The first few pages of the news journal Le Charivari reported on the events of the day, while page 3 was reserved for a caricature related to the news. Honoré Daumier produced many of those lampoons. Between December 1843 and September 1846, Le Charivari published 101 caricatures in a series called “Les Beaux Jours de la Vie” [The Best Days of Life].
This lithograph, Plate 466 of the Actualites [News] series, was published in Le Charivari on September 12, 1857. With text in the lower margin:
“Le constructeur du LÉVIATHAN se décidant à aller trouver Archiméde aux champs-Élysées, pour le supplier de vouloir bien mettre à flot son fameux navire.”
[“The builder of the LEVIATHAN decided to find Archimedes at the Champs-Elysées to beg him to make his famous ship seaworthy.”]
What’s the story behind this drawing? The Leviathan was by far the biggest ship ever built anywhere in the world at that time. It was designed by the famous ship builder Isambard Brunel in 1853. But the maiden voyage, from England and America in 1858, was a failure—an explosion on the ship killed five crew members. The ship was taken out of service and when it was reactivated years later it was given a new name and used to lay trans-Atlantic cables.
This print—an allegory on the hubris of industrialists—satirized the Leviathan’s difficulties, suggesting that the builder knew that his only hope for making the ship seaworthy was by gaining help from the famous ancient Greek scientist Archimedes.
Examples of this very drawing are held in numerous important collections, including the Armand Hammer Daumier and Contemporaries Collection, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Brandeis University Libraries, the Fogg Museum of Harvard University, the Kunsthaus Zürich, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Saint-Denis, and the New York Public Library.