Jean Francois Raffaelli Biography

Jean Francois Raffaelli




Painter, sculptor, printmaker, and writer Jean Francois Raffaelli was born in Paris in 1850, to a family of Tuscan lineage. Before he pursued art he showed interest in the theater and music, two subjects that would influence his art and writing career. However, a natural aptitude for visual art led him to take up painting in 1870, and that same year a landscape painting of his was accepted for exhibition at the Paris Salon. 

In 1871 he enrolled in L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study under sculptor and painter Jean-Leon Gerome, who by this time was one of Europe's leading painters in the style now known as academism: technically accurate and focusing on classical themes. This would be Raffaelli's only formal training, and he struggled with the conservative teaching of Gerome and his strict formula for technical fluency, as opposed to expression. Raffaelli only remained a student of Gerome for three months, at which point he left to tour Italy, Spain, North Africa, England, and Holland on his own. 

Owing to his interest in theater, perhaps, as well as an appreciation for graphic design, Raffaelli's first subject of interest was costume and other highly aesthetic subjects, and for a handful of years this would be his primary output. However, around 1876 he turned his attention to the Paris suburbs, where he began sketching the daily lives of peasants, ragpickers and workers, as well as scenes of industry and everyday street scenes. He shift into the anti-aesthetic was inspired by the writings of Zola and the philospohy of Hippolyte-Adolphe Taine. Though ardently anti-label, he was greatly inspired by the modern styles of the day and wished to connect to the artists who led the charge especially in Impressionism. Though he was generally considered to be strictly Realist, Degas invited him to exhibit at an 1881 Impressionist exhibition, much to the dismay of many leading Impressionists, including Monet. Despite the outcry, his painting "The Absinthe Drinkers" won broad favorable criticism.

Having also been an avid etcher from the beginning of his artistic pursuit, Raffaelli discovered color etching in the late 1890s, and for much of his later career this became his particular focus. Some consider this period the most true expression of the artist, as he was able to break away somewhat from the Realist label he had been formed by and explore other styles with more freedom. In part, the experimental nature of color printmaking dictated this freedom, and he contributed innovations to the medium which are still used today. Among his contributions to the technical aspect of the art world was the five-plate color printing process that used drypoint hatching rather than aquatint or wash. He also formulated the batonnet, an oil stick that found that balance between oil paint and pastel.

He continued with his depictions of simple, everyday scenes and people. He was also a noted sculptor, though none of them remain except in photographs. He exhibited throughout Europe as well as in the United States, where he toured New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia for one-man shows of his paintings and prints. His work is now found in public and private collections the world over. 

Raffaelli died in Paris in 1924.