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French art,the artistic production of the region that constitutes the historic nation of France. See also French architectureFrench architecture,
structures created in the area of Europe that is now France. Early Architecture
The earliest surviving architecture in France dates to the Stone Age, as a number of prehistoric sites in Brittany attest.
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Artistic remains in France date back to the Paleolithic age (see Paleolithic artPaleolithic art
, art produced during the Paleolithic period. Study and knowledge of this art largely have been confined to works discovered at many sites in W Europe, where the most magnificent surviving examples are paintings in a number of caves in N Spain and S France, but
..... Click the link for more information. ), and abundant examples attest to the art of the periods of Roman and barbarian occupation as well as to the Christian art of the subsequent periods (see Merovingian art and architectureMerovingian art and architecture
. This period is named for Merovech, the founder of the first Germanic-Frankish dynasty (c.A.D. 500–A.D. 751). The Merovingian period was marked by the gradual decline of the classical tradition and by the absorption of a radically new
..... Click the link for more information. ; Carolingian architecture and artCarolingian architecture and art,
art forms and structures created by the Carolingians. Toward the beginning of the Carolingian Period, in the 8th cent., a gradual change appeared in Western culture and art, a change that later reached its apex under Charlemagne.
..... Click the link for more information. ).
The Romanesque Period
During the Middle Ages artistic production centered about the church and the feudal court. In the Romanesque period (11th–12th cent.) the church encouraged the development of manuscript illuminationillumination,
in art, decoration of manuscripts and books with colored, gilded pictures, often referred to as miniatures (see miniature painting); historiated and decorated initials; and ornamental border designs.
..... Click the link for more information. and the minor arts at several monastic centers including Reims, Tours, St. Gall, Paris, and Metz (see Romanesque architecture and artRomanesque architecture and art,
the artistic style that prevailed throughout Europe from the 10th to the mid-12th cent., although it persisted until considerably later in certain areas.
..... Click the link for more information. ). Important schools of sculpture centered in the regions of Languedoc and Burgundy.
The Gothic Period
The hierarchic austerity characteristic of many Romanesque figures was modified in the period of Gothic architecture and artGothic architecture and art,
structures (largely cathedrals and churches) and works of art first created in France in the 12th cent. that spread throughout Western Europe through the 15th cent., and in some locations into the 16th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. (12th–15th cent.) by tendencies toward idealization and naturalism. These tendencies are manifest in the sculpture of Reims and Amiens cathedrals, where the figures show greater variety of pose and articulation and are less severely architectonic than those of the preceding Romanesque period. Cathedral architecture gave impetus in the 13th cent. to the development of the art of stained glassstained glass,
in general, windows made of colored glass. To a large extent, the name is a misnomer, for staining is only one of the methods of coloring employed, and the best medieval glass made little use of it.
..... Click the link for more information. , which reached its height in such windows as those of the cathedral at Chartres.
At the same time Paris became a center of miniature paintingminiature painting
[Ital.,=artwork, especially manuscript initial letters, done with the red lead pigment minium; the word originally had no implication as to size].
..... Click the link for more information. , in which Italian and Netherlandish innovations were adopted and the observation of natural detail became highly developed. Great patrons of art emerged, and Charles V transformed the Louvre into a treasure house for the government art collections. Toward the end of the Gothic period these influences began to be harmonized in terms of a style marked by a taste for formal simplicity and elegance, such as is revealed in the works of Jean Fouquet.
In the 16th cent. there was a strong new wave of Italian influence. Francis I employed Francesco Primaticcio of Bologna as artistic director, and a school of French painters worked in an Italianate manner at the palace of Fontainebleau (see Fontainebleau, school ofFontainebleau, school of,
group of 16th-century artists who decorated the royal palace at Fontainebleau. The major figures in this group were Italian painters invited to France by Francis I.
..... Click the link for more information. ). The French sculptors Jean Goujon and Germain Pilon contributed classical grace and expressiveness to the work of the time. Elegant portraits were painted by Jean Cousin and Jean and François Clouet. French engraving gained significance in the works of the mannerists Jacques Bellange and Jacques Callot.
The Baroque Period
During the baroquebaroque
, in art and architecture, a style developed in Europe, England, and the Americas during the 17th and early 18th cent.
The baroque style is characterized by an emphasis on unity among the arts.
..... Click the link for more information. era (17th and early 18th cent.) enthusiasm for classical antiquity, combined with a cult of rationalism, encouraged the development of a monumental and formalized art. The most important painters were the landscape artists Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, who worked in Italy. Other major painters of the period include Simon Vouet, Philippe de Champaigne, George de la Tour, and the Le Nain brothers.
The movement toward political centralization, culminating in the absolute monarchy of Louis XIV, was attended by aesthetic authoritarianism marked by a consolidation and control of artistic production in the service of the state and the founding of art institutions. The French Academy was chartered in 1635, and the Gobelins tapestry factory was established in 1662. Typical of the decorative magnificence of the age was the painting of Charles Le Brun and Pierre Mignard and the sculpture of François Girardon, Pierre Puget, and Antoine Coysevox.
The Eighteenth Century
The 18th-century aesthetic styles were named after the political periods of these turbulent eras. They include the régence stylerégence style
, transitional style in architecture and decoration originated in France during the regency (1715–23) of Philippe, duc d'Orléans. The most important practitioners of the régence were Gilles Marie Oppenord and Robert de Cotte.
..... Click the link for more information. , the Louis period stylesLouis period styles,
1610–1793, succession of modes of interior decoration and architecture that established France as a leading influence in the decorative arts. Louis XIV
..... Click the link for more information. , and the Directoire styleDirectoire style
, in French interior decoration and costume, the manner prevailing about the time of the Directory (1795–99), from which the name is derived. A style transitional between Louis XVI and Empire, it is characterized by a departure from the sumptuousness of
..... Click the link for more information. . After the ascension of Louis XV baroque monumentality was replaced by the lighter, more animated spirit of the rococorococo
, style in architecture, especially in interiors and the decorative arts, which originated in France and was widely used in Europe in the 18th cent. The term may be derived from the French words rocaille and coquille
..... Click the link for more information. , which had early manifestation in the art of J. A. Watteau. François Boucher and J. H. Fragonard succeeded Le Brun as official painters; their decorative, sensuous style was favored by the court but not adopted generally. The genregenre
, in art-history terminology, a type of painting dealing with unidealized scenes and subjects of everyday life. Although practiced in ancient art, as shown by Pompeiian frescoes, and in the Middle Ages, genre was not recognized as worthy and independent subject matter
..... Click the link for more information. and still-lifestill life,
a pictorial representation of inanimate objects. The term derives from the 17th-century Dutch still-leven, meaning a motionless natural object or objects.
..... Click the link for more information. painter J. B. Chardin and the sculptor J. A. Houdon exhibited independent tendencies.
Characteristic gracefulness and delicacy prevailed in the minor arts, exemplified in the bronze work of Jacques Caffieri and in Sèvres porcelains, produced at the royal potteries established in 1745 at Vincennes and moved to Sèvres in 1753. A self-important manner in portraitureportraiture,
the art of representing the physical or psychological likeness of a real or imaginary individual. The principal portrait media are painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography. From earliest times the portrait has been considered a means to immortality.
..... Click the link for more information. flourished in the work of Nicolas de Largillière and Jean-Marc Nattier.
Toward the end of the 18th cent. reaction against the frivolity of court art and interest in new archaeological excavations encouraged the rise of the neoclassical style, which found government favor under the Directory, Consulate, and Empire. Its principal exponent was J. L. David, at first the king's and later Napoleon's official painter. David wielded authoritarian influence over the national taste (see Empire styleEmpire style,
manner of French interior decoration and costume which evolved from the Directoire style. Designated Empire because of its identification with the reign of Napoleon I, it was largely inspired by his architects Percier and Fontaine.
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The Nineteenth Century
After neoclassicism, no single style predominated in the early part of the century. Rather, individual artists gave definition to a variety of movements. J. A. D. Ingres succeeded David as leading academician and favored an essentially linear and meticulously finished style, in part inspired by a new enthusiasm for the art of the Italian Renaissance. Opposed to the academic discipline manifest in yearly SalonSalon,
annual exhibition of art works chosen by jury and presented by the French Academy since 1737; it was originally held in the Salon d'Apollon of the Louvre. By the mid-19th cent. the Salon had become an expression of conservative, established tastes in art.
..... Click the link for more information. exhibitions were the romantic painters led by Delacroix and Géricault. At the same time that romanticismromanticism,
term loosely applied to literary and artistic movements of the late 18th and 19th cent. Characteristics of Romanticism
Resulting in part from the libertarian and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, the romantic movements had in common only a
..... Click the link for more information. championed subjective emotion, the artist's independence from social purpose, and the taste for exotic subject matter, various currents of realism had notable exponents in Honoré Daumier, J. B. C. Corot, and Gustave Courbet. Revived interest in landscape painting was revealed in the works of the Barbizon schoolBarbizon school
, an informal school of French landscape painting that flourished c.1830–1870. Its name derives from the village of Barbizon, a favorite residence of the painters associated with the school.
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After the middle of the 19th cent. interest in rendering purely visual effects and in expressing transient and accidental aspects of nature resulted in the emergence of impressionismimpressionism,
in painting, late-19th-century French school that was generally characterized by the attempt to depict transitory visual impressions, often painted directly from nature, and by the use of pure, broken color to achieve brilliance and luminosity.
..... Click the link for more information. , an enormously influential movement that was formally launched with the exposition of 1874. This movement drew allegiance from a variety of highly individual artists including Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Pissarro. Cézanne drew inspiration from the impressionist group, but he rejected their emphasis on transient effects and evolved an independent approach based on the expression of the fundamental characteristics of shapes and spatial effects. Toward the end of the 19th cent. a postimpressionist reaction arose in the work of Seurat, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Gauguin.
In comparison with painting, 19th-century sculpture on the whole maintained more conservative trends. In the first half of the century, François Rude infused his works with an animation that marked a break with the neoclassic conventions. A. L. Barye, notable for his animal sculptures, and J. B. Carpeaux, the leading sculptor of the Second Empire, exemplify tendencies toward naturalism and an interest in rendering effects of movement that reached their culmination in the second half of the century in the powerful sculpture of Auguste Rodin.
The break with the 18th-century tradition effected by the Revolution, combined with increasing substitution of machine for hand labor, resulted in a marked decline in quality of design and craftsmanship in the decorative arts of 19th-century France. On the whole a heavy-handed eclecticism prevailed. Various elements from the styles of the Louis XIV and Louis XV periods were combined with surviving neoclassic forms.
The Twentieth Century
The innovations of postimpressionismpostimpressionism,
term coined by Roger Fry to refer to the work of a number of French painters active at the end of the 19th cent. who, although they developed their varied styles quite independently, were united in their rejection of impressionism.
..... Click the link for more information. , combined with the influence of Cézanne and a new current of interest in the art of Africa, to give rise to the early 20th-century movements of fauvismfauvism
[Fr. fauve=wild beast], name derisively hurled at and cheerfully adopted by a group of French painters, including Matisse, Rouault, Derain, Vlaminck, Friesz, Marquet, van Dongen, Braque, and Dufy.
..... Click the link for more information. , led by Matisse and Rouault, and cubismcubism,
art movement, primarily in painting, originating in Paris c.1907. Cubist Theory
Cubism began as an intellectual revolt against the artistic expression of previous eras.
..... Click the link for more information. , created by Picasso and Braque. Picasso's work, spanning seven decades, provided in its enormous variety of styles a working vocabulary for many of the major art movements of the 20th cent. After World War I a further reaction against the decorative and formal emphasis of prewar art resulted in the emergence of surrealismsurrealism
, literary and art movement influenced by Freudianism and dedicated to the expression of imagination as revealed in dreams, free of the conscious control of reason and free of convention.
..... Click the link for more information. and DadaDada
, international nihilistic movement among European artists and writers that lasted from 1916 to 1922. Born of the widespread disillusionment engendered by World War I, it originated in Zürich with a 1916 party at the Cabaret Voltaire and the
..... Click the link for more information. . Paris had become the artistic center of Europe in the 19th cent. and the school of Parisschool of Paris.
The center of international art until after World War II, Paris was a mecca for artists who flocked there to participate in the most advanced aesthetic currents of their time. The school of Paris is not one style; the term describes many styles and movements.
..... Click the link for more information. continued as a source of aesthetic inspiration in the 20th cent.
In sculpture, a new emphasis on relatively static, simplified forms was shown in the works of Aristide Maillol and the Romanian Constanin Brancusi, who worked in Paris and whose strong, exquisite style had a profound influence on 20th-century sculpture. Other major sculptors of the modern era include Charles Despiau, Henri Laurens, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon.
After 1945 the leading painters, including Nicholas de Staël, Jean Fautrier, Georges Mathieu, and Pierre Soulages worked in the idiom of abstract expressionismabstract expressionism,
movement of abstract painting that emerged in New York City during the mid-1940s and attained singular prominence in American art in the following decade; also called action painting and the New York school.
..... Click the link for more information. , while Jean Dubuffet emerged as the initiator of l'art brut, with strikingly grotesque images constructed of almost any conceivable sort of material.
In the decorative arts, the 20th cent. saw an attempt to revive the craft tradition and to introduce nonderivative designs. Leading artists such as Maillol, Matisse, and Lurç furnished tapestry and textile designs. In addition, new tendencies toward simplification and functionalism were manifest in the furniture of the modern style. More recently, postmodernism has had a strong effect on the decorative arts.
See G. Muehsam, ed., French Painters and Paintings from the Fourteenth Century to Post-Impressionism (1970); S. Lövgren, The Genesis of Modernism (rev. ed. 1971); L. Dennison, Angles of Vision: French Art Today (1986); J. Perl, Paris Without End: On French Art Since World War I (1988); A. Chastel, French Art: The Renaissance 1430–1620 (1995).