For most people, French Art is characterised by Impressionism, partly because the first French artists that people think of are Monet, Renoir, and Manet. However, there is far more to French art than this.
France is a place where many different genres of art started life. The discovery of the cave paintings at Lascaux show that humans in France have been creating art there for more than 17,000 years. In 1648 the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture was established in France. Fifty years later in 1699 it held its first exhibition. The location was the Louvre, still arguably the most prestigious art gallery in the world. The Académie held shows there for another 100 years. These moved to the Salon Carré in 1725.
These exhibitions were referred to as ‘salons’ after that. The aim of the salons were to showcase both national and international trends in art. A successful salon could make an artist’s reputation. There was upheaval in French art around the time of the French Revolution although it did stabilise later on as society became much more settled again.
It was not until the mid to late part of the 19th century that Impressionism began to develop. This was from a group of painters who wanted to create art differently from their predecessors and it was a few years before this new style was accepted. These artists painted outdoors, creating their artworks quickly and now these are some of the most valuable pieces of European art in the world.
Impressionism gave way to post-impressionism and other artistic movements. Artists such as Cézanne and Gauguin created their own unique style and this moved into Fauvism with the help of artists such as Matisse. This then developed into the modern French styles that include abstract works and sculptures and the contemporary style that is seen in galleries today.