The History of French Art – Part 1

French art has a popular affection for dreamy landscapes painted by the great Impressionist French painters as well as the bolder work of the 20th Century great Parisian artists. But there is another side to French art that people do not really associate as being typically French.

There are many periods in the art calendar that were pioneered in France, for instance it is home to one of the first forms of caveman art during the Stone Age. The wonderful Lascaux cave paintings are some of the earliest examples of any art anywhere in the world.

Fine art was developed at the Academie Royalede Peinture et de Scuplture, which is the famous art school that was established in 1648. Two decades later it moved from the French court into the Louvre and grew over the next hundred years.

The school changed in 1725 and started exhibiting in the Salon Carre and also exhibited in other salons of the time. It was here that European art was really founded and established.

The Art History of France

Art in France from 1793 followed its political story and that is one of revolution, it was at this time that the  Academie Royalede Peinture et de Sculpture which always had strong links to the monarchy was dissolved, and France’s artistic center had no home.

At the same time, the artists of France responded to the spirit of the time, to make art that had purpose and to question politically what was happening. In this blog we look at the history of French art, post-revolution from the 18th Century to the present day.


The highly popular hype and interest of mythology in Greek and Roman culture made a big comeback during the late 18th Century into the mid-19th Century. Enlightenment was back with a vengeance after the Revolution and the art balance was restored.

The most celebrated artist of the day was David whose classical reproductions were highly regarded, in particular The Intervention of the Sabine Woman and The Oath of the Horatii. He was very skilled at painting subject matter of the time and Death of Marat, painted in 1793, depicted the gruesome scene of the revolutionary leader dead in his bathtub after being murdered.

David also had the distinction of being First Painter to the Emperor, as his paintings became essential to Napoleon’s propaganda machine.

During this period another celebrated artist was Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who trained as David’s student, but developed his own style that strayed from the Academy’s techniques and forms. One of his famous pieces is La Grande Odalisque, which is the famous nude with the extraordinary long back.

In part two of the history of French art, we look at French Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism and see how French art influenced the art of the world during this period.

Undoubtedly because of the strategic position of France it was like a magnet for European artists to travel to the country and study with the fine French artists of the time. France was not only at the forefront of art at this time, it was also a cultural leader and its cuisine was considered the finest in the world.