A picture is worth a thousand words, and no one knows that better than Honore Daumier. His life story reads like a strand in a novel by Victor Hugo. The poor son of a failed poet and glazier, young Daumier chanced his luck as an artist in Paris in the 1830s. He studied the new technique of lithography, and at the age of 22 his first political caricatures were published in papers such as Le Charivari. Almost at once, he received a compliment from the government censor -- a six-month jail sentence! But Daumier, born just 14 years after the French Revolution, was to prove a tireless rebel, and for the next 40 years his satires snapped at the heels of hypocrisy.

The caricatures currently on display at the Tobu Museum of Art fall into two categories: impressive "politics" and delightful "manners." First, the political work, dating from 1854, reflects a volatile Europe leading up to the disastrous Franco-Prussian War. However, unless one knows the historical context, (or can read the Japanese exhibition footnotes) much is obscure. Fortunately, the catalog has footnotes in English, some images are self-explanatory, and one can always just muddle through and enjoy his roguish style.

In 1868 Daumier's work was ringing alarm bells about the coming war with Prussia. By 1870 it was too late. In "Bismarck's Nightmare" a grinning Death points to a battlefield, thanking the Prussian Chancellor for the carnage. This refers to the bloody battles at Metz, fought just days before, in which over 30,000 French and German soldiers lost their lives. Daumier was already 62 years old, working very fast to meet deadlines, and pouring a lifetime's experience into such remarkable works.