10 Most Famous French Artists And Their Masterpieces

France has a rich history in art which has seen some of the greatest artists in the world. In the middle of the 18th century, Neoclassicism, which drew inspiration from ancient Greco-Roman culture, arrived in France. The greatest representative of this style is Jacques-Louis David. 19th century saw a shift in style to Romanticism, which laid emphasis on emotion and individualism; and on glorification of nature. The leading French Romantic painter was Eugene Delacroix. The middle of 19th century saw the rise of Impressionism, a French art movement in which artists focused on accurate depiction of light, candid poses and vivid colors. Led by Claude Monet, Impressionism was a hugely influential and made France the center of the art world. It was followed by Post-Impressionism and other movements through which the world moved towards modern art. Know more about French art through its 10 most famous artists and their greatest masterpieces.



#10 Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas
Lifespan:July 19, 1834 – September 27, 1917
Movement:Impressionism

Impressionism emerged in France in the middle of the 19th century. Though he later distanced himself from the movement, Edgar Degas is considered as one of the founders of Impressionism. From the 1870s till his death, he continuously explored the subject of dance which accounts for a large portion of his work. Degas is most famous for his paintings of ballerinas, at work, in rehearsal or at rest. He captured movement like never before which is one of the reasons of the legendary status of his dance paintings. His most renowned work in sculpture is Little Dancer Aged Fourteen while his most famous work as a painter is The Absinthe Drinker.

Masterpiece: The Absinthe Drinker (1876)

L'Absinthe by Edgar Degas
The Absinthe Drinker (1876) – Edgar Degas

Other Famous Works:-

ARTWORKYEAR
Little Dancer Aged Fourteen1881
The Dance Class1874

#9 Eugène Delacroix

Eugene Delacroix
Eugene Delacroix
Lifespan:April 26, 1798 – August 13, 1863
Movement:Romanticism

Eugene Delacroix was the leading artist of the French Romantic era of the 19th century and he is regarded as the greatest French painter of his time. His first major painting, Dante and Virgil in Hell, signals the shift in the genre of narrative painting in France from Neoclassicism to Romanticism. Delacroix drew inspiration from the works of William Shakespeare and Romantic poets like Lord Byron. His expressive brushstrokes and his brilliant use of color strongly influenced Impressionism. A generation of Impressionists, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet, were inspired by the works of Eugene Delacroix.

Masterpiece: Liberty Leading the People (1830)

Liberty Leading the People (1830)
Liberty Leading the People (1830) – Eugene Delacroix

Other Famous Works:-

ARTWORKYEAR
The Death of Sardanapalus1827
The Massacre at Chios1824

#8 Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Lifespan:June 7, 1848 – May 8, 1903
Movement:Post-Impressionism

Post-Impressionism was a predominantly French art movement which extended Impressionism while rejecting its limitations; and laid emphasis on abstract qualities and symbolic content. Along with Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin is one of the most celebrated Post-Impressionist painters. He first moved to the French colony of Tahiti in 1891 and he spent a major part of his remaining life there. Many among Gauguin’s most famous masterpieces are paintings which are directly and symbolically inspired by the life, practices and people of Tahiti. In February 2015, Gauguin’s painting When Will You Marry? was sold for close to US $300 million (£197 million); making it the most expensive piece of art ever sold.

Masterpiece: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1898)

Where Do We Come From, What Are We, Where Are We Going By Paul Gauguin
Where Do We Come From, What Are We, Where Are We Going (1898) – Paul Gauguin

Other Famous Works:-

ARTWORKYEAR
Spirit of the Dead Watching1892
The Yellow Christ1889


#7 Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Lifespan:July 28, 1887 – October 2, 1968
Movement:Conceptual Art

Marcel Duchamp challenged the very notion of what is art. He created hugely controversial works whose relevance was realized decades after their creation. His first controversial work was Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2; which created a sensation on its release but is now regarded as a Modernist classic. In 1910s, Duchamp started making readymades, which were ordinary manufactured objects that the artist selected and modified. His readymades, which were made to counter “retinal art”, sent shock-waves across the art world. His most renowned readymade is Fountain, a porcelain urinal signed “R. Mutt”. Dismissed at the time, it is now considered a major landmark in 20th-century art. Marcel Duchamp is considered as the father of Conceptual art and, along with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, he is one of the three artists who initiated revolutionary artistic developments which would define the course of 20th century art.

Masterpiece: Fountain (1917)

Fountain (1917)
Fountain (1917) [replica] – Marcel Duchamp

Other Famous Works:-

ARTWORKYEAR
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass1923
Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 21912

#6 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Lifespan:November 24, 1864 – September 9, 1901
Movement:Post-Impressionism

Toulouse-Lautrec is most known for depicting the personalities and features of the nightlife in Paris in late 19th century. Artistically, he is renowned for providing a profound insight into the psychological make-up of his subjects. However, most importantly, Toulouse-Lautrec was the first artist to elevate advertising to the status of a fine art; thus demolishing the boundaries between high and low art; and setting the standard for future commercial artists like Andy Warhol. Toulouse-Lautrec had a famous association with the dance hall Moulin Rouge, which was established in Paris in 1889. His paintings and posters won Moulin Rouge fame at the time and have since become its most famous depictions. Toulouse-Lautrec greatly influenced French art of late 19th and early 20th centuries by his use of new kinds of subjects, his ability to capture the essence of an individual and his stylistic innovations.

Masterpiece: Moulin Rouge: La Goulue (1891)

Moulin Rouge, La Goulue (1891)
Moulin Rouge, La Goulue (1891) – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Other Famous Works:-

ARTWORKYEAR
In the Salon of the Rue des Moulins1894
In Bed The Kiss1892


#5 Auguste Rodin

Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin
Lifespan:November 12, 1840 – November 17, 1917
Movement:Modernism

Auguste Rodin turned away from the idealism of the Greeks and decorative beauty; thus departing from centuries old traditions in the field of sculpture. Instead, he modeled the human body with realism and suggested emotion through his mastery in inter-playing between light and shadow; and through detailed, textured surfaces. Some of his works were so realistic that he was accused of surmoulage, that is having taken a cast from a living model. Due to his departure from the predominant sculpture traditions, many of Rodin’s most notable sculptures were criticized during his lifetime. However, in later life he was compared to Michelangelo and was widely recognized as the greatest artist of the era. Auguste Rodin is widely considered the father of modern sculpture and his work The Thinker is one of the most famous sculptures ever.

Masterpiece: The Thinker (1902)

The Thinker (1902)
The Thinker (1902) – Auguste Rodin

Other Famous Works:-

ARTWORKYEAR
The Kiss1889
The Hand of God1907

#4 Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Lifespan:February 25, 1841 – December 3, 1919
Movement:Impressionism

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a prolific artist who was among the leading painters of Impressionism. However, he later distanced himself from the movement and drew inspiration from classical art. Renoir is most known for his depictions of women, evolving Parisian society and domestic scenes; as well as nudes and dance paintings. His paintings are notable for their vibrant light and saturated color, most often focusing on people in intimate and candid compositions. Renoir is renowned for his visually brilliant Impressionist compositions. His masterpiece Dance at Le moulin de la Galette is one of Impressionism’s most celebrated masterpieces and has been described as “the most beautiful painting of the 19th century”.

Masterpiece: Dance at Le moulin de la Galette (1876)

Bal du moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Dance at Le moulin de la Galette (1876) – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Other Famous Works:-

ARTWORKYEAR
Luncheon of the Boating Party1881
The Large Bathers1887


#3 Paul Cézanne

Paul Cezanne
Paul Cezanne
Lifespan:January 19, 1839 – October 22, 1906
Movement:Post-Impressionism

Paul Cezanne is the most famous French Post-Impressionist artist. His work formed the bridge between Impressionism and the dominant style in early 20th century, Cubism. During his early career, he painted a series of painting with a palette knife. This palette knife phase is considered as the invention of modern expressionism. Cezanne explored ‘geometric simplification’ like tree trunk as a cylinder, apple as a sphere, etc. Additionally his desire to capture the truth of perception made him explore optical phenomena to provide the viewer with an aesthetic experience of depth. Cezanne’s exploration of geometric simplification and optical phenomena inspired 20th Century artists to experiment with simplifications and complex multiple views leading to the birth of Cubism. Picasso and Matisse are said to have remarked that Cezanne “is the father of us all.”

Masterpiece: The Bathers (1905)

The Bathers by Paul Cazanne
The Bathers (1905) – Paul Cezanne

Other Famous Works:-

ARTWORKYEAR
The Card Players Series1890s
Jug, Curtain and Fruit Bowl1894

#2 Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Lifespan:December 31, 1869 – November 3, 1954
Movement:Fauvism

Along with Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse is considered one of the most influential figures of modern art. Matisse worked in a variety of media including sculpture and paper cut-outs but is most famous for the masterpieces he created as a painter. He is considered the greatest colorist of the 20th century and is most known for his works in Fauvism, a short-lived but influential art movement of which he was the leading figure. Matisse had a lifelong rivalry and friendship with Pablo Picasso. Their works were a source of inspiration to each other and they excelled on each other’s brilliance. Matisse invented a new medium famous as the paper cut-out, in which he cut forms from colored paper and arranged them as collages. He worked solely in this new medium during his later years and these works are considered his final artistic triumph.

Masterpiece: Dance (1910)

La Danse (1910) - Henri Matisse
La Danse (1910) – Henri Matisse

Other Famous Works:-

ARTWORKYEAR
The Joy of Life1906
The Red Studio1911

#1 Claude Monet

Claude Monet
Claude Monet
Lifespan:November 14, 1840 – December 5, 1926
Movement:Impressionism

Claude Monet was a founder of the art movement Impressionism. He was the driving force behind this revolutionary art movement; and its most consistent and prolific practitioner. The name of the movement also comes from his painting Impression, Sunrise; a term was coined in a satirical review. Monet was dedicated to finding improved methods of painterly expression. He broke tradition and thought in terms of colors, light and shapes. Some of his series explored how smoke, steam, mist, rain etc. affected color and visibility. Nympheas (Water Lilies), the most renowned series of Monet which contains around 250 paintings, has been described as “The Sistine Chapel of Impressionism”. Claude Monet is the most famous French artist and he is considered among the greatest painters who ever lived.

Masterpiece: Water Lilies series (1896 – 1926)

Water Lilies, Harmony in Blue (1917)
Water Lilies, Harmony in Blue (1917) – Claude Monet

Other Famous Works:-

ARTWORKYEAR
Impression, Sunrise1872
Haystacks Series1890 – 1891


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