Occasionally we find some rather unusual pieces of Art. While under normal circumstances the more general findings are simply being added to the Internet version of the database, we sometimes feel that an unusual discovery merits a special section in the Daumier News.

This time we invite you to look at the wood engravings DR 6029 and 6032.

(DR 6029 – Wood engraving)

(DR 6032 – Wood engraving)

During the Daumier exhibition at the Kunsthaus in Zurich earlier this year we noticed a chalk drawing on whitewash (catalogue p. 76/77) entitled “Au Bal Masqué ” . What surprised us was the fact that the drawing was executed on a woodblock which would commonly be used for a wood engraving.

(6029 – Drawing)

The woodblock in Zurich shows au verso the usual stamps by Kieszling, the supplier of such wooden blocks for Daumier’s xylographic work (numbered B 284 Paris). These pieces would eventually be turned over to a woodcutter; after having been engraved they would be used for printing and publication in Le Monde Illustré. The engraving process of course would then have destroyed the original drawing.

In 2003 we were able to find the original engraved woodblock in Paris, which was used to publish the 1868 version on newsprint. The original wooden plates were bolted together and in good condition.

(6029 – Woodblock)

The Daumier Register furthermore owns a print on Japan and one on China paper which had been reprinted in 1920 by Meynial using again the same wood block.

(DR 6029 – Meynial reprint)


To understand better what Meynial did, see here our article on Meynial).

As one can see neither the prints on Japan or China paper nor the newsprint versions show any damage in the woodblock. Most likely Daumier had depicted the original drawing on the woodblock in early 1868 to be published in Le Monde Illustré on February 22, 1868.

When looking at the Zurich drawing, this obvious question comes to mind: why would Daumier have done a drawing on an expensive Kieszling woodblock, if it hadn’t been used for engraving and subsequent printing? Logic suggests that there may have existed two separate woodblocks, of which only one was used for printing.

Could it be plausible that Daumier had done the same identical drawings twice? Alternatively, could it be true that one of the drawings might be the copy of the other? We think that both possibilities are not convincing.

Over a period of more than 100 years the Zurich drawing, now in a Swiss private collection, had belonged to the famous Rouart Collection (1833-1912) and had repeatedly been shown at various exhibitions. A detailed examination indicated certain small, hardly visible irregularities: a thin line on the right hand side of the thigh of the man sitting, as well as another vertical line, which would suggest that the woodblocks had been detached. This could mean that the two segments had ‘loosened’ or separated.

We would think that the damage must have happened during the time period between the execution of the drawing and the beginning of the actual engraving work. Experience shows that it just takes a few days of high humidity and heat to make the woodblock crack. Once this had happened the editor possibly had asked one of his artists to transfer the drawing from the damaged woodblock onto a new Kieszling block (this was standard procedure at that time with woodblocks as well as with lithographic stones).

After the drawing had been transferred to the new woodblock the engraver, in this case Etienne, started his work, resulting in the well known newspaper publication from the same years (1868) and a reprint from the same woodblock on Japan and China paper in 1920 by Meynial.

By coincidence we have recently found another of these ‚damaged’ drawings on woodblock, this time DR 6032.


(Front-view of the drawing on woodblock)

(Verso of drawing on woodblock)


In this case a clearly visible scratch as well as a crack au verso has forced the editor like in the case described above to have the original drawing by Daumier transferred on a new woodblock. The original Kieszling woodblock had been (as always) screwed and bolted together with two long bolts; again the cracking was too serious to allow for the block to be engraved and used for printing.

These two drawings on wood are extremely uncommon and a testimony for the difficulties printers had to face during that period.

It may well be that there exists a third drawing on a damaged woodblock. This piece was shown at the 1878 Durand-Ruel retrospective in Paris. In the catalogue printed for the exhibition this drawing was registered under ”Le Déjeuner au Salon”, dessin sur bois, nr. 237. The former owner was M.A. Petit. Unfortunately we are not aware about the present location of this drawing and we are not even certain that it still exists. Bruce Laughton (‘H. Daumier’, Yale U.P. 1996. p. 151) mentioned it in his book. However we are not sure that he had physically seen the work.

The two remaining drawings on wood seem to be the only ones presently still available and occasionally shown on exhibition. They both belong to two different Swiss collectors. DR 6032 will be presented for the first time from Nov. 23, 2008 – Feb. 15, 2009 at the great Daumier Exhibition in the Seedamm Kulturzentrum in Pfäffikon (near Zurich). Any Daumier amateur who has a chance to see this unique piece – together with a select number of paintings, drawings, bronzes and prints – should not hesitate to mark this date in his calendar.