Paul Gavarni Biography

Paul Gavarni




Painter, printmaker, and illustrator Paul Gavarni, whose given name was Hippolyte Guillaume Sulpice Chevalier, was born in Paris in 1804. Coming from a family of coopers (builders specializing in caskets, barrels, buckets, etc.), his first professional path was also in trade as a machine builder in a factory. However, he soon surmised that to move up in the profession he would have to learn to draw, in order to understand and execute mechanical and architectural renderings. He took night classes in between jobs and was soon working as a draughtsman for the Government Ordnance Department. 

He maintained this path throughout his 20s, and some time in this decade he traveled to the Pyrenees mountain range, where he came upon the Gavarnie commune situated in an idyllic valley. This experience led to his creation of the nom de plume, "Gavarni."

At age thirty Gavarni began to seek out publication as an illustrator, focusing on humorous sketches of Parisian youth and the foibles of French society. His first commission was for the magazine Journal des Modes, and soon began working as the director for Les Gens du Monde, quitting his job as an engineer. He soon began drawing political cartoons for the famed Parisian publication Le Charivari, as well as illustration commissions for novels by Honore de Balzac and for Eugene Sue's Wandering Jew. By 1833 he had become one of the most sought-after illustrators in France. Not all of his endeavors were successful, however. Later that year he was thrown into a Clichy debtors' prison when his personal magazine failed and, having quit his post as director of Le Gens du Monde, he did not recoup his losses. This did not deter him. Upon his release he published a series titled "L'Argent" (Money), about his observations of his time there. 

A change in subject matter altered the course of Gavarni's career, as by the mid 1940s his interests in darker side of the human condition took precedence in his work. He published several series of works that, while equally if not more valued by the art world for their honest observation, left his publishers less interested in commissions and he began to lose work. It wasn't until the 1850s that he turned his attention once more to popular subjects, executing a series of works for the periodical Paris titled "Masques et Visages" (1852-'532).

The last chapter of Gavarni's life included a newfound interest in science and was particularly interested in the theory of flight. He began a correspondance with the Academie des Sceinces that he continued until his death in 1866. He spent time creating mechnical drawings for balloon navigation, though none of his designs were ever executed. At the end of his life he was working in lithography, etching, and new process, elctric engraving.

Gavarni's work can be found in public and private collections throughout the world.