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
While working for the Banque de France, Lucien Jonas continued to paint until his death in 1947, notably producing military portraits. In1944, 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).