Reflections on Artist Jean-Louis Forain

Denison Museum Denison Museum
October 1, 2018

Sophia Raak ’20, a French major, German minor, and research and writing intern at the Denison Museum reviewed the museum’s exhibition, “The Great War: Illustrations by Jean-Louis Forain,” which was on campus in the spring of 2017.

According to Jean-Louis Forain’s website:

Jean-Louis Forain was a French Impressionist known for his paintings and etchings of Parisian nightlife, operas, and cafes.

Born on October 23, 1852 in Reims, France, he moved with his family to Paris at the age of eleven and later studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts. Turned down by the Salon in 1874, Forain began frequenting the Café Guerbois, where he met Édouard Manet and Degas, whose work greatly influenced his own. Forain was also friends with a number of writers, such as Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, and Joris-Karl Huysmans.

The artist began addressing more political subjects later in his life, and contributed illustrations to a number of major periodicals. He notably served as a camouflage artist and cartoonist during World War I, and was lauded for his patriotism during the conflict. The artist died on July 11, 1931 in Paris, France. Today, Forain’s works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and the National Gallery in London, among others.

Forain was too old to participate in the military at the time of WWI, so he served in another capacity. During WWI, Forain put his talent to the service of his country: his drawings strengthened patriotism in the columns of L’Opinion, Le Figaro and Oui. His illustrations evoked shock and were passionately discussed by readers. A cartoon published on the 9th of January 1915, which featured two soldiers questioning the commitment on the home front, gained a legendary status: “As long as they hold! … Who? The Civilians.” That same year, the 63-year-old artist enlisted in the newly created Camouflage Section of the French Army.”