French art

The period for which art in France is most renowned is from about 1820-1920, when the art that emerged from France was to set the stage for all modern art to come after it. Much art as we know it today is derived from the experiments carried out during that period.

The other period for which art in France is well known dates back a little further - to the prehistoric cave paintings, scratched on walls deep underground 20,000 years ago.

This section introduces each period in the history of French art, and the role played by some of the most renowned artists in the world. We have separate sections relating to many of the most important periods of development in French art, most of which contain biographies of the most influential and original artists from that time:

Timeline of art in France

From 30,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago:

Prehistoric cave paintings and cave art

Around 2,000 years ago:

Roman art in France


Medieval art / International Gothic (usually in the form of book illuminations and religious texts)

1500 - 1800:

Classical art in France : art moves from the (Italian influenced) renaissance, via Baroque art, and to the classical

Around 1840-1860:

19th century French art : a break with the formal traditions of the past and a new approach to French art with the transition from Ingres and David to Delacroix and Millet

1880 - 1910:

The French Impressionists : art starts to focus on light and shade with French artists such as Manet, Monet, Renoir and Degas.


The post-impressionists painters in France : developments in French art at the start of the 20th century as art becomes a creation in itself, from Cezanne and Gauguin to Van Gogh and Seurat.

Modern art in France an end to traditional painted art with the experiments and works of Matisse, Braque, Leger and Picasso...fauvism, cubism, surrealism

The timeline of art in France is an exciting one, as art follows the transition from simply recreating a scene to becoming an object of interest in itself - the fundamental change from classical art to modern art.

France continued to have renowned artists into the second half of the 20th century - Jean Dubuffet and Yves Klein, for example. But by this time France was no longer the source of the inventions in art. The centre of inventions in art was to move to the USA, but we can't forget that, to a very large degree, it was France and French artists who ushered in this new world.