Although born in Marseilles, the painter, sculptor, and caricaturist Honoré Daumier spent most of his life in Paris, where he was centrally situated to record the events of a turbulent era: the revolutions of 1848, the rise and fall of the Second Empire, the Crimean and Franco-Prussian wars, and the Paris Commune. Beginning in 1830, he contributed more than 4,000 political and social caricatures to the daily and weekly journals of Paris, and elevated both the role of political commentary and the art of lithography by merging aesthetics with function. In swift, incisive satires, he skewered hypocrisy and awakened the social conscience of the bourgeois masses.
It was not until the late 1840s that Daumier gained recognition as a painter of subjects ranging from classical mythology and popular narratives to religious themes. He addressed issues of everyday life in his paintings as well, but with a more serious tone than in his lithographs. "Orchestra Stalls," for example, appears to be a straightforward image of a theater audience - unlike his lithographs, expressing no biting criticism or witty social commentary.
Daumier never finished "Orchestra Stalls," thereby permitting us a rare glimpse of his working method. With thin strokes of oil mixed with turpentine, he blocked out the composition in earth tones and muted colors. Then he worked the three central figures further, focusing on the audience rather than the players.