved are “full partners” in the project, Jones said. “Without collaboration, we couldn’t do this.” 

Art and design faculty member Joel Jonientz and graduate student Samuel Schultz were asked to create lithographs in the spirit and style of Daumier. Both of their lithographs are displayed in the exhibit along with examples of equipment used in the lithographic process. 

The exhibit has been “very popular,” Burkland said. “It has brought in different people who usually don’t come to galleries,” including high school art and French students. 

“It’s been a huge draw,” she said. “People are interested in French culture and history.”

The exhibit “is attracting much more interest from high school students than any show we’ve had in the past,” Jones said. 

“We wanted to make this exhibit as ‘public-friendly’ as possible,” he said.


Jones purchased the Daumier lithographs through two art dealers in New York City with monies given to UND from the Myers Foundation, he said.

The Florida-based foundation has given funds to UND to build its art collection for use in research, teaching and community outreach, he said,

The Daumier exhibit is dedicated to the memory of Jonientz, associate professor of art and design at UND, who at age 46 died unexpectedly of a heart attack three days before the April 24 exhibit opening.

The opening date was chosen because on April 24, 1792, the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” was composed by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle.   

The exhibit closes July 14, the anniversary of the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, also known as Bastille Day, equivalent to Independence Day in the U.S.

On July 14, 1795, “La Marseillaise” officially became the French national anthem. 

A second presentation of Daumier lithographs is planned for display at the Empire Arts Center beginning in spring 2015, Jones said. 

If you go:


  • What: UND Art Collections at the Empire: Selected Works by Honore’ Daumier (1808-1879)  
  • Where: Empire Arts Center, 415 DeMers Avenue, Grand Forks 
  • When: Exhibit runs through July 14; gallery hours are 12 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
  • Cost: Free.
  • For info: (701) 746-5500.

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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