If you have ever been interested in French painters, you must have seen the paintings of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave. Grotte Chauvet is a beautiful painted cave in France. It has several very large galleries with more than 300 paintings and engravings. These were probably done 32,000 to 30,000 years ago. So we can say that the art of Painting was invented by French people.
The paintings of this cave show rhinoceros, felines, bears, owls, and mammoths, as well as animals such as owls, hyenas, and panthers which have never – or very rarely – been found in previous paintings of this period. In fact, some archaeologists believe that these may be the oldest known paintings in the world. Therefore, they are very special.
We won’t trace the history of painting back to the caveman here. Rather, we are listing 15 french painters of the pre & post-impressionist era.
Nicolas Poussin was one of the greatest French Painters of the 17th century and the founder of his country’s classical school. With him, French painting went beyond France and became a European affair, mirroring the power of the age of Louis XIV. By the mid-1630s, he began exploring a serene, classical style inspired by Raphael and antiquity.
Poussin’s great passion was history, and he told noble, epic, and stirring tales through his art. He made meticulous preparations before starting a painting. He did historical research, trained himself in archaeology and the study of coins, and carefully checked the authenticity of his research.
Before painting, he made models from wood and wax, from which he made his preliminary sketches. Poussin’s work predominantly features clarity, logic, and order, and favors line over color. The finest collection of Poussin’s paintings, in addition to his drawings, is located in the Louvre in Paris.
Claude Lorraine was an influential and successful artist in the seventeenth century. His paintings were picturesque and full of the rough textures of wild nature with romantic old castles or classical ruins.
Claude created landscapes that were expansive and dramatic. His chief contribution to classical landscape painting was the masterly treatment of light. He often gave the foreground strong contrasts of light and shadow, while the middle distance had less contrast.
The far background was rendered even lighter, and with fewer contrasts to give a sense of great distance. While the subjects of his paintings and drawings were often from the Bible or classical mythology, the mood and atmosphere of the landscape was the real subject. His figures were usually only a minor part of a scene to help set the scale and perspective. Claude’s style set the standards for what was worthy of appreciation.
Jean Antoine Watteau
Jean-Antoine Watteau was a French painter whose brief career spurred the revival of interest in color and movement. He invented a new type of painting, called the ‘Fete Galante’. These large scenes of well-to-do men and women enjoying themselves outdoors allowed him to showcase his talent for conveying the delights and enchantments of nature.
Some of his best-known subjects were drawn from the world of Italian comedy and ballet. Jean Antoine showed artistic ability at a young age. He went to Paris in 1702 with the hope of entering a studio where he could refine his art.
Around 1708, his small and human battle paintings attracted the attention of perceptive dealers and collectors. He was invited by the financier Crozatto live and work in his home, filled with Venetian and Flemish paintings and drawings, and it was there that he developed the fete Gallante. During his 15-year artistic career, Antoine dealt with a wide variety of subjects and techniques and is now regarded as a forerunner of the impressionists in his handling of color and study of nature.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Jean-August-Dominique Ingres was a French neoclassical painter, and one of the major portrait painters of the 19th century. Ingres felt that drawing was the very heart of the painting, and he drew and redrew whatever he was to paint until he understood all its elements. Though he valued history painting above all else, he also often produced portraits, some of the best of which are drawings.
Ingres lived in Rome from 1806 to 1820, and it was there that he developed his extraordinary gifts for drawing and design. He helped support himself by making portrait drawings of visitors to Rome. These drawings are skillful, concise masterpieces. Ingres’s outstanding use of place, light, and character in these seemingly casual portrait drawings make these works masterpieces in their own right. Ingres’ greatest achievement, perhaps, was his portraits of women. Though not all Ingres’ models were beauties, he found something special about each one of them.
Eugene Delacroix was the most important of the French painters in Romantic genre. His inspiration came chiefly from historical or contemporary events or literature, and a visit to Morocco in 1832 provided him with further exotic subjects. His remarkable use of color was to later influence even modern artists The colors and violent contrasts of North Africa inflamed his work.
He became one of the greatest wildlife painters and made his painted animals seem alive. He loved natural beauty in the movements of animals and spent time at the zoo sketching tigers, lions, horses, and any other animals that caught his imagination. His experiences in Morocco and Algiers provided him with exotic subjects such as the Algerian women who enchanted him.
He sketched them at their daily activities, noting the minutest details of color and design. His expressive works also depicted historic, religious, and literary themes. Delacroix was very proud of the speed at which he worked. It is said that he worked so fast that he could sketch a man falling out of a window in the time it took for the man to hit the ground! Now isn’t that truly remarkable?
Paul Cezanne was a French artist whose work is said to form the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism, and the early 20th century’s new artistic style, Cubism. His work demonstrates a mastery of design, color, composition, and craftsmanship.
Cezanne was born in the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, on January 19th, 1839, the son of a wealthy banker. Cezanne’s boyhood companion was Emile Zola, who later gained fame as a novelist. Many of Ce`zanne’s early works were painted in dark tones.
Later, Cezanne shifted from dark tones to bright hues and began to concentrate on scenes of farmland and rural villages. Cezanne, who exhibited little in his lifetime, is regarded today as one of the great forerunners of modern painting. He is known both for the way that he managed to put down on canvas precisely what his eye saw in nature, and for what he achieved through a unique treatment of space, mass, and color.
Jean Francois Millet
French painter Jean-Francois Millet was one of the founding members of the Barbizon Landscape School in France. He was the son of a small peasant of Greville in Normandy. His early work comprised of conventional portraits and fashionable eighteenth-century pastoral scenes.
However, he gained fame for his depiction of the life of the peasants of that time. Millet painted laborers going about their daily business. He made the countryside look dignified, and his peasants look heroic.
In The Angelus’, his best-known work, Millet shows a hard-working couple at work in the fields with their heads bowed before the magnificence of nature. Among the French artists of the 19th century, he stands out as a man who found inspiration in the everyday life of ordinary people.
Gustav Courbet was an artist who led the Realist movement in 19th-century French painting. He believed that every artist should be his own teacher. By 1850, he was shocking the public with the style known as Realism, and with the scale of his paintings.
In December of that year, he exhibited three huge canvases of peasant life. They were vast, and normally such enormous size was reserved for history paintings of more ‘important’ subjects. One of Courbet’s most important works is ‘Burial at Ornans’, a canvas recording an event which he witnessed in September 1848. This painting of the funeral of his grand uncle became the first masterpiece in the Realist style. People who had attended the funeral were used as models for the painting.
Courbet worked with social issues and focused on the peasantry and the grave working conditions of the poor. He believed that the Realist artist’s mission was the pursuit of truth and that by doing so, an artist could improve social conditions and inequality. Courbet’s particular kind of realism influenced a number of artists who followed him.
French artist Gustav Moreau is known for his strange and mystical works, often portraying scenes from mythology or religion. Morea u painted for a number of years without exhibiting his work, but during this time, he developed his unique style.
He spent many hours studying Persian, Indian, and Japanese prints and from them took motifs, which he used to create his own vision of myths and religions. He became one of the leading artists of the Symbolist style. Moreau emphasized the morbid side of life and death. His landscapes often showed steep and rocky cliffs with twisted trees.
He had a feeling for the bizarre and developed a style that is highly distinctive in the subject and technique. He was a withdrawn person who lived alone. When he died, on the 18th of April 1898, he left to the state his house, containing about 8000 pictures, watercolors, cartoons, and drawings, which form the Moreau gallery. It is considered one of the best-organized collections in Paris.
Jacques-Louis David, a French painter, was a supporter of the French Revolution, and one of the leading figures of the style known as Neoclassicism. He spent six years in Rome, and it was during this period that he abandoned the grand manner of his early work and turned to a stark and highly finished style.
His works now upheld the antique virtues of self-sacrifice, devotion to duty, honesty, and austerity. They had a strong moral influence on the times he lived in. David later became an active supporter of the French Revolution and was effectively a dictator of the arts under the French Republic.
Later, he was imprisoned, and on his release, he became a supporter of Napoleon I. It was at this time that he developed his ‘Empire style’ notable for its use of warm Venetian colors. David had a huge number of pupils, making him the strongest influence in the French art of the 19th century.
Paul Gauguin is considered one of the leading painters of the post-impressionist period. Gauguin began his career as a stockbroker in Paris in 1872. He attended the Impressionist’s first exhibition in 1874 and was captivated by the impressionist style.
In 1883, the bank that employed Gauguin experienced financial difficulties, and he found himself free to paint full-time. Much of his work during this period was influenced by the Impressionists, especially Pissarro. Later, he began to adopt his own independent style.
Gauguin’s break with the Impressionists came when he painted ‘Vision after the Sermon’, where he tried to depict the inner feelings of his subjects. This painting also marked the start of a new painting style that came to be known as ‘Symbolism’.
Gauguin spent the last years of his life in Tahiti, an island in the Pacific Ocean. In Tahiti, his painting style evolved to reflect the Pacific Islands’ primitive forms and brilliant colors. His striking images of Polynesian women rank among the most beautiful paintings of the modern age.
Henri Rousseau created some of the most popular and memorable paintings of the modern era. He never received any formal training and his work. Therefore, has an innocence and charm that made his paintings very famous. Ridiculed during his life, he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality.
Rousseau is celebrated for his visionary jungle paintings which captivate the viewer with the lushness of their plant and animal life. The scenes are painted with incredible detail and precision. What is amazing is that the artist never saw the tropical scenes he brought so much to life, as he never left France!
His exotic jungle paintings are the fantasies of a city dweller, constructed from visits to the zoo and botanical gardens, from postcards, books, and from Rousseau’s own vivid imagination. Rousseau claimed he had ‘no teacher other than nature’, and his works have influenced later painters, including Picasso.
Georges Seurat was a French painter and draftsman. His large work ‘Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte/ is his most famous painting. It altered the direction of modern art and is one of the icons of 19th-century painting. Georges Seurat is the ultimate example of the artist as a scientist.
He spent his life studying color theories, and the effects of different linear structures. His 500 drawings alone establish Seurat as a great master. He will always be remembered for his technique of portraying light using tiny brushstrokes of contrasting colors. This technique became known as pointillism.
Using this technique, he created huge compositions with tiny, detached strokes of pure color too small to be distinguished when looking at the entire work, but making his paintings shimmer with brilliance.
Paul Signac was a French painter, one of the originators of the technique known as pointillism, or divisionism. Under the influence of Georges Seurat, he abandoned the short brushstrokes of impressionism to experiment with small dots of pure color, intended to combine and blend, not on the canvas, but in the viewer’s eye. This was the main feature of what is known as pointillism.
Many of Signac’s paintings are of the French coast. He left the capital each summer, to stay in the South of France in the village of Collioure or at St. Tropez, where he bought a house and invited his friends. Signac loved sailing, and he began to travel in 1892, sailing a small boat to almost all the ports of France, to Holland, and around the Mediterranean as far as Constantinople.
From his various ports of call, Signac brought back vibrant, colorful watercolors, sketched rapidly from nature. From these sketches, he painted large studio canvases that are carefully worked out in small, mosaic-like squares of color, quite different from the tiny, variegated dots previously used by Seurat. Signac himself experimented with various media. He made etchings, lithographs, and many pen-and-ink sketches composed of small, laborious dots.
Henri Toulouse was a leading french artist whose paintings, lithographs, and posters contributed much to the development of Art Nouveau in the 1890s. He was also a harsh and witty chronicler of the gaudy nightlife and the sordid elements of late 19th century Parisian society.
Toulouse had to fight against many disadvantages. He had two accidents that crippled him, and also a speech problem. But he was determined to succeed as an artist. He haunted the dance halls and nightclubs of Montmartre in Paris, taking his subjects from his observations of what occurred on stage and among the patrons.
He chose acid and garish colors and adopted a drawing style that is almost grotesque in its exaggerations. Toulouse’s career spanned less than twenty years. During this period, he created 737 canvases, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, some ceramic and stained glass work, and an unknown number of lost works.
Toulouse is known along with Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin as one of the greatest painters of the Post Impressionist period. He excelled at capturing people in their working environment, with the color and the movement of the gaudy nightlife present, but the glamour stripped away … and therein lay his greatness.