Born in 1880 and awarded the Prix de Rome in 1905, Jonas was appointed the official painter of the French Navy in 1916, and was already an accomplished artist when the Banque de France asked him to design its notes in 1933.
By that time he had produced a prolific and diverse body of work. His early compositions were very realistic depictions of working life, notably of the mines in northern France where he was born. He also painted a number of portraits, both official (for example, General Pershing in 1917 – currently in the Metropolitan Museum of New York – and Marshal Foch) and private, along with major murals in the north of France (the ceiling of the Chamber of Commerce, the town hall in Valenciennes, for example) and in Paris (the Maison des Centraux building). Jonas’s work also included illustrations for major literary works and paintings of intimate scenes such as landscapes. In 1933, at the age of 53, Lucien Jonas was recognized as a highly talented artist.
In that year, the Banque de France decided to drop the allegorical themes that until then had illustrated its banknotes, and reduce them in size. It asked Lucien Jonas to produce sketches, and the artist went on to design France’s banknotes for the last six years of the Third Republic, from the Occupation to the first months of Charles de Gaulle’s provisional government. His talents as a portrait painter can clearly be seen in the notes depicting famous men from France’s history:
- The Sully 100 franc note (created in May 1939 and issued in 1940),
- The Jacques Cœur 50 franc note (created in June 1940 and issued in 1941),
- The Descartes 100 franc note (created in May 1942 and issued in 1944).
Jonas also drew on his experience painting realistic scenes of men and women at work to create two notes devoted to the theme of trades and professions:
- The 10 franc note with a miner and a peasant woman (created in September 1941 and issued in 1943);
- The 20 franc note with a fisherman (created in February 1942 and issued at the end of 1942).
After the liberation of Paris, some of his banknotes (the biggest denominations, 100 and 50 francs) were withdrawn from circulation when the public were asked to trade in their old notes in June 1945. His smaller denominations remained in circulation until 1963.
While working for the Banque de France, Lucien Jonas continued to paint until his death in 1947, notably producing military portraits. In 1944, he painted General Koenig, de Larminat and de Lattre de Tassigny (the first two portraits are in the Musée de l’ordre de la Libération).
In 2012, Lucien Jonas’ grandson, Jean-Claude Jonas, donated a number of sketches and documents used in the preparation of these notes to the Banque de France. An exhibition was also held to show Lucien Jonas’s contribution to French banknotes along with some of his most important works, the majority of which had never been seen by the public (at the Banque de France, to 4 July)
To find out more (and view some of L. Jonas’ work), click on: Banque de France: Lucien Jonas’ designs for the Banque de France’s banknotes
Published on 10 September 2013.