An etcher as well as a painter, Forain depicted domestic scenes, café life, theatrical performers, and dancers. After studying briefly with Jean Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Forain helped defend Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. He supported himself as an illustrator and portraitist, and began etching about 1875.
Forain shared an interest in modern themes with the realists and the impressionists. He frequently joined Edouard Manet's discussion circle at the Café Guerbois and established a close relationship with Edgar Degas. Adopting an impressionist style in 1879, Forain exhibited with the group at its independent shows in 1879, 1880, and 1886. After 1900 Forain became increasingly devoted to Catholicism, as is reflected in his religious subject matter and somber palette. During World War I, when he was sixty-two years old, he served in the camouflage corps. From 1925 until his death, Forain worked exclusively as a painter.
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