Honoré Daumier


Inspired by the courts in his Paris neighborhood, Daumier made numerous studies of lawyers at work. The artist’s experience as a pictorial satirist for the sophisticated audience of the journal Le Charivari informed many of these scenes. At a courtroom table, a lawyer leans back to offer an aside to his upright colleague, who listens with an impassive air. Daumier’s sly commentary on the legal profession reveals his skepticism about the justice system during the reign of Napoleon iii.

Honoré Daumier
French; 1808–1879
Two Lawyers Conversing, ca. 1862
Black chalk, lithographic crayon, watercolor and opaque watercolor with graphite


Daumier gained fame for his brilliant and lively lithographic illustrations and political cartoons in popular periodicals in newspapers. His approach was intelligent and humorous, and like the work of most satirists, characterized by a flair for keenly observed gestures and mannerisms.

Of the many subjects he had an affinity for, perhaps the most appealing is his depictions of members of the legal profession; a subject that continues to fascinate us today. We find drawings of lawyers preparing their cases and engaged in dramatic courtroom flourishes as they present their arguments.

Here, at a table in a courtroom, a rotund lawyer leans back to share a conspiratorial aside with his gaunt colleague, who absorbs the news with a vacant-eyed stare.

Daumier was a great skeptic of the government and critic of the justice system in France under Napoleon III, so it's not surprising that he would poke fun at the habits and postures of these representatives of the law.

By the 1860s, the art market in Paris offered many opportunities for exhibiting and selling highly finished pictorial drawings, and Daumier's reputation was at its height.

For this richly worked sheet, Daumier first drew the figures lightly in black chalk, then used subtle watercolor washes. Notice the delicate strokes of rose and yellow in the faces before adding a final layer of pastel and delineating the features with thin, velvety strokes of chalk.