Jean-François Raffaëlli

French, 1850 - 1924

Jean-François Raffaëlli was born in Paris in 1850 of French and Italian parents.  His first love was music and at one time he wanted to be an opera singer, but he was eventually drawn to painting, and in 1870 enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in order to study under Gerome.  He remained exclusively a painter until 1876 when he did his first etching.  From this time on he was passionately devoted to printmaking, experimenting extensively with color etching.  He became very proficient at this technique and in 1904 founded the Salon de l’eau forte en couleurs (Exhibition of Color Etchers).

Raffaëlli had been a great friend of the Impressionists, particularly Degas, Pissarro and Mary Cassatt.  But bitter quarrels with Degas, and his own growing success in the Salons, eventually caused him to move away from that group, and more and more into the world of the official art establishment.  He did remain, however, on good terms with Mary Cassatt and with Pissarro, both of who were artists who shared his love of color etching.  He was basically an Impressionist and remained true to the subjects he knew best, such as the suburbs of Paris, the landscapes and villages along the Seine, the animals of the countryside, the haunts of working class people, the beggars, the rag pickers, the factories and the landmarks around Paris.

His graphic oeuvre includes 183 prints and spans from 1876 to 1921.  His finest works are those executed in color etching and aquatint showing tints and patches of color superimposed over nervous, flickering lines.  He often used five copper plates, one for each color, to achieve the final and vibrant color composition.  Several commissioned portraits served to extend Raffaëlli’s fine reputation.  He was awarded many official honors, including the Legion d’honneur.  He was the only Impressionist to gain this kind of recognition, which unfortunately worked to his disadvantage as history was rewritten.  He died in Paris in 1924.

Of him Gustave Geoffroy wrote: Mr. Raffaëlli is an artist considered to be an historian of his time.  He had an unusual talent to represent things as they were in addition to showing his spirit, distinction of thought, his serenity of observation, a hidden irony and slightly visible sentimentality.  The mixture of all of these qualities and his manner of being make him one of the most original masters of our time and his oeuvre will certainly impose itself in the future.”

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