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

Known For: Painting & Sculpture

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:-

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1881)

The Dance Class (1874)

#9 Eugène Delacroix

Eugene Delacroix
Eugene Delacroix

Lifespan: April 26, 1798 – August 13, 1863

Known For: Painting & Lithography

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:-

The Death of Sardanapalus (1827)

The Massacre at Chios (1824)

#8 Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin

Lifespan: June 7, 1848 – May 8, 1903

Known For: Painting & Sculpture

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:-

Spirit of the Dead Watching (1892)

The Yellow Christ (1889)

#7 Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp

Lifespan: July 28, 1887 – October 2, 1968

Known For: Painting & Sculpture

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:-

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass (1923)

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912)

#6 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Lifespan: November 24, 1864 – September 9, 1901

Known For: Illustration, Painting & Printmaking

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:-

In the Salon of the Rue des Moulins (1894)

In Bed The Kiss (1892)

#5 Auguste Rodin

Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin

Lifespan: November 12, 1840 – November 17, 1917

Known For: Sculpture

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:-

The Kiss (1889)

The Hand of God (1907)

#4 Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Lifespan: February 25, 1841 – December 3, 1919

Known For: Painting

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 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Other Famous Works:-

Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881)

The Large Bathers (1887)

#3 Paul Cézanne

Paul Cezanne
Paul Cezanne

Lifespan: January 19, 1839 – October 22, 1906

Known For: Painting

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:-

The Card Players Series (1890s)

Jug, Curtain and Fruit Bowl (1894)

#2 Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse

Lifespan: December 31, 1869 – November 3, 1954

Known For: Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture & Collage

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:-

The Joy of Life (1906)

The Red Studio (1911)

#1 Claude Monet

Claude Monet
Claude Monet

Lifespan: November 14, 1840 – December 5, 1926

Known For: Painting

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)

Nympheas Series
One of the paintings from the Water Lilies Series by Claude Monet

Other Famous Works:-

Impression, Sunrise (1872)

Rouen Cathedral series (1892 – 1893)

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