1850 - 1924
Jean-François Raffaëlli’s father was a failed Italian businessman and Raffaëlli himself was, among other things, a church chorister, actor and theatre singer. He then studied under Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He travelled to Italy, Spain and Algeria and on his return to France settled in Asnières.
In 1876, on a trip to Brittany, he first saw the potential of realist subject matter, if treated seriously. He became involved in meetings of artists at the Café Guerbois, where the Impressionist painters used to gather. As a result, Degas, contrary to the advice of the group, introduced Raffaëlli to the Impressionist exhibitions – according to one uncertain source as early as the very first exhibition, at the home of Nadar, and certainly to those of 1880 and 1881.
In 1904, Raffaëlli founded the Society for Original Colour Engraving. He first exhibited at the Salon de Paris in 1870 and continued to exhibit there until he joined the Salon des Artistes Français in 1881, where he earned a commendation in 1885, was made Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur in 1889 and in the same year was awarded a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle. In 1906 he was made Officier of the Légion d’Honneur. He was also a member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. In 1884, a private exhibition of his work cemented his reputation.
He contributed to several newspapers such as The Black Cat ( Le Chat Noir) in 1885 and The French Mail ( Le Courrier Français) in 1886 and 1887. He published a collection entitled Parisian Characters, which captured his favourite themes of the street, the neighbourhood and local people going about their lives. In 1880 he participated, with Forain, on the illustration of Joris Karl Huysmans’ Parisian Sketches ( Croquis Parisiens). He also illustrated Huysman’s Works. As well as working as an illustrator, he also made etchings and coloured dry-points.
His early attempts at painting were genre scenes, but once he was settled in Asnières he started to paint picturesque views of Parisian suburbs. From 1879 onwards, his subject matter drew on the lives of local people. These popular themes, which he treated with humanity and a social conscience, brought him to the attention of the social realist writers of the time such as Émile Zola. In addition to his realist style, Raffaëlli’s dark palette, which ran contrary to the Impressionist aesthethic, helped to explain the opposition of those painters to his participation in their exhibitions. More concerned with drawing than colour, he used black and white for most of his paintings. Towards the end of his life, he lightened his palette, but without adopting any other principles of the Impressionist technique.
After painting several portraits, including Edmond de Goncourt and Georges Clémenceau, he returned to genre painting, particularly scenes of bourgeois life. Later in his career, he painted mainly Breton-inspired sailors and views of Venice. His views of the Paris slums and the fortifications, sites which have almost completely disappeared, went some way towards establishing a genre in themselves and perpetuated the memory of the area: The Slums, Rag-and-Bone Man, Vagabond, Sandpit, In St-Denis, Area of Fortifications. His realistic and witty portrayal of typical Parisian townscapes accounts for his enduring appeal.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Béziers: Peasants Going to Town
Bordeaux: Bohemians at a Café
Boston: Notre-Dame; Return from the Market
Brussels: Chevet of Notre-Dame; pastel
Bucharest (Muz. National de Arta al României): Market at Antibes; Pied-à-terre
Copenhagen: Fishermen on the Beach
Douai: Return from the Market; Blacksmiths
Liège: Absinthe Drinker
Lyons (MBA): At the Foundry
Morlaix: Portrait of Gustave Geffroy
Mulhouse: Little Street
Nancy (MBA): Portrait of Edmond de Goncourt
Nantes (MBA): Rag-and-Bone Man Lighting his Pipe
Oslo: Parisian Street in Sunlight
Paris (Mus. d’Orsay): Guests Attending a Wedding; Elderly Convalescents; Notre-Dame; Public Meeting; Judith
Rheims: Drouot Crossroads in Paris
Stockholm: Sailors at a Northern French Port
Versailles: Clémenceau the Orator
Oil on board
Oil on original canvas