The History of French Art – Part 3

French art for many centuries led the way for the rest of Europe, many great European artists were heavily influenced in what was going on in France. Artists from England, Holland, Germany and elsewhere traveled to France, lived in Paris and learned off the masters.

The third part of our journey back in time to study the history of French art picks up from where we left off at the end of Realism and the beginning of the Impressionist movement in the late 19th Century.


The Impressionist movement began in the 19th Century and once again it was France that was at the forefront. The style of the artists at the time was deemed highly radical to what had been before, the Impressionists experimented with light, color and used broad and loose brushwork. It was far away from the art of Realism, which depicted its subject matter so precisely.

It was also the time of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, with new machinery and technical advances part of everyday life. Impressionism was all about loosely depicting the subject matter and making artists impressions on what they saw.


The great artists of the time included, Degas, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Caillebotte and Morisot. Their subject matter varied greatly from household interiors, picnics, farmland, city streets and dance halls. They were all part of the new and advanced world that all citizens in France were now living in.

Impressionism also carried a political observation of the time, it told us that because of the advances in industry people had more leisure time, and new ways of spending their spare time were being sought.


Post-Impressionism arrived at the close of the 19th Century and carried on through the early part of the 20th Century. It differed to Impressionism as it expressed a more subjective experience.

French artists popular during this period were, Seurat, Gauguin and Cezanne. Each of the artists had their own style such as Seurat who created his art using tiny dots (Pointillism) which carried the ideas of Impressionism further to challenge human perception.

On the other hand, Gauguin’s work was more symbolic, and his striking depictions of Tahitian life discarded classic techniques and the notion of emotional experience and spirituality.

Henri Rousseau was again different, like Gauguin he depicted exotic scenes in bright colors, but all his jungle scenes were imagined.

Part of the post-impressionist movement was Fauvism, which was inspired by the works of Cezanne. It was one of the earliest forms of Modern Art. Artists such as Derain and Matisse were pioneers of Fauvism and challenged tradition.

The name Fauvism came from the word fauves which once was leveled at their work. A critic called them wild beasts in their approach to art. The public were quite shocked by the garish pattern-based images painted in clashing colors, and the beasts of Matisse and Derain were unequivocally blamed for it.

In our concluding part of our history of French art we carry on from where Fauvism left us on the brink of the Modern Art of a brand-new century.