Jean-François Raffaëlli was born in Paris into a bourgeois family of ltalian descent. He enjoyed a privileged childhood until the age of fourteen, when the failure of his father's textile business forced him to seek employment. He held a series of jobs before being placed, unwillingly, in a house of commerce as a book-keeper at the age of sixteen. While working there, he began to visit the Louvre and to spend his Sundays in the Musee du Luxembourg. His initial artistic interest was in drawing, and as he developed this passion, he gave up his job and supported himself by singing in theatres and churches.
Although he had received no formal training, one of Rafaëlli's landscapes was accepted by the Salon Jury in 1870, and the following year he enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he studied in the studio of Gerome for three months. For the first period of his artistic development, Raffaelli turned to Corot, Roybet and Fortuny, painting mainly landscapes and historical costume pieces. Suddenly and without apparent warning he produced a powerful portrait of a Breton peasant family in 1876, La Jamille de Jean le Bolteux (Mairie de la Quesnoy, Depot du Musee d'Orsay). This was exhibited at the 1877 Salon and heralded a new phase in the artist's career.
Raffaëlli was one of the young artists who gathered around Degas at the Cafe de la Nouvelle-Athènes and through the older painter's influence Raffaelli was invited to exhibit with the Impressionists in 1880 and 1881. During the late 1870s and the 1880s, he painted many aspects of the rapidly expanding suburbs of Paris, frequently portraying the types of people, such as rag-pickers and garlic-sellers, who were being made redundant by the onset of urbanization. During the 1890s, he moved back into the centre of Paris and began to concentrate largely on views of the capital, Parisian monuments, boulevards, and later, views of the countryside and seaports.
An independent exhibition of Raffaelli's work was held in 1884 and five years later he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur. He visited New York in 1895 and 1897 and died in Paris in 1924.
Musee d'Orsay, Paris;
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York;
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;
Art Institute of Chicago;
Philadelphia Museum of Art;
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires;