France is known for its dedication to promoting the arts, thus it's no wonder that there are many famous French painters. France is considered by most art history scholars as the birthplace of Impressionism and is itself considered home to a variety of artists both new and old.
Famous French Painters from the 20th Century
While French painters are often commonly associated with Impressionism, there is no shortage of more modern famous French painters.
One of the better known painters of the 20th century, Matisse is considered one of three fundamental artists of the modern movement. A multi-talented man, he was also a sculptor, printmaker and draughtsman. His paintings are noted for their rich use of color.
Pierre Bonnard was a post-modernist painter who is known predominantly for his biographical works. His wife is a frequent subject in his paintings. Interestingly, Bonnard never painted directly from his subjects, but rather drew or photographed the subject first, made notes on the colors and then created the painting based on his notes and sketches.
Roualt originally got his start as a glass painter and is considered a Fauvist and Expressionist painter. His paintings feature heavy black contouring lines and many suggest that it was the influence of his glass painting in his work.
Denis is best known for his contributions to abstract art. He has major permanent installations in both London and at his former home in France. His favorite themes tended to be religious subjects, and portraits of mother and child. His theories later contributed to fauvism and cubism and he is considered a major painter of the abstract movement.
French Painters of the 19th Century
Painting flourished in France during the 1800s. Any student of art history or of French should recognize several names from 19th century French art.
Géricault is considered one of the early forefathers of the Romantic movement and is best known for his work The Raft of the Medusa which depicts a famous shipwreck in which the captain left the crew and other passengers to die. He generally tended to focus on military subjects, or themes of historical importance.
Eugène Delacroix was considered a leader in the Romantic movement. He is best known for a painting that depicted a Greek uprising and subsequent massacre known as Chios. He is most noted for interpreting historical scenes in his works; however, he was a prolific artist and it can be said that he did a little of everything. After he died, more than 9,000 works were found including pastels, watercolors, and some 60 sketch books.
Pissarro is one of the many famed impressionist painters of the 19th century. He is known for his depictions of peasant life and scenes from Montmartre. He also had some very radical political beliefs that sympathized with anarchism and this theme is, at times, evident in his paintings.
Manet is often associated with Impressionism, but he was truly a painter that paved the way towards Impressionism. His earlier works reflected realism and he was one of the first artists during the 19th century to depict modern life. He is best known for his depiction of nude women in The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia. At the time, the paintings caused quite a controversy.
Cézanne is considered the bridge between Impressionism and Cubism, but his work doesn't fit neatly into either category. He is most often associated with his landscapes and still lifes, although his work includes a fair amount of portraiture as well.
Bazille is an Impressionist painter who frequently painted portraits of people with landscapes in the background en plein air. His works are featured in the Musée d'Orsay. In his 20's, he joined the armed forces in the Franco-Prussian war, and died on the battlefield a hero after taking command of troops when his captain was wounded. He was 29 when he died.
Gaugin was a post-impressionist painter and like many famous French artists, his work was transitional between Impressionism and more modern art. He is noted for, among other things, being a substantial influence over primitivism which features animal totem poles, exaggerated body proportions and bright contrasting colors.
Where to Find Out More About French Painters
There are several places online where you can explore the works of the most famous French painters:
The Artcyclopedia is perhaps one of the best compilations of art information online. You can explore artists a variety of ways, including by nationality to help you find some of the most well-known artists.
The National Gallery of Art has a wealth of resources explaining the history of French art during various time periods.
The official website for the Louvre museum not only can be translated into English, but it also has a wealth of information. While not every artist or exhibition is originally French, there is enough there for even the most avid art history student to study.