The 1993 acquisition of fifty seven works by Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931) established the Dixon Gallery and Gardens as a major international repository of the artist’s work. Assembled and made available to the Dixon by the Galerie Hopkins-Thomas, Paris, the collection consists of drawings, watercolors, prints, pastels and paintings created during Forain’s Impressionist years of 1875 to 1895. Forain’s work provides clear visual references to his contemporaries, especially Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet, and illustrates uniquely the realist subject matter that typified Impressionism. Forain captured the inhabitants of “la vie moderne”—the world of the café, brothel, racetrack, ballet and other aspects of modern Parisian life in the late nineteenth century. Forain focused his eye on the interaction between performer and audience, and behind the scenes, in such a way as they seem to come to life even today. Forain exhibited at four of the eight group exhibitions that defined Impressionism, and at least three of the works in the Dixon collection are known to have been exhibited at these shows: Café Interior, The Client, and a previous museum purchase, Woman Breathing in Flowers.
Since making the Forain acquisition in 1993, the Dixon has received gifts of three works by the artist, and the Dixon Life Member Society purchased a Forain oil painting for the museum in 1994. These wonderful additions bring the total number of works by Forain in the Dixon’s permanent collection to 58. An international tour of the collection occurred in 1995 and premiered at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
The Forain Collection expands and enhances the Dixon permanent collection, reaffirming the museum’s focus on Impressionism and excellence.
In 1888, when asked to write his autobiography by the newspaper Le Courrier Français, Jean-Louis Forain responded, “I was born in Reims on the 23rd of October 1853 and I adore ballet.” This simple statement reveals the artist’s private nature and his passion for the ballet, which was the inspiration for many of his works.
In addition to his scenes of Parisian popular entertainments, Jean-Louis Forain is also well known for his satirical drawings and prints. He participated in four of the eight prominent exhibitions that were key to the Impressionist movement. It was through Edgar Degas’ invitation that he began to exhibit with the Impressionists in 1879. Degas greatly shaped Forain’s early career and Forain viewed him as a mentor. This fondness was reciprocated, in fact, because when Degas was asked his opinion of his “pupil” he is quoted as saying, “Little Forain? He is still holding me by the coat tails, but he’ll go far if he lets go.” Forain had many prominent artistic friends of this period such as novelist and critic Joris-Karl Huysmans and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Forain, ever the master of political and social satire, greatly influenced the younger Toulouse-Lautrec, who is also represented in the Dixon’s collection.