After the early death of his father, Jean Fautrier and his mother moved to London. At the tender age of 14, he already studied at the Royal Academy and later at the Slade School of Art. In early 1917 Fautrier returned to France to do his military service.
In 1918 he suffered a gas poisoning at the front with life-long consequences. During a recovery trip to Tyrolia in 1920-21 Fautrier began to paint again. He produced expressive pictures of figures, portraits and still lives, whose brush stroke and almost caricature-like perception are reminiscent of Chaim Soutine.
In 1925 and 1926 he produced unusual experimental compositions, in which the motif is hardly distinguishable between the rapidly applied color gestures and the monochrome color scheme.
As early as 1923 he exhibited his pictures in Paris and from 1925 he had a contract with the renowned Paris gallery "Guillaume".
After initial success with the sales of his work, Jean Faultier increasingly withdrew from painting during the 1930s. In 1934 he left Paris to become a skiing instructor in Tignes and later sucessfully managed a hotel in Val d'Isère.
At the beginning of World War II Fautrier left the Alps and returned to Paris via Marseille and Aix-en-Provence in 1940. The studio he set up for himself became a meeting-place for his friends who were active in the Résistance. After a temporary arrest Jean Fautrier went into hiding in Dr. Lesavoureux's sanitorium, where he painted the series "Otages" (hostage pictures) until 1945.
These laid the foundation for Fautrier's later fame. From 1949 to 1954 his career as a painter was once more interrupted due to his difficult financial situation. The later French minister of culture and writer André Malraux, made Fautrier editor in the Gallimard publishing house, putting him in charge of the graphical side of art editions. Together with his wife Jeanine Aeply, Fautrier developed "Originaux Multiples", a mixture of graphic print and painting, which they use in the distribution of this own work.
In 1954 the artist began to paint in oil again, abandoning the haptic surfaces he had developed earlier. Exhibitions of this pictures followed throughout the world: among others at the "documenta 2" in Kassel in 1959.
In 1960 he received the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale. Suffering from a serious illness, Fautrier was no longer able to attend the retrospective organized at the "Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville" in Paris in his honor in 1964.
Jean Fautrier died in Châtenay-Malabry on July 21, 1964.