Famous French Painters

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To some, there is no better painter than a French painter ‘ the country has been responsible for some of the world’s most celebrated painters and their works of art. With each new movement, France has had at least one figure at the forefront driving the genre forward. Here is a list of some of the most famous of France’s vast list of famous painters


1. Nicholas Froment


One of the first French painters, he came from Avignon and was born around 1435 and died around 1486. He is known for a number of religious paintings, most famously the Triptych of the Burning Bush which is in Aix Cathedral. Most of his known work ended up in Cathedrals, such was his profession for religious symbolism but one of them is presently in The Louvre: The Matheron Diptych ‘ a double-paned portrait featuring René the Duke of Anjou and his second wife Joanne of Laval

2. Nicolas Poussin


Considered the leading Baroque artist of his time (1594-1665), he spent most of his working life in Rome because of his revolutionary way of working. Perhaps a reflection of the growing move towards the Enlightenment (being a contemporary of Kepler and Galileo), his style of work is characterised by order and a logical method of painting. He had become so renowned that Cardinal Richelieu ordered him back to France to be ‘First Painter to the King’. Landscapes featured heavily as did religious imagery and mythology

3. François de Troy


Famous as both a painter and engraver, de Troy worked as a favoured painter of the deposed English king James II (James VII of Scotland) following his flight to France after The Glorious Revolution. He was also Director of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture ‘ the centre of art excellence in France in the 17th and 18th centuries. He was most famous for painting portraits, one of which was of the daughter of James II: Louisa Maria Teresa Stuart before her untimely death from smallpox at the age of 20

4. Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin


One of the great masters of still life, he is known for painting every day occurrences including children, servants and kitchen and other domestic activities. His work is distinct for using soft diffusion and light sources. A Parisian, he was the son of a cabinet maker and struggled to make it into the Académie but being able to make get one of his paintings into the ‘Small Corpus Christi’ of 1720 led to his discovery by Jean Baptiste van Loo. Eight years later, he was admitted to the Académie

5. Horace Vernet


The subject of French (and wider European) imperialism is no better demonstrated than in the art of the 18th century. Vernet typifies the view of the wider world. He shunned classicism that had become synonymous with French art and portrayed battle scenes and images of Orientals and Arabs so commonly a growing part of trade between Europe and the east. Praised for the speed of painting, he came to recognition when commissioned by Louis-Philippe before he became king. With such high patronage, Vernet gained greater fame

6. Eugène Delacroix


One of the most famous romantic artists, Delacroix was considered the leader of the entire French Romantic Movement. He is widely considered to have influenced to a great degree, the later Impressionist movement. He moved away from the perfectionism of his predecessors, putting greater emphasis on colour and the effects of movement ‘ perhaps creating a more naturalistic tone to the art. To some he was an enigma: ‘Delacroix was passionately in love with passion, but coldly determined to express passion as clearly as possible’, said Charles Baudelaire of him

7. Claude Monet


Amongst the most famous artists of French history, he was one of the founders of the Impressionist movement and one of the primary practitioners of the philosophy behind it. His focus was on the French countryside and he would often re-paint the same scenes over and over again to reflect the subtle differences in changes of weather and the more severe differences between the changing of the seasons. It is said that impressionism as a movement came about when the word was used as a disparaging remark about his ‘Impression, Sunrise’ painting

8. Pierre-August Renoir


France was at the forefront of Impressionist painting and another of its most famous practitioners was Renoir. He had an early fascination with the French Masters and visited the Louvre often to study their works. He began exhibiting his work in 1864 but it would take some ten years before he would finally get the recognition he craved. This came during the Franco-Prussian war and in 1874, six of his paintings were exhibited in the first Impressionist Exhibition. Later in the same year he would cross the channel to exhibit his works in London

9. Ã’°douard Manet


Widely regarded as the first painter to portray modern (industrial era) life, Manet was considered a trailblazer and a controversial figure for two works in particular: Olympia and The Luncheon on the Grass. Both were controversial because they portrayed naked woman presumed to be prostitutes ‘ the first of a woman on a bed and the second of two naked women and two fully-clothed men. Society knew about the rampant sex trade of Paris but it was not considered a suitable subject for discussion

10. Henri Matisse


Matisse is one of three artists considered the trio of founders of the so-called ‘plastic arts’ in the first decades of the 20th century. Not sticking to any one tradition, he was initially considered a Fauvist (a movement that favoured strong use of colour over realistic depiction) but was later regarded as a practitioner of French classic artistic style. One of his most famous works is the brightly coloured ‘Woman with a hat’ from 1905 ‘ this was definitely Fauvist in style. He died in 1954 aged 84



The above list is just a tiny number of the wide range of French artists and only a fraction of artistic styles are represented. Some think that the best of French art is behind us but its supporters say otherwise ‘ even today with art a far less popular medium than it has been for a long time and with criticisms of modern art, French artists can still lead the way.

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