- the thematic guide to
Introduction to Art in France, from its beginnings to the Modern Age
The story of Western art is a long one, and most countries have played
their part; but over the centuries two countries have played a greater
part in defining Western art than most; Italy and France.
In the twenty-first century, Art is one of the major attractions of
France as a tourist destination. People come from all over the world to
admire France's museums and art galleries, its stunning medieval
architecture, its great Renaissance châteaux, its artistic and
cultural heritage in general.
The following pages tell the story of art in France from the beginnings
up until the dawn of the Modern age. Most of it is "French art", but
some is the work of artists and architects who came from other
countries to live and work in France. Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh,
Picasso and many more.
For many thousands of years, art evolved very slowly, if at all. By
Roman times, it had reached a degree of sophistication, but little
remains in France of Roman art beyond some fine sculpture and intricate
mosaics. Not much remains either of early medieval art, most of the
historic art and architecture in France dating from the past thousand
From the eleventh century onwards, the pace of artistic change
accelerated. The Romanesque style in architecture and the Byzantine
style in painting were superceded by the new International Gothic style
that gave us Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, among many other great
surviving churches from this age. Then came the Renaissance, which had
started in Italy but flourished in France in the fifteenth century,
when France was at the cutting edge of European culture and art.
In the visual arts, it was in the nineteenth century that France
reemerged as a world leader, and Paris came to be seen as the world
capital of art . It was here that modern European art was born. While
landscape art and Romanticism in literature had blossomed earlier in
England, it was in France that artistic Romanticism took strongest
hold, leading to a reappraisal of the meaning and purpose of art, and
the liberation of new inhibitions. Out of this came Impressionism, and
beyond Impressionism, the whole rapid development of modern art.
The seven chapters of the About-France.com short history of art in France
clearly trace the development of art through its great historic
periods, up as far as the start of the Modern age – with some tips on
where to see the best collections and sites.