Forain, Jean-Louis

Impressionism, the partakers of the expositions:

Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931)

between Realism and Impressionism



Was Jean-Louis Forain an Impressionist?
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 and 86. He also had several contacts within the ‘impressionist’ circles, notably with Degas, Cezanne, Pissarro and De Nittis and in his later years with Renoir. This makes him (with some delay) clearly part of the impressionist art-movement. Though he seamed to be more a follower, than a leader.
Forain rendered every day (Parisian) live, which is an impressionist characteristic. He did some en-plein-air painting, sometimes pays clear attention to the effect of (interior) light and sometimes uses more bright colours. But 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 style.
Forain most of all is admired for his illustrations and his etchings, not for his paintings. His most promenant 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:
At the 4th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1879 Forain showed 26 works, 25 of which were water colours (catalogue numbers 82-107) (R2,p268). He was invited by Degas (R43,p20). Bachaumont reviews ‘Among the watercolourists, the palm belongs to M. Louis Forain.’ (R90I,p210). At the 5th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1880 Forain showed 12 works, including 1 gouache and 1 drawing outside the catalogue, 6 drawings and 2 etchings (catalogue numbers 45-54+hc2) (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 works, including 4 drawings, 3 watercolours and 1 pastel (catalogue numbers 20-29) (R2,p354). At the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1886 Forain showed 14 works, including 1 outside the catalogue (=hc) and probably 2 drawings (catalogue numbers 29-41+hc) (R2,p444). 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 boudoir dandyism, of the high life masking the emptiness of the heart.’ (R90I,p463).
So in total Forain exhibited 62 works, including 29 watercolours and 13 drawings and just 17 oil paintings.
See link for his exhibited art-works in 1879, in 1880, in 1881 and 1886. See link for an account.


Jean-Louis Forain and the Salon:
His first entrance at the Salon in 1874 was refused (aR4). Forain made his debut at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français in 1883+84+85 (iR1). Faxon wrongly state that his debut was in 1884 (R43,p36). In 1890+1919+1922-31 Forain would exhibited at the Société National des Beaux-Arts (aR4). (Note: more info will follow later on.)
See link for his -/-pictures at the Salon. See link for an account.


Jean-Louis Forain as an artist?
Just like Manet, for Forain black was an important colour (R43,p8;R50,45). 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).   His early still-life painting was somewhat stiff and uninspired; one was rejected at the Salon of 1874 (R43,p13). Half-way the 1870s Forain gets influenced by the Impressionists and starts to render scenes from everyday Parisian life and the world of the cafés and theatres (R43,p14). 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. In comparison Forain was more concentrated on character-revealing gestures, social situations and conversations. Degas greatly admired Forains drawing (R43,p18). 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 (R43,p19). Pissarro taught him to paint en-plein-air. Forain painted his first landscape at Pissarro’s garden in Osny. Forain portrayed Pissarro around 1880 (R43,p19). Forain was related with Cézanne since 1875 until his death in 1906. Cézanne much admired Forains illustrations (R43,p19). Forain disliked Monet, both the man and the artist (R50,p45).
1900 onwards his palet becomes more somber, using mainly black, gray and browns (R43,p25;R50,p50). New themes are religious scenes and law court scenes. In the latter he is inspired by Daumier. Forain shows ordinary people who are victim of advocates and lawyers (R43,p29). 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). 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).
Forain often mixed different techniques like drawing and watercolours (R43,p9). Forain created several hundred paintings; 5 à 6000 drawings; over 175 etchings; over 125 lithographs,
Of the 62 works Forain exhibited with the Impressionists only 9 contained an indication of time, 3 of the Opéra and 4 of café Folies-Bergère. None of the works contain an indication of time, weather or season. Forain made just a few landscapes. In his interieurs he sometimes emphasizes 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, therefor 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 uses a thin, rather liquid pigment (R50,p26).
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). 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).


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;aR4)
  • 1860 Forain his family move to Paris (R43,p13;R50,p12;aR4)
  • Albert Besnard was a schoolfriend of Forain (R50,p13)
  • 1866 Forain regularly copied drawings in the Louvre (R50,p13;aR4)
  • 1866-7 academic drawing lessons from Jacquesson de la Chevreuse (1839-1903) (R43,p13;R50,p14;aR4)
  • 1867-8 studies at the École des Beaux-Arts in the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1905) (R43,p13;aR4)
    Besnard was a fellow pupil; his mother lived in the ‘place Furstenberg’, now Musée Delacroix (R50,p14)
  • 1869-70 studies in the studio of the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75), who taught him to sketch from live, to render Biblical scenes in a modern mode and to use a free brushstroke (R43,p13;R50,p15;aR4)
  • 1870-73 painting lessons with André Gill (1840-85) who also was a caricaturist (R43,p13;R50,p17)
  • 1870-74 Forain fought in the Franco-Prussian war and fulfilled additional military services (R43,p13+57;R50,p17+20); he had sympaties with the Communards (aR4); started his military services in 1874 (aR4).
  • after 1870/74 Forain leads a bohemian lifestyle, owning very little money (R43,p13;R50,17;aR4); having contacts with Rimbaud and Verlaine (aR4).
  • 1875-76 Forain started to etch (R43,p14;aR4); Browse mentions he did so in the early seventies (R50,p28)
  • 1876-1925 makes illustrations for several newspapers (R43,p57; R50,p64;aR4)
    especially for ‘Le Courrier Français’ (since 1887)  and ‘Le Figaro’ (1891-1924; R43,p7+19;R50,p27+36;aR4)
    his illustrations are brought together in ‘Les temps difficil’ (1893), ‘Doux pays’ (1897), ‘De la Marne au Rhine’ (1920)
    behind the satirical humor of his illustrations Forain was a moralist (R43,p8)
  • 1875-76 meets Manet, Degas, other Impressionists and Huysmans at the Café Nouvelle Athènes (R43,p14+57;R50,p20+22) and probably before that in Café Guerbois (R43,p14)
  • 1879 Huysmans commissions Forain to illustrate the second edition of his novel ‘Marthe, histoire d’une fille’ (R43,p25;R50,p23)
  • 1884 Forain did portray Giuseppe de Nittis in his painting Le Buffet which he exhibited as his debut at the Salon (R43,p36)
  • 1884 Forain rented a studio in the faubourg Saint Honoré (R50,p25)
  • 1886 Durand-Ruel exhibits 4 works of Forain in New York at the exhibition of ‘works in oil and pastel by the Impressionists of Paris’ (R43,p20;R22IV,p1017;aR4)
  • 1887-1910ca: Ambroise Vollard is Forains main dealer and patron (R43,p23)
  • 1887: converts, according to his own words, at the age of 35 to the Catholic faith and tries to become ‘un artiste chrétien’ (R50,p53). Yet as well Faxon (R43,p25/6) as Browse (R50,p52) 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 writes: ‘Everything I have done in art to the present time seems to me to be fruitless.’ He also writes about his bad habits in his past life. (R43,p26;R50,p53)
  • 1888: exhibits at Les XX in Brussels (aR4)
  • 1889: exhibits at the Scandinavian and French Impressionists (aR4)
  • 1889 publishes a satirical weekly ‘Le Fifre’, which only lasts 4 months (R43,p57;R50,p37;aR4)
  • 1890 first one-man show with only drawings at Boussod-Valadon (R50,p29)
  • 1890 Forain started to make lithographs and temporarily abandoned etching (R43,p23;R50,p28)
  • 1891/07/16 Forain marries Jeanne Bosc, who herself also was a painter and a sculptor. He first met her in 1889 (R43,p7+24;R50,p29/30;aR4)
  • 1892: Forain publishes 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;iR10)
  • 1893 Forain was made Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (R50,p31)
  • 1893 at the Galerie Georges Petit 140 of Forains drawings were offered for sale (R50,p31)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • 1898/99 Forain had his own journal ‘Psst…!’, being anti-Dreyfusard (R43,p25;R50,p28;aR4)
  • 1899 builds a townhouse on the rue Spontini (near the Bois de Boulogne) (R43,p58)
  • 1900-5 cellar diners at the dealer Vollard with Degas, Cézanne, Redon, Renoir and Bonnard, who made a painting of such a diner (R43,p58;R50,p55)
  • 1903: exhibits at the Salon d’Automne (aR4)
  • 1909 Forain rents and later buys 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)
  • 1908 Forain returned to etching (R50,p55)
  • 1912 Guérin publishes a Catalogue Raisonné of Forains etchings, dry-points and monotypes (R43,p24;R50,p56;aR9)
  • 1912: at the Libre Estétique in Brussels one room was dedicated to Forain (aR4)
  • 1913 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). Faxon/Chagnaud-Forain mentions a total of 390 in stead of 409 (R43,p58;aR4)
  • 1915 joins the army in the First World War; he saw the war’s devastation first hand and renders this in several works (R43,p31;R50,p59)
  • 1917 Forain, as one of the few, is present at the burial of Degas (R43,p58)
  • 1923 elected as member of the Academy of Fine Arts (R43,p56)
  • 1925-31 President of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (R43,p56+58;R50,p62)
  • 1928 Forain has been made Commandeur de Legion d’Honneur (R43,p58;R50,p62;aR4)
  • 1931/07/11 Forain dies in Paris (R43,p58;aR4) and is 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), Stevens (1992=R166), and xx. For other general references (=R) see. My main sources (for the pictures) from the internet are Wikimedia (iR6) and xx. 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.
For further reading see:
Faxon, Alicia Craig: Jean-Louis Forain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the prints. New York, 1982 (R2,p501;aR4)


Additional references:

  1. (the entire 6th Volume of Henri Beraldi: Les graveurs du XIXe siècle with works about 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)
  9. (PDF publication Guérin: Forain, aquafortiste. Paris, 1912; =iR19)
  10. (PDF Forain: La Comédie Parisienne. Paris, 1892; =iR19)
  11. x


Recommanded citation: “Jean-Louis Forain, between Realism and Impressionism. Last modified 2021/07/17.