Jean-Francois Raffaelli, Impressionist painter of Parisian scenes, realist genre subjects and still lifes, was born in Paris on 20th April 1850 of Italian parentage. Having begun a career as an actor and singer, performing at the Theatre Lyrique, he turned to art and entered the atelier of Gerome. There he made rapid progress and made his exhibiting debut at the Salon of 1870. At this early stage of his career he was painting mainly genre subjects but, in 1876 after a trip to Brittany, he turned to Realist subjects and within three years he had embarked on his series of paintings of the unfashionable back streets and suburbs of Paris. Through these works he was brought into the circle of Naturalist writers, including Duranty who then introduced him to the Impressionists who also met at the Cafe Guerbois. He was taken under the wing of Edgar Degas, who vigorously defended his work against criticism from the other Impressionists, and participated in the important Impressionist exhibitions of 1880 and 1881. However his palette remained defiantly sombre compared to Monet, Renoir and the other ‘Impressionists’ and eventually they succeeded in excluding Raffaelli from further exhibitions - albeit at the expense of Degas who refused to participate in support of the younger painter. His exclusion seemed to have had little effect on his career in the short-term, for in 1884 he held an enormously successful one-man show. This signalled his break from the circle of the Impressionists and he wrote of Impressionism that “it is too purely scientific for us”. Thereupon he turned for a short time to painting fashionable subjects and modish portraits, notably of Edmond de Goncourt and Clemenceau, before moving on to “scenes de la vie bourgeoise”, usually on the streets of Paris.
The catalogue to the Metropolitan Museum New York notes: “The sensitive handling in the finished pictures and their grayish tonality brightened with touches of colour anticipate Utrillo. Meanwhile the great writer, J K Huysmans, whose work Raffaelli illustrated, saw him as “un Millet Parisien”. Raffaelli received an honourable mention at the Salon of 1885 and a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1889. In that same year he became a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur and in 1906 he was elected an Officier. Today examples of his work are in many of the world’s most important collections including the Louvre, the Musee Carnavalet and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Further examples are in the museums of Agen, Avignon, Beziers, Bordeaux, Boston (USA), Brussels, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Douai, Grenoble, Le Havre, Liege, Lyon, Montpellier, Morlaix, Mulhouse, Nancy, Nantes, Oslo, Pau, Reims, Rouen, Stockholm, Strasbourg, Tourcoing and Versailles.