Paul Gavarni (1804-1866)


He was born in Paris as Sulpice – Guillaume Chevallier. He was educated as engineer, but he also followed lithographic lessons with Jean Adams. In 1828 he returns from the Pyrenees and roams through Paris without work to get new and inspiring impressions. In 1829 he gets commands from the publisher Susse to make litho ‘s. However, the publisher advises him to choose a more euphonious pseudonym. His artist’s name became “Gavarni” after the “Cirque de Gavarnie”, a basin in the Pyrenees.


Cirque de Gavarnie

From the establishment of La Caricature in 1830 by Charles Philipon is Gavarni attached as collaborator. In 1832 also Daumier will join the team of La Caricature. Since 1832 they are also contributors to Le Charivari.


According to his own words – after his wanderings and his return to Paris in 1828 – “he was reborn in the crowd,” and he noted: “Everything should be created according to the reality.”


After beginning as a fashion illustrator and drawer of the society life in salons and balls, he went from 1830 on increasingly exploit the potential of the lithography for displaying graphite and charcoal drawings. But he was not such a great experimenter of lithography as Daumier.


His biographers, the brothers de Goncourt are especially delighted about the dandy-like life Gavarni leads and the type of woman that he created. This recurring type of woman – called “Lorette” – is usually accompanied by a rather silly male. She possesses charm and spirit and a slender and supple figure and likes to dress as Pierrette or in form-fitting pants.


One said: “If one wants to get a proper impression of life in Paris in the years from 1830 to 1848, one should read the books of Balzac and see the lithographs of Gavarni.”


This is the umbrella title that the novelist Honoré de Balzac (1799 – 1850) invented in 1841 for his novels he had written over the past thirteen years. These novels, such as “Le Père Goriot” from 1835 and “Eugénie Grandet” from 1833, are characterized by a realistic description art and an in-depth characterization of the characters. By characters in the novel to get one back in the next he reached the effect of a cycle of novels. In this cycle, he sought to create an overall picture of the era of the first half of the 19th century. Many artists like Daumier and Gavarni have depicted are fictional characters and influenced by his work. The title “La Comédie Humaine” made school. Gavarni example bundled a large number of drawings entitled “Mascarade Humaine”.


A “Physiology” or also called “Anatomy” is a literary genre that Balzac was the initiator. They are brief sketches that describe a particular subject with a certain clinical and detached gaze and the subject if it were attempting “to light” with an undertone of mockery and understatement. This genre became immensely popular and was widely followed by writers and artists who provided illustrations.

This “physiologies” appeared in magazines like “La Caricature” and “Le Charivari”, and were then released in little yellow booklets provided with illustrations. Topics were, for example “The concierge”, “The Poet”, “Musician”, “The Wanderer,” “The forger”, “The crook”, “schoolboy”, “The social lion”, “The rentier”.

From good-for-nothing till man of the world

Gavarni ‘s “physiologies” included vagabonds, poachers, pickpockets, swap counterfeiters, and artistic types.


The great dilemma of that period was the feeling that the Revolution of 1789 was actually unfinished and largely because of its excesses. Many were also tired of the wars and conflicts that were produced from them.


Gavarni and most other artists of the Restoration achieved their greatest successes during the regime of the Burger-King. What were the characteristics of this period? The government of the Burger-King meant in fact a complete victory of the bourgeoisie. The rapid growth of the overall wealth has been accompanied by a policy without clear principles and a decline in political involvement. There was a gap between bourgeoisie and nobility and bourgeoisie and between people (= workers and petty bourgeoisie). The government protected the employers rather than to prevent the exploitation of the increasing mass factory workers.

Without profession
Without profession


Trade unions were not permitted because these recalled the guilds of the old regime, and in the Restoration was this abolition was not undone. The associations and meeting rights did not exist and so strikes and gatherings were not allowed.


Employers were left entirely free to put labor relations through payroll deduction and penalties to their will. Notorious is the statement of 1843 by the Prime Minister Guizot, which admittedly has been torn out of context, but that is characteristic of the entire period: “Enrichissez – vous” (…. “You enriched itself).


“In politics you are a Robespierre”

His work does have a political dimension, but Gavarni has no interest in the political caricature that focuses directly against existing officials. He is a social satirist rather than caricaturist, because his work is realistic but without the distortions and exaggerations of the caricatural style. His view of society is also realistic and as chronicler of the mores and customs of his time, he is interested in all aspects of social life, of which of course talking about politics is a part.


Gavarni provided his  own captions for his drawings is in order to monitor the full control of the artistic process and his intentions. It is possible to give a different interpretation by coming up with a different caption, as is sometimes done by Daumier. Apparently Gavarni noticed this and wish to avoid it as undesirable.

His captions often have often a purely illustrative / informative function. The captions  consist sometimes of little dialogues and conversation pieces in the spoken language, in which the content of the dialogue is less important than the performance. Mostly, however, he is trying to create a clash between text and image with a humorous pointe.

Officers of the army of vagabonds.


Gavarni also paid attention to this aspect of society. But how we should appreciate his prints on this issue is not very clear. Was it an expression of social conscience? Whether he was as a draftsman only interested in the picturesque nature of these figures if he looked at them only with a “physiological” look?


Vireloque Thomas
Thomas Vireloque


Strict police action was possible because the bourgeois society inherited a police system, complete with a network of spies that had extensive powers to violate the home and take people on a single suspicion in custody.

This was complemented by a judiciary which was disinclined to take mitigating circumstances into account. This was especially denounced by Daumier with superlative sharpness. But Gavarni drew also scenes in the courtroom.


The action by police and judiciary against vagrants and vagabonds was compared to the Ancien Regime nothing new. Even in the time of Louis XVI was under an ordinance from 1777 built every healthy man between 16 and 60 without livelihoods and without appeal sent to the galleys. The new element was that during this period the industrialization also in France and other European countries increasingly began to turn, so that the depopulation and internal displacement in the country and the migration to the cities took on a mass character. In general, the sitting bourgeoisie was unwilling to make a clear distinction between the true criminals and those who for example by the conversion of agricultural land into industrial sites of goods and chattels were expelled.



As his main work in his last period in Paris one counts “Masques et Visages” and “d’ Après nature”. After the latter album he withdrew from public life.


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