Jean-Louis Forain (born in Reims on October 23, 1852, and died in Paris on July 11, 1931), was a French Impressionist painter, lithographer, watercolorist and etcher. Influenced by Impressionist theories on light and color, he preferred to depict scenes of everyday life: his watercolors, pastels, and paintings focused on Parisian popular entertainments and themes of modernity—the racetrack, the ballet, the comic opera, and bustling cafés. Forain created numerous scenes of the Law Courts and other Parisian institutions plus social satire caricatures on late 19th and early 20th century French life.
Forain was born in Reims, he is a son of a modest building painter. Marne but at age eight, his family moved to Paris. He began his career working as a caricaturist for several Paris journals including Le Monde Parisien and Le rire satirique. Wanting to expand his horizons, he enrolled at the École des Beaux Arts, studying under Jean-Léon Gérôme as well as another sculptor/painter, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.
He participated in the war of 1870, then became friend of Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. He lived with him in a room rented by Verlaine in Paris, Rue Campagne-Première, from January to March 1872. At that time he was nicknamed Gavroche. He is familiar with the salons of Nina de Callias and the Countess of Loynes, where he meets the writers Maurice Barrès, Paul Bourget, and frequents Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet. He began his career as a painter alongside the Impressionists with whom he participated in several exhibitions between 1879 and 1886.
He began as an illustrator in 1876 in the magazine La Cravache in Paris, and published a number of cartoons in various newspapers such as Le Scapin in 1876, La Vie moderne, Le Monde parisien and La République des lettres, Full of verve. Discovering the world of opera with his dancers and subscribers, he makes it his favorite theme.
His painting The Buffet, which shows a worldly reception, is received at the Salon of 1884. The Widow is also accepted at the Salon of 1885. From 1887, Le Courrier français launches Forain by regularly publishing his satirical drawings and, in 1891, begins His collaboration with Le Figaro which will last thirty-five years. Numerous newspapers such as L’Echo de Paris, the New York Herald, the funny Diary, Le Rire, Le Temps, L’Assiette au beurre, Le Gaulois also compete for its caustic spirit. He explains in Le Fifre, his own journal, published in 1889, that he wishes “to tell the story of everyday life, to show the ridicule of certain sorrows, the sadness of many joys, and to observe roughly sometimes how hypocritically vice Tends to manifest in us “.
Forain’s quick and often biting wit allowed him to befriend poets Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine as well as many writers, most notably Joris-Karl Huysmans. He was one of only “seven known recipients” to receive a first edition of A Season in Hell directly from Rimbaud. He was the youngest artist to frequent and participate in the feverish debates led by Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas at the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes in Montmartre.
A follower and protégé of Degas, Forain joined the Impressionist circle in time to take part in the fourth independent exhibition in 1879.
In 1891, Forain married the sculptor Jeanne Bosc. He paints panels for a high-society of the Belle Époque, the Café Riche, in Paris. It was at this time that he rediscovered the Catholic faith of his childhood and participated in several pilgrimages to Lourdes. The Paris-Parisien guide, who considers it in 1896 as a “notoriety of Parisian life”, describes him as a “designer of great talent who sees things ugly.” The 1899 edition adds that he is “anti-Semitic”
In 1892 he published the first volume of La Comédie Parisienne, a collection of Forain’s illustrations and commentary on the major stories political stories that disrupted France’s Third Republic—such as the anarchic crisis and the Dreyfus affair.
From 1898 – 1899 Forain worked as an illustrator for the weekly French magazine Psst…!, a satirical publication to promote the anti-Dreyfus cause and contributed anti-semitic caricatures.
Aside from being influenced by his friend of over fifty years, Edgar Degas, Forain was greatly influenced by Honoré Daumier; and his treatment of subjects in his drawings for publications such as Le Figaro and Le Courrier Francais are often reminiscent of Daumier’s.
During the first World War, Forain’s illustrations honored the patriotism of his contemporaries; and he enlisted in the Section de Camouflage under Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scévola.
Volunteer in 1914, aged 62, participated in the camouflage section with other artists such as Lucien-Victor Guirand of Scevola, André Dunoyer of Segonzac, André Mare or Auguste Desch. He accompanies the soldiers in the trenches to continue to draw and support them morally. It is extremely popular during these years of war.
After the war, during the winter of 1920, Forain participated with other artists – Joë Bridge, Adolphe Willette, Francisque Poulbot, Maurice Neumont, Louis Morin, Maurice Millière, Raoul Guérin and Jules Depaquit – at the founding of the Republic of Montmartre .
He is, alongside Joë Bridge, Adolphe Willette, Francisque Poulbot, Maurice Neumont, etc. Member of the Gorky du Cornet.
In 1921, by attachment to his hometown of Reims, he offered to the municipal museum a large lot of preparatory drawings. Some of his drawings of war are also exhibited in one of the halls of the Museum of Fine Arts of Reims.
Forain was elected a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1923. In the same year, he became President of the Republic of Montmartre and remained so until the end of his life. He was a member of the Royal Academy in 1931 and commander of the Legion of Honor. His tomb is in the cemetery of Chesnay, near Versailles. There is a note on his funeral in the Cahiers de Paul Valéry, on 15 July 1931.
In 1931, shortly before his death, he was made a member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London. He was one of France’s best known and revered artists during his time and may best be remembered for his numerous drawings chronicling and commenting on Parisian city life at the end of the 19th century. Followers and admirers of Forain’s work include Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.