This article will show you the most famous French painters who shaped the history and future of art! Read on to find out who they are and their most famous paintings.
One of the countries that is known for its long history of art is France. Different generations introduced different art movements whose legacies have gone on to inspire the whole world.
From impressionists, post-impressionists, romantics, and realists to modernists, there are many painters from France who made a huge impact on the entire art sphere.
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While many people are familiar with the likes of Claude Monet and Édouard Manet, there are several painters in France whose paintings transcended their time.
So, whether you’re just starting to dive into art or you’ve been a long-time admirer of French art, this article will show you the most famous French painters of all time.
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Famous French Painters
Here are the most popular French painters you need to know plus the masterpieces they created over the years.
1. Claude Monet (1840 – 1926)
If you know about French art, then I am sure that you’ve heard of Claude Monet. He is the most famous French painter not just of his time but even today.
He founded the famous art movement known as “Impressionism,” a name that was derived from the title of one of his most famous paintings, Impression, Sunrise.
Monet was born in 1840 in Paris to a family of French grocers and raised in Normandy, France’s coastal province.
Having been raised in the countryside kind of setting and later moving to Giverny with his own family, Monet had a special attachment to painting nature.
He was fascinated by the beauty of nature at different times of the day and seasons of the year and how each time and season created a different form of beauty.
Monet was the master of using vivid colors and showing the effect of sunlight and his admiration for nature and his surroundings can be witnessed in his commendable paintings.
Examples of his famous paintings include Water Lillies, Haystacks, Poplars, Rouen Cathedral (which were all painted as a series showcasing various paintings at different times and seasons), and so many others that have gone on to become some of the most famous French paintings.
You can witness most of his breathtaking artworks in the Musée Marmottan-Monet and some in the Orsay Museum, both in Paris.
2. Édouard Manet (1832 – 1883)
One of the most famous and influential artists in history is Édouard Manet. He is often considered to be one of the pioneers of impressionism together with his friend Monet.
Though he painted various impressionist paintings, he also dived into modern art. He is also known for smoothing the transition from Realism to Impressionism.
When Manet was just a little boy, he would go to the Louvre museum with his uncle and was hugely inspired by all of its beautiful paintings.
As a growing painter, he painted religious and historical scenes but later shifted to painting paintings often with nude figures which caused a lot of controversies at the time.
His paintings like Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia were considered immoral by critics but on the other hand, they helped pave way for young impressionist painters.
Manet’s paintings are rendered in an almost abstract way, with simplified brushstrokes and transitional tones which still inspire generations.
The father of modernism passed away in 1883 but most of his extraordinary paintings can still be viewed at Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
3. Camille Pissaro (1830 – 1903)
Camille Pissarro was a Dutch-French painter considered to be the “Father of Impressionism”, and “dean of the Impressionist painters” as other great impressionist and post-impressionist painters like Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Paul Gauguin looked up to him for advice and encouragement.
Unlike other French painters whose work was always rejected, Pissaro was the only artist to showcase his work at all 8 Paris Impressionist exhibitions as his paintings met the conditions set by the Paris salon.
Pissarro’s The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, The Road to Versailles at Louveciennes, Two Young Peasant Women, and The Crystal Palace are among his famous works.
He is also known for his love for landscape paintings as he appreciated painting subjects as they were instead of adding artificial elements.
Camille started with painting the city life but later extended to villages to capture the beauty and real life of the countryside.
His empathy for the poor and laborers shines through in every piece, showing how much he understood their daily struggles.
On a personal note, he had seven children with his wife, Julie Vellay, and 6 of them became exceptional painters.
When you’re in Paris, it’s worth taking the time to explore some of Pissarro’s best paintings in the Orsay Museum but others are scattered around the world.
4. Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917)
Edgar Degas was a French draughtsman and painter who became famous for his work on dance and movement representation.
He created over 50 works that showcase the beauty of women in motion, as well as other subjects like racecourse scenes and nudes.
The late 1860s found Degas moving away from his earlier works that featured historical scenes and towards more modern takes on life.
Though he was often categorized as an impressionist painter, he always distanced himself from the movement and even made fun of other painters who painted en Plein air and concentrated on natural landscapes as opposed to closed spaces like he used to paint.
On top of paintings, Degas also produced impeccable drawings, sculptures, and prints throughout his career.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC houses one of his most controversial sculptures, The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years but you can find his most famous and controversial painting, The Absinthe Drinker (also known as in the cafe) in the Orsay museum in Paris.
Other notable paintings by Davis include The Ballet Class, Ballet Rehearsal, and The Dancing Class.
5. Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906)
Paul Cézanne is one of the most famous post-impressionist painters from France. He is believed to have helped in the transition from 19th-century Impressionism to 20th-century Cubism.
His extensive study of his subjects, comprehensive analyses, use of small brushstrokes, and formations of shadows & planes of colors were phenomenal which all helped create a more intense artistic outcome.
However, Cézanne didn’t go without criticism too. His work was rejected time and again by Salon judges. They described it as “unclean” or worse before eventually appreciating it in the later years.
During his time, he became close to other famous painters in France like Matisse, Monet, Renoir, and Picasso who referred to him as “is the father of us all”.
Following his death in 1906, some serious art collectors and significant personalities such as Picasso titled him the “Father of modern art.”
His most famous painting, The Large Bathers which is part of his Bathers series is exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art where you can view masterpieces by other famous French painters as well.
However, you can find his other paintings like The Card Players and Apples and Oranges in Orsay Museum in Paris.
6. Henri Matisse (1869 – 1954)
Henri Matisse is one of the most prominent figures in Fauvism. Born to a wealthy grain merchant in 1869, Matisse initially studied law but later advanced into an artist after his mother brought him art supplies during the time he was battling appendicitis.
He worked on plastic arts in the early twentieth century, providing the basis for contemporary Painting and sculpture with masters such as Pablo Picasso.
Due to his vibrant colorism of paintings, he rose to become an important voice for modern art during the 20th century with famous works such as La Danse.
But when his health prohibited him from painting in his later years, he developed a substantial body of work using cut-paper collages.
His other masterpieces include Woman with a hat at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Joy of life at Barnes Foundation Philadelphia.
7. Georges Braque (1882- 1963)
One of the most influential French painters in modern history, Georges Braque was born into an artistic family and spent much of his time painting. Besides painting, he was also a draughtsman, collagist, sculptor, and printmaker.
Though his earlier works were part of the impressionism movement, he fell in love with the fauvist paintings during an exhibition which influenced him to change his painting style.
He studied under many influences including Paul Cezanne whose paintings had tremendously inspired him.
This, plus his close encounter with Picasso yet again changed his style of painting, and he together with Picasso introduced the Cubism movement.
Braque would modify the style and themes in the intervals to reflect happier times and events in his environment.
L’homme à la Guitare (Man with a guitar) and Fruit dish which are some of his famous paintings can be found in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
And if you are ever around Normandy, step into the church of St. Valery to witness the gorgeous stained-glass Windows designed by Georges Braque.
8. Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919)
Born in 1841, Pierre-Auguste Renoir is one of the famous impressionist painters of France.
Most of Renoir’s paintings were inspired by a mix of social leisurely scenes and nude women.
Though he had ups and downs in his career, he painted some of the most famous French paintings today including Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, and Luncheon of the Boating Party which both showcase his Parisian friends having a good time, dancing, eating, and drinking.
His inspiration from female bodies helped him create Reclining Nude from the Back, Rest after the Bath, The Bathers and so many other portraits of women (both dressed or not).
In his paintings, he conveyed the vibrancy of the atmosphere and the dazzling impact of greenery, and the brilliance of human skin in the outdoors by employing small, multicolored strokes, as seen in Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette.
Despite his financial concerns, Renoir acquired great talent and capacity to communicate it. Today, you can see some of his great works in the Orsay museum in Paris.
9. Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863)
Eugène Delacroix was an influential French Romantic painter who sought to create paintings with dramatic and romantic themes. In fact, he is considered to be the leader of the French Romanticism movement.
Rather than following traditional styles from Greece or Rome, he chose the unconventional path. He spent much time traveling across North Africa to find new models for paintings.
Delacroix was rapidly recognized as a notable painter in the new Romantic style by the authorities, and the government purchased his painting Massacre at Chios which shows wartime destruction at Chios Island.
However, the painting that made Delacroix a household name as one of the French famous painters is Liberty Leading The People, which depicts, Liberty a half-dressed woman leading Parisians out of the July Revolution of 1830 while holding a tricolor flag. This is actually one of the famous paintings in the Louvre museum.
10. Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903)
Paul Gauguin was an influential Post-Impressionist artist who utilized vivid colors and creative designs. He also played a huge role in jumpstarting the Primitivism movement.
Besides being a painter, he was also a sculptor, printmaker, and ceramist and played an important role in the Symbolist movement.
His work influenced various renowned artists such as Henri Matisse, and Picasso and even had close relations with Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo.
Like many painters of that time, Gauguin struggled financially and moved around places and later moved to Tahiti, French Polynesia with a hope of a cheaper but comfortable lifestyle.
Though this wasn’t the case, he, however, chose to stay there and most of his last paintings were inspired by landscapes and women from the region.
He gained popularity after his death when Ambroise Vollard’s dealer staged late-career shows of his work in exhibitions in Paris.
Some of his famous paintings include The Four Breton Women, When Will You Marry?, Tahitian Women on the Beach, and Hail Mary.
You can also know more about Paul Gaugin’s life in Tahiti by watching his biographic French film Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti.
11. Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867)
Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres was a French painter, draftsman, and sculptor who lived between 1780 -1867. Most of his work is best described as Neoclassicism.
Unlike some other French painters whose work became famous after their death, Ingres’s work was appreciated even when he was alive.
He won many awards, including being Jacques-Louis David’s most gifted student ever. His painting The Ambassadors of Agamemnon in the Tent of Achilles won the coveted Prix de Rome on only his second attempt.
Ingres was ultimately recognized as the leader of the Neoclassical school in France during the Paris Salon of 1824 due to his The Vow of Louis XIII painting.
His other famous paintings include The Turkish bath, The source, Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne, and The Grande Odalisque.
After his death in 1867, the artist left his studio’s contents to the artist of the city museum of Montauban, now known as the Musée Ingres.
12. Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732 – 1806)
Jean Honoré Fragonard was a painter and printmaker who painted in the Rococo style.
Having shown a deep love for art at the young age of 18, he was taken to François Boucher, a great Rococo painter to advance his talent.
But with the fear of Boucher wasting his time on a beginner, he first sent him to another great luminist to get his bearings.
On returning to Boucher’s studio, he impressed him and was given an opportunity to replicate his old paintings and the rest is history.
Just after turning 20 years, he won the French art high award of Prix de Rome with his Jeroboam Sacrificing to Idols painting.
He became known for his fluid approach to creating exuberant and erotic pieces. He painted another critically acclaimed painting, Coresus Sacrificing Himself to Save Callirhoe which he showcased at the 1765 Salon. The painting granted him a spot at the Academy.
The Swing and A Young Girl Reading are considered some of the classics of that era and some of Fragonard’s finest known works.
13. Théodore Géricault (1791 – 1824)
The painter Théodore Géricault is known for being one of the fore-founders of the Romantic movement.
Much of Géricault’s work exemplifies what we now call Romantic art, emphasizing the exotic, passionate, and sublime side.
Géricault’s early paintings and several lithographs were based on military subjects, probably based on the fact that he served in the army once too.
His most famous painting is The Raft of the Medusa which depicts the catastrophe of the French shipwreck as the ship passengers fought for their life.
Along with paintings from other famous French painters, you can find some of Théodore’s work in the Louvre museum.
Though he lived a short life after battling Tuberculosis and riding accidents, he is still considered one of the best painters of France.
14. Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877)
Gustave Courbet was born into a close-knit family of the rural middle class in Ornans, France.
He refused the Romanticism way of painting that earlier artists used and led the Realism movement.
His realist way of painting can be seen in the way he focused on painting peasants and workers on large-scale canvas which were normally saved for high nobles and religious subjects.
However, his later work included landscapes and seascapes as well as hunting scenes and nudes.
With his paintings After Dinner at Ornans and The Stone Breakers, the artist achieved his first Salon success in 1849.
In the 1860s, Courbet created a succession of progressively sensual and nude paintings including Femme nue couchée, Young Bather, The origin of the world, etc., which caused a lot of controversies.
15. Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665)
Nicolas Poussin was a classical French Baroque style painter who specialized in paintings of mythological and religious scenes.
He spent most of his professional life working outside France, mainly in Rome. Over there, he developed an effortlessly elegant style marked by clarity and orderliness with a preference for lines over colors.
Surprisingly, Poussin’s early works were influenced by sensuality and coloristic richness reminiscent of Venetian painting, particularly Titian.
But by 1633, he had abandoned this openly seductive technique in favor of a more rational and disciplined approach.
By the 1640s, he had created some of his noble landscapes like The Holy family. Today, the Louvre in Paris houses some of the best collections of Poussin’s paintings.
16. Jacques-Louis David (1748 – 1825)
David’s art is an excellent example of Neoclassical painting that was popular in France during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Born in 1748, he was known for his historic paintings, such as The Lictors Bring Brutus the Bodies of His Sons.
His other famous paintings include Oath of the Horatii, The Death of Socrates, The Death of Marat, The Intervention of the Sabine Women, and most notably The Coronation of Napoleon — which is one of the most famous paintings in Paris to see.
David had a number of students and as a result, he had the most significant influence on early nineteenth-century French art.
Besides Painting, Jacques-Louis David was involved in politics and a close friend of Napoleon until the fall of his rule when he (David) decided to go into exile in Belgium and later The Netherlands.
17. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 – 1901)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is best known as the man who painted colorful, enticing, and provocative paintings. Like Cézanne or Gauguin, he was also considered a Post-Impressionist painter.
Born into French nobility, Henri broke his legs as a teenager and unfortunately had short legs as an adult due to an unknown medical condition.
He was also popularly known for being an alcoholic and for his wild lifestyle. He always hung out in the company of prostitutes at brothels which heavily inspired his work such as Le Lit and La Toilette.
However, way before he was interested in brothels, the horse was his favorite child subject, as evidenced in the sketch A Woman and a Man on Horseback.
18. Jean Fouquet (1593 – 1652)
Born in Tours, Jean Fouquet was a French painter, miniaturist, and a legend in panel painting.
He was the first French artist of his time and experience to travel to Italy to get an up-close look at Italian Renaissance.
He had a chance encounter with Italian Renaissance artists that would change him forever.
Fouquet developed a new style in his later work that combined Italian painting experiments with Flemish art’s superb characterization and detail.
Additionally, his exquisite small self-portrait would be the first surviving self-portrait in Western art.
His miniatures and illuminated books such as the Musée Condé are something that any art lover should witness at least once.
Final Thoughts on the Famous French Painters
These were the most famous French painters who have been an inspiration for people throughout the past centuries and those ahead.
From the exemplary paintings of Claude Monet to the play of shadows by Paul Cézanne, none of the paintings of these great artists should be missed.
Do you have a favorite French painter that I’ve left out? Please let me know in the comments below and you might just inspire me to look for their work.
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Check out these posts to help you plan your trip to Paris
- Famous Churches to visit in Paris
- Fun Free things to do in Paris
- Best Neighborhoods in Paris
- Beautiful Covered Passages of Paris
- Fun non-touristy things to do in Paris
- Fun facts about Paris
- Interesting facts about the Arc de Triomphe
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