French Paintings That Marked the History

Top Lists, Art History

November 19, 2016

The story of art and how it pushed for the original, revolutionary, and conceptual could not be told without mentioning French paintings and their authors. French art created most of the genres of creativity we associate with art historical canons. From the beginning of time, the region was rich in creative expression. The cave paintings at Lascaux, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Impressionism, and the avant-garde creations, expressed the creativity and revolutionary ideas of French paintings and showcased the importance of this part of Europe. The revolt of these movements and of the French artists helps us understand the phenomenon of modern art and witness why French paintings stood at the forefront of intellectual and expressive life.

The period of Renaissance helped France to blossom into a cultural powerhouse and to reform both the art education and production. From that point on, with strong focused on fine arts, French paintings existed at the breaking points of art history’s timeline. Impressionism movement forever changed the approach to painting and the understanding of color. For some, Claude Monet’s paintings, in fact, announced abstract in art while Post-Impressionism and its artists brought the distant and primitive cultures closer to us. These later influenced some of the most celebrated modern artists, such as Pablo Picasso and helped shape some of the most spiritual ideas of the 20th-century.

The following 10 French Paintings display the power of French creativity so please scroll down and learn more about the author and the moment of its creation.

 Editors’ Tip: Louvre: All the Paintings

For the first time ever, The Louvre: All the Paintings collects all 3,022 paintings currently on display in the permanent collection in one beautifully curated volume.Organized and divided into the four main painting collections of the museum— the Italian School, the Northern School, the Spanish School, and the French School— the paintings are then presented chronologically by the artist's date of birth.Four hundred of the most iconic and significant paintings are illuminated with 300-word discussions by art historians Anja Grebe and Vincent Pomarède on the key attributes of the work, what to look for when viewing the painting, the artist's inspirations and techniques, biographical information on the artist, the artist's impact on the history of art, and more.

All images used for illustrative purposes only. Featured image in slider: Henri Matisse - The Dance. Image via; Claude Monet The Houses of Parliament Sunset, detail.Image via;Claude Monet - Haystack. End of the Summer, detail. Image via

Theodore Gericault - The Raft of the Medusa

The painting The Raft of the Medusa was created in 1818 by the painter Theodore Géricault and is defined as a masterpiece of French Romanticism. Its monumental scale depicts a contemporary event of a shipwreck of the French naval frigate Medusa and the consequences of its running of the course. Apart from the need to depict the story which generated great public interest, Theodore Géricault wished to launch his career with this large-scale uncommissioned work. The paintings hints to government’s negligence and corruption fueled great controversy and gained widespread attention.

Featured image:Theodore Gericault - The Raft of the Medusa. Image via

Eugene Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People

Part of the famous Louvre collection, the painting Liberty Leading the People was created in 1830 by the celebrated artist Eugène Delacroix. It depicts the 1830 Revolution happening on the streets of Paris. The mix of the real historical time and the unreal is successful in this work. The half-nude female figure leading the revolution for sure would not have been seen in the streets. The allegorical figure of the Liberty, represented by the female figure, holds the French flag which stands for equality, fraternity, and liberty. The painting created one of the most celebrated embodiments and personifications of freedom which we can be seen today in the Statue of Liberty in New York for example.

Featured image: Eugène Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People. Image via

Edouard Manet - Olympia

Edouard Manet’s artwork Olympia is defined to represent a lower-class prostitute yet on a deeper level it is understood to stand for an attack on the bourgeois view. Presented during the famous Salon Exhibitions in 1865 it shocked its audience. Referencing both Titan’s Venus of Urbino and Francisco Goya’s Maja Desnuda, the painting follows the traditional boudoir genre yet offers a new and individual portrayal of a nude female figure. For many, this famous French painting represents the cold and prosaic reality of a truly contemporary subject.

Featured image: Edouard Manet - Olympia. Image via

Claude Monet - Impression, Sunrise

Claude Monet painted the work Impression, Sunrise in 1872 and it was one of the exhibited paintings at the first Impressionist exhibition. The painting’s title not only gave a name to the Impressionism movement but Monet’s approach defined the style of the period as well. Asked why he gave the work the title Impression, Sunrise, the author explained that he painted his own impression of the red Sun cutting through the dreamy atmosphere rather than the real portrait of Le Havre Harbor. This need to express the individual understanding of the scene, play with the perception of color and use short and forceful strokes, concentrated on the desire to capture the fugitive efforts of nature. By taking their easels outside, Monet and the rest of Impressionist artists forever changed the face of painting and influenced the new ideas of modern art.

Featured image:Claude Monet - Impression, Sunrise. Image via

Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Bal du moulin de la Galette

Housed at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, the painting Bal du moulin de la Galette painted in 1876 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir is considered as one of the Impressionism’s most celebrated masterpieces. The skillful presentation of the light, the use of vivid colors along with the Impressionist-style brushstroke create the sense of movement of the piece. Understood as one of the masterpieces of modern art, its modernism derives from the chosen theme – the depiction of the ordinary scene of the working class Parisians at leisure. Impressionism introduced this new idea of the genre paintings and this work is considered as one of Renoir’s greatest paintings.

Featured image: Pierre Auguste Renoir - Le Moulin de la Galette. Image via

Gustave Caillebotte - Paris Street, Rainy Day

Paris Street, Rainy Day is a large 1877 oil painting by the French artist Gustave Caillebotte, and is his best-known work. After it was exhibited in 1877 at the Impressionist Exhibition, an anonymous reviewer pointed to a difference between Caillebotte and the rest of the authors. His approach to painting and the atmosphere of the finished look differed greatly from the idea of the impressionist-style painting of the loose brush strokes, countryside landscapes, and more chaotic look. What Caillebotte presents to us in his complex painting is the subtlety of light in the city after a rainstorm. What connects him to his peers at the exhibition is his analysis of the light and how it can define forms in a more solid way.

Featured image: Gustave Caillebotte - Paris Street; Rainy Day. Image via

Edouard Manet - A Bar at the Folies-Bergere

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, painted and exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882, was the last major work of Édouard Manet. To many art historians and critics, the work is an arena of symbols, unexplained details – such as the pair of shoes at the top left corner. Many define it as a painting which not only presents the nightlife and the famous bar but as a painting where the artist played with the perspective. One of many important facts about the work is that it was painted in the studio and not in the actual bar as much as the details and the atmosphere of the piece would suggest differently. Its melancholic and troubling atmosphere, among the sense of the rush and decadence, is expressed in the look at the girl behind the bar. At a first glance, the public feels that it is personally confronted by her eyes while the second glance and the reflection of the man in the mirror behind her would suggest differently. In relation to various painting styles, the work points to Manet’s commitment to Realism in its detailed representation of this contemporary scene.

Featured image: Edouard Manet - A Bar at the Folies Bergère. Image via

Paul Gauguin - Tahitian Women on the Beach

Considered as one of many celebrated works by Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Women on the Beach are produced in his well-known style. Adoring the primitive cultures and their stylization in the approach to the human figure, the painter used the flatness of shapes, symbols, and vibrant color to depict the beautiful scene. Two figures seem to form a pattern of curved forms that contrast with the straight, simple lines of the shore in the background. Known as one of the most celebrated painters of the Post-Impressionism movement, his play with color and its expressiveness links Gauguin to the wild Fauvism movement as well.

Featured image: Paul Gauguin - Tahitian Women on the Beach. Image via

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - At the Moulin Rouge

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting At the Moulin Rouge displays his style – the combination of the Impressionist interest in the contemporary subject matter and his own expressionistic color and line. Famous for both his paintings and drawings depicting the decadent bohemian Paris and its figures, his poster works are considered as some of the most beautiful and innovative in history.

Featured image:Henri de Toulouse Lautrec - At the Moulin Rouge. Image via

Henri Matisse - The Open Window

Responsible for the liberation of the color and the Fauvism movement Henri Matisse painted The Open Window in 1905. The choice and the combination of his colors created quite a shock at the Salon d'Automne in Paris described by the fellow artist Andre Derain as 'sticks of dynamite'. Celebrated as one of the most important early paintings of the fauve school, its beauty lies in the intensity of color, play with the optical and conceptual concerns over the conventional representation, and the illusion of volume and spatial depth. It displays one of the early experimentations by the painter whose career was celebrated as one of the most important painters of the 20th-century.

Featured image:Henri Matisse - Open Window. Image via All images used for illustrative purposes only.

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