As I have stated before, French art history encompasses so many different time periods that it is impossible to cover in a simple article, so I’m just doing an overview for you. I covered the older periods of French art history in another post, but here I would just like to take a look at the Modern period up until the French art that we can see created in modern times.
The 19th Century
The Modern period of French art really got its start following the French Revolution and the Terror that happened at the end of the 18th century. France had turned into such an anti-religious and anti-monarchy society that the
Neoclassicism that had been previously embraced seemed dodgy and poorly thought out. It was time to tryout something new. When Napoléon took over, the artwork began reflecting David, Gros, and Guérin, demonstrating what Napoléon had done in order to come into power.
After the fall of Napoléon, there were even more paintings and sculptures that came out reflecting the Romantic tendencies. The birth of academic painting became a thing and the École des Beaux-Arts was established, which included famous painters like Jean-Léon Gérôme, William Bouguereau, and Alexandre Cabanel. They began to mimic the neoclassicists. There was also the birth and the creation of impressionism, including the works of Claude Monet as well as Édouard Manet.
The artists began experimenting with nudes during the 19th century as well which highly scandalized the artistic world. While the French were painting nudes, the Victorians were insuring that women never showed as much as an ankle to the opposite sex for fear that they could reveal too much of their dignity. Following Renoir and Monet’s position on the art world, the real experimentation began to start, creating greats like Vincent van Gogh, who was really only appreciated in his death.
The end of the 19th century saw the creation of visual expression that was not limited to classical styles of artwork, but expressive art that represented a world of art that had never before been considered. “Good” art was not founded in ability to represent art, but instead in the ability to represent the artist’s relationship with nature.
The 20th Century
Once they crossed the threshold into experimental artwork, there was no going back. There were so many different styles of art happening all at the same time and there seemed to be no limit to it at all. With impressionist, expressionists, post-impressionists, and so many more, the art world was exploding within itself, creating artists that centuries ago would not have been considered. Of course, perhaps the most famous painter of all time, Pablo Picasso was part of this movement. Picasso was, as we know, not French, but he resided in France so long that his impact was directly on the French art scene instead of on the Spanish art scene. His work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon came out in 1907 and set a new kind of artistic standard that so many other artists would now be held against.
With the breakout of World War I, many artists were killed in the war. Those not fighting were representing the devastation that war brought out, enriching even further the art scene instead of hindering it. Following the war, Dadaism came into fruition in Paris, impacting the up and coming artists of the Parisian scene, creating provocative art. World War II created a divergence in the art scene with some who were still continuing with their artistic experimentation, showing no impact from the war, and then there were others who began exploring the world of Abstract Expressionism. Art would never be the same. Even today, art is not limited to one form or another, but instead can be perceived by some on many different levels.