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Jean Louis Forain
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Rheims, France
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Famous for his satirical drawings, often accompanied by witty and pointed captions he drafted, Jean-Louis Forain enjoyed a distinguished career as a French painter, etcher, lithographer and illustrator. His drawings appeared in Parisian journals and newspapers from the 1870s until 1925 and earned him a considerable fortune. Born in Reims, he and his family moved to Paris in 1860. He began receiving drawing lessons from the painter Louis-Marie-François Jacquesson de la Chevreuse (1839-1903), followed by study with the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875) and the caricaturist André Gill (1840-1885). Following military service during and after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Forain returned to Paris and worked as an artist, making a meager living selling drawings to small satirical newspapers. By the mid 1870s Forain had met Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Camille Pissarro (1831-1903), and the critic Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907), joining them and other Impressionists at the Café Guerbois and the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes. Pissarro introduced Forain to the practice of painting landscapes en plein air. During the 1870’s, Forain combined painting with etching and drawing illustrations for journals. He created illustrations for Huysman’s book Marthe in 1876. Degas invited him to participate in the 4th Impressionist exhibition in 1879, followed by participation in the Impressionist exhibitions of 1880, 1881 and 1886. Forain’s style at this time was similar to that of other Impressionists, and he painted and etched many of the same scenes as Degas, including dancers, backstage views at the Opera, café scenes and racehorses, but in particular the women of Paris. In the 1880s he enjoyed greater success, receiving critical praise for his works and exhibiting in the Salons des Artistes Français in 1884 and 1885. In 1886, the dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) included his works in the exhibition of Impressionist art he mounted in New York City. Publication of his drawings about Parisian life with witty, sometimes vitriolic captions in the Courrier Français (beginning in 1887) and Le Figaro (beginning in 1893) made him famous. His drawings were both praised and feared by Parisian society. In all, Forain published approximately 1,000 drawings in journals. Forain mounted his first one-man show in 1890 at the Galerie Boussod-Valadon. In 1892, he began publishing thematic volumes of his satirical drawings, including Album de Forain (IFF 368) and La Comédie parisienne in 1892 (IFF 242), Le Temps Difficiles in 1893 (IFF 370) and Doux Pays in 1897 (IFF 373). Forain and his wife, the former Jeanne Bosc (1865-1954), a talented painter whom he married in 1891, travelled extensively. In 1893 James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (1841-1918), the publisher of the New York Herald, invited them to visit the United States, a trip which included Chicago as well as New York City, during which they meet the cream of society. In the 1890s Forain took up lithography, producing scenes of Parisian life and portraits. Forain’s newspaper illustrations led to his involvement in the Dreyfus Affair, in which Captain Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) was falsely accused of selling military secrets to Germany, convicted and later exonerated. Forain became an “anti-Dreyfusard,” eventually publishing a journal called Psst… regarding the matter. Forain’s artistic style changed after 1900. He turned from the bright colors and natural light of his Impressionist art to somber colors with dramatic lighting. The subject matter of his paintings and etchings expanded to include religious subjects and the French law courts. The success of his works led to a major retrospective at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in 1913, which included over 400 of his works. In 1915 at age 62 Forain enlisted in the French Army’s camouflage corps, but soon became a roving war correspondent for Le Figaro, producing hundreds of drawings published in that newspaper. After the war, Forain’s palette lightened as he continued to paint both religions and secular subjects, including lively and colorful portrayals of cabaret life painted in 1926. By the end of his life he had received many honors, including that of member of the Legion of Honor, President of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and member of the Académie Française and the Royal Academies of England and Sweden. (TNB 3/2010) Selected bibliography: Browse, Lillian. Forain the Painter, 1852-1931. London: P. Elek, 1978. Faxon, Alicia Craig. Jean-Louis Forain: Artist, Realist, Humorist. Exhibition catalog. Washington: International Exhibitions Foundation, 1982. Reff, Theodore; Valdes-Forain, Florence. Jean-Louis Forain: the Impressionist years: The Dixon Gallery and Gardens collection. With an introduction by John E. Buchanan, Jr. Memphis, Tenn.: The Gallery, 1995.