The illustrator Honoré Daumier became famous primarily for his important socio-historical lithographs in the field of newspaper caricatures. With a keen talent for observation, he commented in thousands of instances the rapid succession of political events in France, the work of its lawyers and, above all, the joys, shocks and fears of its citizens. The incisiveness of his satirical ideas was just as decisive for his success as his remarkable drawing skills.
In addition to his prints, painting and sculpture, Daumier's 'Saltimbanques' show to powerful effect the particular importance of drawing for the artist as a private and reflective medium. Daumier depicts the melancholy scene of two ageing travelling artists with sensitivity and an economy of means. They seem to have found their place away from the public eye. With sketch-like lightness, the illustrator portrays the two obviously contrasting characters and their relationship to each other in pen and ink. The portly street entertainer has sat down, legs dangling, and has turned towards his partner, who is only leaning back. The worn-out-looking cap on his bald head makes his slim chum look like a jester. With his hands clasped in front of his body, he is staring resignedly in front of him. His eyes, sunk in deep hollows, emphasise his introspective reverie, which seeks no external stimuli. With subtle sensitivity, Daumier lends this silent dialogue an expression of calmness through the light interplay of lines and gently washed shading. As exact opposites, this duo of travelling entertainers may have reminded Daumier of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, whom he studied on a number of occasions. Daumier repeatedly focused on the world of the travelling artists. While he liked to present the spectacle of the fair by using the example of the parade as a way of drumming up business, he shows the travelling artists to be rather quiet and lonely figures. In nineteenth-century art and literature their independence and existence as outsiders made them into symbols of an artist's life - a concept taken up in the twentieth century by artists like Pablo Picasso and Max Beckmann. Daumier can certainly be credited with having developed this metaphor into a subject worth depicting. In this drawing he approached it with the calmness of age that comes with knowledge and experience.
Dr. Alfred Mauritz, chairman of the Städelscher Museums-Verein from 1979 to 2007, realised a very special idea to mark his sixtieth birthday. In order to be able to keep this drawing permanently in the Collection of Prints and Drawings after it had been shown in the Städel's 1992 Daumier exhibition, he initiated a private fundraising campaign. It was his wish to collect sufficient funds among his friends and acquaintances to purchase the sheet. The venture was successful and the Museums-Verein was able to acquire the drawing in his honour.