Get aquainted with these real characters from the streets of 1836 Paris in “Gallerie Physionomique” by C.J. Traviès, the artist Baudelaire called “the prince of the unfortunate”.

A caricature of the master caricaturist.
Traviès de Villers, by Benjamin Roubaud (1835).

Physiognomy is the practice of assessing someone’s character and personality based solely on their appearance, especially the face. In other words judging a book by its cover.

In his Gallerie Physionomique of 1836, the prolific caricaturist, Charles-Joseph Traviès de Villers (known as C.J. Traviès), practiced this shamelessly un-PC exercise on the denizens of 1830s Paris in the form of character portraits.

Traviès was ruthless, but it’s so evident that he drew these people with love, insight and understanding. These people, and the satire of Traviès, ring so true. These personalities remain alive, almost 200 years after he drew them.

In the early 1800s caricature was taken very seriously as high art, Traviès was one of its very first proponents and among the best.

Even Baudelaire was huge fan, “He is the prince of the unfortunate.” said the great poet, “His muse is a nymph of the suburbs, pale and melancholy. Traviès has a deep feeling for the joys and sorrows of the common people. He knows the scoundrel thoroughly, and he loves him with tender charity.”

These are much more than drawings. They are vivid descriptions. Documentary observations of personalities that speak to us today about the foibles and the lifestyle of Parisians almost 200 years ago. Long before the advent of photography, Traviès has captured detailed snapshots of these lives for us. We can still know these people.

“In the position I find myself in, I believe that I will do well to get married”.
“Nothing! Nothing! I can’t find anything!”
Titi the talocheur, employee of the apple core tightrope walker theatre.
The lover of oysters.
“She loves me always”.
“I must pay the bill and I have not money enough”.
A famous wig.
Low level industrialist. The man who lives by his wits.
“I must pay the bill and I have not money enough”.
The bath of family.
“Shame! It is my wife!”
“Damn collar!! What a bad stock!!”
“Mr. Picnic, it’s exactly five o’clock! I fear they’re already at the table”.
“Here I am! Here I am! oh Haida your divine eyes etc., etc.”
“A catchy read. An absorbing subject”.
“Oh! My wife is dead!”
“It doesn’t grow”.

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