Search the Collections

Jean-François Raffaëlli
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
A painter, printmaker, illustrator and sculptor, Jean-François Raffaëlli is known for his depictions of life in Paris and its suburbs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of Florentine ancestry, Raffaëlli left a career as an actor and singer to pursue painting in 1870. An early landscape was accepted for the 1870 Paris Salon, and he spent three months studying with Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) at the École des Beaux-Arts. He settled in the Parisian suburb of Asnières after traveling to Algeria, Italy and Spain. A trip to Brittany in 1876 led him to capture scenes in a realistic way; his work was praised by the critics Louis-Edmond Duranty (1833-1880) and Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907). Rafaëlli began meeting with Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Marcellin Desboutin (1823-1902) and their friends at the Café Gerbois in Paris. Their mutual friendship led Degas to include Rafaëlli in the Impressionist Exhibitions of 1880 and 1881. While living at Asnières, his works mostly showed the inhabitants of Paris’s suburbs and peripheral industrial areas. After he moved his home and studio into the city of Paris proper in the early 1890s, he began painting views of central Paris and its inhabitants. Raffaëlli developed a theory of realism for his art he called “caractérisme” through which he tried to reflect the character of the society and his subjects in his work. In addition to oil paintings, he provided etchings and lithographs to illustrate books and journals, including Le Chat Noir and Le Courrier Français. In 1880 he joined with Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931) to illustrate Huysmans’s Croquis Parisiens (Paris Sketches). In 1890 Raffaëlli illustrated books by Victor Hugo (1802-1885) and the brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt (1822-1896; 1830-1870). He continued to illustrate books during the 1890s. Rafaëlli made lively color prints, using multiple plates prepared with drypoint, such as his 1893 self-portrait (Delteil 7) published as part of the series L’estampe originale (The Original Print, 1893-1895) published by André Marty (1857-?). His subject matter expanded in the 20th century to include the Brittany seacoast, other parts of the French countryside and Venice. For most of his career, Raffaëlli’s paintings were done in darker tones in contrast to the colors of many of the Impressionists, although he lightened his palette later in his life. Raffaëlli was also a sculptor, but none of his sculptures are known to survive; his works are known only through a few photographs and records of exhibitions during his lifetime (see Alexandre, below). He was a founder of Société de la Gravure originale en couleurs (Society for Original Color Engraving) and a member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. The recipient of various honors, Raffaëlli received a gold medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle and became a member of the Legion of Honor in 1889. (TNB 5/2010) Selected bibliography: Alexandre, Arsene. Jean-François Raffaëlli: Peintre, graveur et sculpteur. Paris: H. Fleury, 1909. Monneret, Sophie. L’impressionisme et son époque. Vol. 2, pp. 151-153. Paris: Éditions Denoël, 1978-1981.