The French sketcher, lithographer, illustrator, painter, etcher and writer Paul Gavarni was born in Paris on January 13, 1804. His real name was Hippolyte Sulpice Guillaume Chevalier. First he was an errand boy for an architect, then an apprentice for a manufacturer of optical instruments. In 1818, he attended the Butet School and thereafter the École du conservatoire des Arts et Métiers. Paul Gavarni found a position in 1824 in Bordeaux as a sketcher in the construction office of the engineer Deschamps.
In 1825, he went traveling, and subsequently he took a position in the land registry office in Tarbes. During this time, in order to make extra money, Paul Gavarni made watercolor portraits, landscapes, figures and folkloric costumes. In addition, the "Etrennes de 1825. Récréations diabolico-fantasmagoriques" appeared, grotesque and revealing genre scenes in the style of Hieronymus Bosch (around 1450 – 1516). In 1827, Paul Gavarni received a commission from Pierre Antoine Leboux de la Mésangère (1761 – 1831) to create costumes. In 1828, the artist went back to Paris. Here he continued his studies in drawing on his own.
Emile de Girardin (1806 – 81) hired him as an illustrator for the journal "La Mode" in 1830. During this time, Paul Gavarni frequented Parisian theaters, balls, the carneval and renowned salons. Honoré de Balzac wrote several laudatory articles about the artist, and in 1831, he put him in contact with Charls Philipon’s (1800 – 1861) journal "La Caricature". Through charm, grace and liveliness of figure, he revolutionized the fashion journal genre.
Gavarni was considered a "costumier poétique" and "modiste idéal de la femme". Besides his work on fashion journals, the first series of representations of everyday figures appeared, for example under the following titles: "Physionomies de la population de Paris" and "Etudes d’enfants".
In the years 1832 and 1833, he wrote short stories and poems, and in 1833, Paul Gavarni established the satirical journal "Gens du Monde", for which he made 16 lithographs. He was able to win Alexandre Dumas (1802 – 70), Léon Gozlan (1803 – 66), Émile Deschamps (1791 – 1871) and the Johannot brothers, among others, as collaborators. However, the journal produced its last issue already in 1834. From 1837 to 1848, the artist delivered over 1,000 lithographs to Philipon’s journal "Le Charivari". A stay in London that was planned to be only a few weeks became a definitive break.
In London Gavarni received invitations from members of the aristocracy and the court as well as from the intellectual and literary world. However, the artist became weary of producing pictures for the amusement of the "bourgeoisie" and lived reclusively, devoting himself to speculative-mathematical-scientific theories.
Moved by the misery of the industrialized metropolis, Paul Gavarni sketched the people of the taverns and the harbors in the Saint Gilles and White Chapel quarters. He did not flinch from exposing poverty and sorrow, which earned him the rejection of better circles of English society. Back in Paris, the Goncourt brothers recommended him to Pierre-Charles de Villedeuils. In 1852/53, he created 329 lithographs in 18 series for the latter’s newly-established journal "Paris".
After the demise of this journal in 1853, Paul Gavarni gave up lithography. Beginning in 1855, he retreated more and more to Auteuil. During the last decade of his life, only watercolors were produced. In total, the graphic oeuvre of the artist included over 2,700 original lithographs as well as over 2,000 lithographs, woodcuts and steel engravings from sketches.
Paul Gavarni died in Auteuil on November 23, 1866.