Forain, Jean-Louis



Impressionism: partaker of 4 ‘impressionist’ expositions

Jean-Louis Forain


More a Realist than an Impressionist

Was Jean-Louis Forain an Impressionist?
When we see Impressionism as a impressionist style Forain was more a Realist than an Impressionist. Forain rendered every day (Parisian) live, but mostly he showed the shadow side of life, which is more characteristic for Realism. He did some en-plein-air paintings and sometimes used more bright colours, which are impressionist characteristics. Forain sometimes paid clear attention to the effect of (interior) light, but more in a clair-obscure way. Forain (mostly in his early and later days) makes an affluant use of blacks, browns and greys. And he never used juxtaposed brushstrokes. Overall I would say he (mostly) didn’t paint in an impressionist painting style.
When we see Impressionism as an art-movement, Forain was (with some delay) clearly part of it. Though he seemed to be more a follower, than a leader. Being born in 1852 Forain was of a younger generation, than most Impressionists. He did not take part in the early years of the ‘impressionist’ expositions. He exhibited in 1879 + 80 + 81 + 86. He also had several contacts within the ‘impressionist’ circles, namely with Degas, Cézanne, Pissarro and De Nittis and in his later years with Renoir.
Forain most of all is admired for his illustrations and his etchings, not for his paintings. His most prominant themes are dancers, café scenes, portraits and law courts. At a later age he converted to the Catholic faith, but it is unclear if this was in 1887 or in 1900. Forain died in 1931 as an admired artist.

Forain joined the ‘impressionist’ expositions in 1879, 1880, 1881 and 1886:
Jean-Louis Forain joined 4 of the last 5 ‘impressionist’ expositions.
At the 4th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1879 Forain showed 26 art-works, including 18 watercolours, 4 fans, 2 screens and 1 drawing (R2,p268). He was invited by Degas (R43,p20). Bachaumont reviewed ‘Among the watercolourists, the palm belongs to M. Louis Forain.’ (R90I,p210).
At the 5th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1880 Forain showed 12 art-works, 8 of them were probably aquarelles and 2 were etchings (R2,p311). Huysmans reviewed ‘M. Forain is one of the most uncompromising painters of modern life that I know.’ (R90I,p290).
At the 6th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1881 Forain showed 10 art-works, including 4 drawings, 3 watercolours and 1 pastel (R2,p354). Geffroy (1881/04/19) reviewed ‘His watercolours, Loge d’actrice, Couloir de théâtre, spiritually contrast the ugliness of men with the nasty gracefulness of women. The artificial lights and heavy shadows, the pale flesh and black clothes capture very well the fantastic quality of these very real scenes.’ (R90I,p343;R2,p364).
Forain withdraw in 1882 out of solidarity with Degas and Raffaëlli.
At the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1886 Forain showed 14 art-works, including 1 outside the catalogue (=hc) (R2,p444), most of the works were loans. Octave Maus (1886/06/27) reviewed ‘(Forain), when he studies our elegant and vicious ways, has given his works a special flavour. He is the poet of corruption in black clothes, of dandyism in the boudoirs, of the high life masking the emptiness of the heart.’ (R90I,p463;R89,p124).
So in total Forain exhibited 62 works, 29 of them were aquarelles, which is the 2nd highest amount of aquarelles. He showed just 17 oil paintings, 6 drawings, 4 fans, just 2 pastels and just 2 etchings. In 1879 he also showed two screens, see other techniques. Forain showed a large variation of techniques!
See link for his exhibited art-works in 1879, in 1880, in 1881 and 1886. See link for an account.


Jean-Louis Forain at the Salon and other exhibitions:
The first entrance of Forain at the Salon in 1874 was refused. Forain made his debut at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français in 1883* and also exhibited in 1884 +1885. He had been noticed (R1,p509). Forain exhibited at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890. Maybe he also did in 1892, but the Salon database, nor other sources render more information. Another sources indicates he also exhibited in 1919 +1922 +1931 (aR4). Anyway he was President of the Société from 1925 till 1931 .
In 1890 Forain had his first one-man show with only drawings at Boussod-Valadon (R50,p29). Forain was member of the Société des Pastellistes Français and exhibited in 1892 and 1893 at the Georges Petit gallery (iR19). Forain his art-works were also exhibited at art-dealers, namely in 1890 + 1893. In 1893 at the Galerie Georges Petit 140 of Forains drawings were offered for sale (R50,p31). 1898/05/01 there was an auction at Hôtel Drouot  of 150 watercolours and drawings of Forain (aR13=iR19). He also exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in 1903 and in 1905 (book illustrations). Forain sometimes exhibited at regional exhibitions, at least in 1905 +1907 +1908. In 1913 Forain had his most important exhibition at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, showing 70 oil paintings / pastels / gouaches, 69 prints (etching and lithography) and 270 drawings** (R50,p56/7).
In 1886 Durand-Ruel showed 4 works of Forain in New York at the exhibition of ‘works in oil and pastel by the Impressionists of Paris‘. In 1888 he exhibited with Les XX in Brussels. In 1889 he exhibited with the Scandinavian and French Impressionists, probably co-organised by Gauguin and held in November in Copenhagen. Forain also exhibited at other international exhibitions, namely in London 1898. Forain exhibited 49 (!) art-works in a seperate room with La Libre Esthétique in Brussels in 1912. Works of Forain were exhibited at a centennial exhibition in Saint-Petersbourg in 1912. Five drawings of Forain were shown at the Exposition Universelle in Ghent (1913).
See link for an account.
Sources: iR1; aR4; iR19; iR40; R43,p20+56+58; R50,p29+31+62; R89; R88; iR2; R22IV,p1017 R1,p544; R237=iR261; (R5,p170;R49;R116). (R43,p20;R22IV,p1017;aR4;R1,p544)
Note*: Faxon wrongly states that his debut was in 1884 (R43,p36).
Note**: Faxon/Chagnaud-Forain mentions a total of 390 in stead of 409 (R43,p58;aR4).


Jean-Louis Forain as an art student:
In 1866 Forain regularly copied drawings in the Louvre. In 1866/67 he received academic drawing lessons from Jacquesson de la Chevreuse (1839-1903). In 1867/68 Forain studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1905). Albert Besnard, who had been a schoolfriend of Forain, was now a fellow pupil; the mother of Besnard lived in the ‘place Furstenberg‘, now Musée Delacroix (R50,p14). In 1869/70 Forain studied in the studio of the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875), who taught him to sketch from live, to render Biblical scenes in a modern mode and to use a free brushstroke. From 1870 till 1873 Forain followed painting lessons with André Gill (1840-1885) who also was a caricaturist.
Sources: R43,p13; R50,p13+14+15+17; R88; R89; aR4;


Jean-Louis Forain as an artist, his contacts:
Forain did meet Manet in the late 1860s or early 1870s and admired him highly (R43,p14). But on his turn Forain probably also influenced Manet (R43,p17). Half-way the 1870s Forain becomes a regular visitor of the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes  and the Café Américain. Here he did meet Manet, Degas, other Impressionists and Huysmans and probably before that in Café Guerbois (R43,p14). Forain had close contact with Degas, who greatly admired Forains drawing. Around 1893 Degas also supported Forain (R47,p106).
Around 1877 and later around 1905 Forain was in close contact with Renoir, whom he also portrayed. Pissarro taught him to paint en-plein-air. Forain painted his first landscape at Pissarro’s garden in Osny. Forain portrayed Pissarro around 1880. Forain was related with Cézanne since 1875 until his death in 1906. Cézanne much admired Forain’s illustrations. Forain disliked Monet, both the man and the artist (R50,p45). Cassatt helped Forain to sell his watercolours in the USA (R88,p250). In 1884 Forain did portray Giuseppe de Nittis in his painting Le Buffet↑ which he exhibited at the Salon (R43,p36). From 1900-1905 Forain attended cellar diners at the art-dealer Vollard with Degas, Cézanne, Forain, Redon, Renoir and Bonnard, who made a painting of such a diner. In 1917 Forain, as one of the few, is present at the burial of Degas, where Monet also was present.
Sources: R43,p14+18+19+57+58; R50,p20+22+55; aR21,p11; R89; R88; R1,p399;

Jean-Louis Forain as an artist, his painting style:
Just like Manet, for Forain black was an important colour (R43,p8;R50,45). His early still-life paintings were somewhat stiff and uninspired; one was rejected for the Salon of 1874 (R43,p13). Half-way the 1870s Forain got influenced by the Impressionists and starts to render scenes from everyday Parisian life and the world of the cafés and theatres (R43,p14;aR21,p11+25). The most important influence came from Degas. They often painted and drew together the same subjects (and models), such as dancers, horse races and nudes in domestic interiors. They rendered momentary scenes. In comparison Forain was more concentrated on character-revealing gestures, social situations, human interaction and conversations. Forain depicted more the mood and interactions in the foyer behind the scenes.
1900 onwards his palet became more somber, using mainly black, gray and browns (R43,p25;R50,p50). New themes were religious scenes and law court scenes. In the latter he is inspired by Daumier. Forain showed ordinary people who were victim of advocates and lawyers (R43,p29;aR21,p12). In the 1920s Forains palette lightened again, his pigment thinned and his figures dematerialized (R43,p32/3).
In his compositions Forain avoided classicism. He often placed the subject off center and left large empty areas (R43,p9). He left out many details to attain the essential (R43,p9). ‘Forain was able to show with a few strokes the appearance, essence, psychology of his model.’ (aR21,p11). In his paintings he put the accent on the faces and the gestures (R43,p9;R50,p50+58). He was a storyteller in paint (R50,p24+46). There often was a caricatural element in his work, thus commenting on the contemporary morality (R89).
Forain often mixed different techniques like ink, watercolours, gouache and oil (R43,p9;R89). Forain created several hundred oil paintings (which is not much); 5 à 6000 (satirical) drawings; over 175 etchings; over 125 lithographs (R89;R88).
Forain was very critical at his own work and often overworked, over-painted or even destroyed it (R50,p35+62). In his drawing Forain was original and tremendously appreciated, also by Degas, Cézanne, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec (R50,p65;aR21,p11+12). Some consider him as one of the world’s greatest etchers (R50,p56). Yet Forain never got much attention as a painter and lacked the inner imaginative spark (R50,p57+65).


Was Forain classified as an Impressionist?
In his famous letter to Pissarro (1881/01/24) Caillebotte divided the partakers of the ‘impressionist’ expositions in us (painting in a more impressionist style) and the realist clan around Degas; but he didn’t mention Forain at all (R102,p275). The art-critic Fénéon (1884/04) included Forain in the ‘clan of impressionists’, also including Degas, de Nittis and Raffaëlli (R1,p478). Reviewing the 1886 exposition Fénéon only mentioned Morisot, Gauguin and Guillaumin as representing impressionism, not mentioning Forain (R90I,p441;R1,p533)

Did Forain use an impressionist painting style?
Of the 62 works Forain exhibited at the ‘impressionist’ expositions only 9 contained an indication of time, 3 of the Opéra and 4 of café Folies-Bergère. None of the works contained an indication of time, weather or season. Forain made just a few landscapes. In his interiors he sometimes emphasized the effect of artificial light on colours (R50,p24). But Forain never sought to use light in the true Impressionist terms (R50,p33/4). Cecelia Waern, who divided the Impressionists in two groups, therefore didn’t call Forain a ‘luministes’, but, together with Degas and Cassatt, a ‘synthétistes’, reducing drawing to the minimum (R166,p59).  In some works he used a thin, rather liquid pigment (R50,p26).


Forain: Drawings for newspapers and bookillustrations:
From 1876 till 1925 Forain made illustrations for several newspapers, which one can see as applied art. He namely published for ‘Le Courrier Français’ (since 1887)  and ‘Le Figaro’ (1891-1924). Behind the satirical humor of his illustrations Forain was a moralist (R43,p8), he revealed the truth of the political and social life of France (aR21,p12). Forain made 5 à 6000 (satirical) drawings. In his drawing Forain was original and tremendously appreciated, also by Degas, Cézanne, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec.
His illustrations were brought together in:

  • 1892: Forain published the first volume of La Comédie Parisienne, a collection of social satire drawings; about 250 drawings, repeating themes are adultry and fornication (R43,p57;aR10=iR19;iR40;iR10;R88)
  • 1893: ‘Les temps difficiles
  • 1895: publication of Album de Forain, a book with about 50 drawings. Paris, 1895 (iR19=aR12)
  • 1896: publication of Album Forain, a book with about 50 drawings. Paris, 1896 (iR19=aR11)
  • 1897: publication of La Vie by Forain with colour drawings (aR16=iR40)
  • 1897: ‘Doux pays‘.
  • 1902: publication of the 2nd edition of La Comédie Parisienne with 188 drawings by Forain (aR17=iR40)
  • 1920: ‘De la Marne au Rhine‘.

In 1889 Forain published a satirical weekly named ‘Le Fifre‘, which only lasted 4 months. His program was: ‘To show everyday life, to show the ridiculousness of certain pains, and the sadness of many joys… I will go everywhere, striving to render the impressions and emotions I feel, which are always joyful, often ironic, in a clear and emphatic way as possible, these notes will target contemporary failings without attacking the contemporaries themselves.’ (R88I,p251) In 1898 +1899 Forain had his own journal ‘Psst…!‘, being anti-Dreyfusard.
Forain made several book illustrations, which one can see as applied art. In 1871 for Rimbaud: Les Mains de Jeanne Marie. In 1879 Huysmans commissioned Forain to illustrate the second edition of his novel ‘Marthe, histoire d’une fille’. In 1880 he made some etchings for ‘Croquis Parisien’ of Huysmans together with Raffaëlli.
Sources: R43,p7+19+25+57; R50,p23+27+28+36+37+64+65; R88; R89; aR4; aR21,p11+12; iR26;

Forain, etchings:
Around 1875/1876 Forain started to etch*. In 1890 Forain started to make lithographs and temporarily abandoned etching. In 1908 Forain returned again to etching. In 1912 Guérin published a Catalogue Raisonné of Forains etchings, dry-points and monotypes. Forain made over 175 etchings and over 125 lithographs. Some consider him as one of the world’s greatest etchers (R50,p56).
Sources: R43,p14+23+24; R50,p28+56; aR4; R88; aR9;
Note*: Browse mentions he did so in the early seventies (R50,p28).

Forain, official recognition:
In 1893 Forain was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (R50,p31). In 1923 he was elected as member of the Academy of Fine Arts (l’Institut). From 1925-1931 Forain was President of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. In 1928 Forain was appointed as Commandeur de Legion d’Honneur.
Sources: R43,p56+58; R50,p62; R88; R9; aR21,p13; aR4; aR21,p13;



Jean-Louis Forain, a short biography:

  • Note: many dates and facts of his life were given by Forain when he was old and his memory was failing, so they have to be accepted with reservation (R50,p68)
  • 1852/10/23: Jean-Louis Forain was born at 63, rue des Moulins in Reims, about 100km east of Paris (R43,p13;R50,p12;R89;aR4;aR21,p10)
    His father was a house painter (R89;R88)
  • 1860: Forain his family moved to Paris (R43,p13;R50,p12;R90;aR4;aR21,p10)
  • 1870-71: Forain fought in the Franco-Prussian war (R43,p13+57;R50,p17+20); he had sympaties with the Communards (aR4).
  • after 1870/1874 Forain led a bohemian lifestyle, owning very little money (R43,p13;R50,17;R88;aR4); lived at the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince (R88); having contacts with Rimbaud and Verlaine (aR4;R89;R88), being part of the circle around Nina de Callias (R89;R88).
  • 1873: start of his military service (R89); other sources mention this was in 1874 (aR4); other sources are not precise (R43,p13+57;R50,p17+20)
  • 1880: Forain was involved in a duel (R1,p405)
  • 1884: Forain rented a studio in the faubourg Saint Honoré (R50,p25; uncertain location iR9); Toulouse-Lautrec was his neighbour (R89)
  • 1887-1910ca: Ambroise Vollard was Forains main dealer and patron (R43,p23)
  • 1887: was converted, according to his own words, at the age of 35 to the Catholic faith and tried to become ‘un artiste chrétien’ (R50,p53). Yet as well Faxon (R43,p25/6) as Browse (R50,p52) and Bessonov refer to Forain celebrating Christmas in 1900 with Huysmans (who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1892) as a turning point in Forains live (see also aR4). Shortly afterwards Forain wrote: ‘Everything I have done in art to the present time seems to me to be fruitless.’ He also wrote about his bad habits in his past life. (R43,p26;R50,p53;aR21,p13)
  • 1891/07/16: Forain married Jeanne Bosc, who herself also was a painter and a sculptor. He first met her in 1889 (R43,p7+24;R50,p29/30;R88;aR4;aR21,p12)
  • 1894-1900: in the Dreyfus affair Forain became a fervent anti-Dreyfusard (R43,p25)
  • 1895/05/11: birth of his only son Jean-Loup, who also became an artist and who would die in 1941 (R43,p24;R50,p29;aR21,p12)
  • 1895: Forain lived at the boulevard Gouvion-Saint-Cyr (R50,p31)
  • 1896: Forain moved to 30bis, rue Spontini, where he built himself a mansion (R50,p31;R88)
    or: 1899: did build a townhouse on the rue Spontini (near the Bois de Boulogne) (R43,p58)
  • 1909: Forain rented and later bought a country house at Le Chesnay, near Versailles, where he dwelled during the summers and let a very private life (R43,p58;R50,p54/5)
  • 1915: joined the army in the First World War as a correspondent; he saw the war’s devastation first hand and renders this terrible reality in several works (R43,p31;R50,p59;aR21,p13)
  • 1921: Forain handed over a huge number of his drawings to his hometown Reims (aR21,p13)
  • 1931: shortly for his death Forain destroyed 17 of his paintings (aR21,p13)
  • 1931/07/11: Forain died in Paris (R43,p58;aR4) and was buried in the little local churchyard of le Chesnay (R50,p64)
  • 1978: exhibition of his paintings in Musée Marmottan in Paris; catalogue by Jean Chagnaud-Forain (R43,p8;R2,p501;M2)

My main sources are two books on Forain: Faxon (especially the chronology of Janine Chagnaud-Forain at page 57/8; 1982=R43) and Browse (1978=R50). Additional sources are Moffett (1986, R2), Walther (2013, R3), Denvir (1993, R5), Schurr & Cabanne (2008=R9,p297), Monneret (1878-81=R88I,p249-252), Adler (1998=R89,p122+124), Stevens (1992=R166), and xx. For other general references (=R) see. My main sources (for the pictures) from the internet are the-Athenaeum (iR2), Wikimedia (iR6), Mutualart (iR11), Artnet (iR13=aR19), Christies (iR15), Joconde (iR23) and Google images (iR10). For other references to internet sites (=iR) see. For other additional references (=aR) see below. See links for practical hints and abbreviations and for the subscription of the paintings. At musea: NGA Washington (M21); Dixon Gallery and Gardens Memphis (M160);
For further reading see:
Faxon, Alicia Craig: Jean-Louis Forain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the prints. New York, 1982 (R2,p501;aR4)
Reff, Theodore, Florence Valdès-Forain & Janine Chagnaud-Forain: Jean-Louis Forain; the impressionist years; exhibition catalogue. The Dixon Gallery and Gardens collection, Memphis, 1995. (=R316)
Valdès-Forain, Florence  & Joëlle Raineau : Jean-Louis Forain, 1852-1931 ; exhibition catalogue. Petit Palais Paris, 2011 (iR26).
Valdès-Forain, Florence: Catalogue Raisonné (in preparation). (aR21,p10)


Additional references:

  1. (the entire 6th Volume of Henri Beraldi: Les graveurs du XIXe siècle; I could not find works of Forain; =iR40 = R85VI)
  2. “Jean Louis Forain.” In Database of Modern Exhibitions (DoME). European Paintings and Drawings 1905-1915. Last modified Dec 17, 2020. =iR261; overview of contributions of Forain in exhibitions and auctions from 1905-1915
  3. (more than 300 works by Forain from musea; =iR8)
  4. (website on Forain, with information, but limited pictures; they work on a Catalogue Raisonné of paintings)
  5. (overview of works of Forain in French musea; = iR302)
  6. (info on Forain at the auction of 2008/12/01; =iR15)
  7. (info on Forain by the Galerie Heim in Basel)
  8. (overview page with references to data on Forain; =iR19)
  9. (PDF publication Guérin: Forain, aquafortiste; catalogue raisonné. Paris, 1912; =iR19)
  10. (PDF Forain: La Comédie Parisienne. Paris, 1892; =iR19)
  11.  (PDF Album Forain, a book with about 50 drawings. Paris, 1896; =iR19)
  12. (PDF of Album de forain, a book with about 50 drawings. Paris, 1895; =iR19)
  13. (PDF auction catalogue Doux Pays at Hôtel Drouot 1898/05/01 of 150 watercolours and drawings of Forain; =iR19)
  14. (overview page on Joconde with data on Forain; =iR23)
  15. (overview page with data on Forain; =iR40)
  16. (1897 publication of La Vie by Forain with colour drawings; =iR40)
  17. (1902 publication of the 2nd edition of la Comédie Parisienne with 188 drawings by Forain; =iR40)
  18. (overview page with data on Forain; =iR26)
  19. (>1500 works of Forain at auctions from 1985 untill now; =iR13)
  20. DAG.Louvre//jean-louis-forain (535 graphique works of Forain in the Louvre; = M5a)
  21. Auction house “Golden section”: Jean-Louis Forain; auction catalogue. Kiev, 2021/10/17. ( With an article by Alexander Bessonov.
  22. Pictures I received from others.


Recommanded citation: “Impressionism: Jean-Louis Forain, more a Realist than an Impressionist. Last modified 2024/03/09.”