A Man Looking Through a Window at Three Giants

Paul GAVARNI (Paris, 1804 - Auteuil, 1866)

Biography



Paul Gavarni was largely self-taught as an artist, having begun his career as a civil servant. In 1829 he submitted a watercolour to the Salon, and when the work – a view of the village of Gavarnie in the Pyrenées – was accepted and mistakenly exhibited under the name ‘Gavarni’, he decided to adopt the name for himself. He began working for such popular Parisian magazines as Le Charivari, La Mode, La Caricature and Silhouette, providing them with fashion illustrations and satirical drawings. He also produced illustrations for a short-lived publication of his own, entitled Le Journal des gens du monde. By the 1830’s he had become a popular member of elegant society, his prints of Parisian life earning him a well-deserved reputation.

Gavarni spent several years in London in the late 1840’s, and there contributed to the Illustrated London News, but the later years of his life were spent in relative seclusion in Auteuil. Among his most devoted admirers were the Goncourt brothers, who published a book on the artist in 1873, as well as Honoré de Balzac and Gustave Flaubert, while Edgar Degas owned some two thousand lithographs by Gavarni. Nevertheless, the artist’s reputation has declined since his death and, as one scholar has aptly noted, ‘Nowadays Gavarni is not perhaps as well known as he should be. This is partly because he produced few oil paintings, though he did work in watercolour, and partly because his art possesses neither the quality nor the profundity of his contemporary Honoré Daumier. Gavarni’s prolific output probably tells against him…Those who persevere and examine more than a token selection of his work will find much to delight them.’