The prolific draughtsman Daumier frequently painted for himself, often going back to the same subjects in successive versions. This enthusiast caught up in the search for a print is one of those petit-bourgeois figures close to Daumier’s heart.
The Enthusiast illustrates the emergence in Balzac’s France of a new type of collector under the Second Empire. The establishment of the Society of Etchers in 1861 demonstrates a resurgence in interest on the part of enthusiasts in original prints which were more affordable than paintings for those of modest means.
While continuing to observe the lifestyle and personalities of his times, Daumier sets aside the satirical bent of the Croquis de Salon [Salon sketches], to give his character a more universal appeal. The meditative atmosphere is treated in chiaroscuro, the monochrome engravings are subdued and the broad contours conjure up the peaceful seriousness of Chardin’s interiors.
Very few reference points exist for the chronology and stylistic development of Daumier’s paintings, most of which remained in his studio, with just a few scarce exceptions. His output must have increased after he was laid off by the newspaper Le Charivari in 1860, since he had much more time to devote to easel painting. Made famous during his lifetime by Delacroix and Baudelaire, Daumier sold his works to a limited circle of enthusiasts such as Corot, his devoted friend who kept this painting until his death.