Classical art in France

It was Italy that led the Renaissance movement that subsequently influenced much of Northern Europe, including France. It is in architecture, above all the chateaux of the Loire Valley, that we find the finest examples of Renaissance works in France.

Art during the two centuries that followed passed through several stages, few of them very inspiring or influential. Controlled by the Royal Academy of Art, much of the painting at this stage was financed by the nobles and landowners, and the paintings represent their surroundings.

The focus was on painting detailed accurate portrayals of scenes, often of the nobility and great military leaders in scenes that emphasised their heroic feats.

The 'classical' style followed by artists such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin gave way to the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David and Jean Ingres, with a great detail of focus on recreating scenes in minute detail. Idealised paintings of groups of individuals with an attractive 'country scenery' background were popular, as were pictures of ruins, nude women, and still-life portraits.

Classical painting by Georges de la Tour

French artists that stand out from this period include Georges de la Tour, who painted very lifelike characters, often in semi-gloom (detail from painting shown above); and the paintings of peasant life by the three Nain brothers.

Overall the art from this period has not survived the passage of time very well - it was the century about to start that would usher France in as the centre of the art world. See 19th century French art