France is renowned for its contributions to the world of art. The earliest art is in the form of cave drawings. Some of the oldest and most famous of these are found in Pech Merle, Lascaux, Cosquer Cave, Chauvet Cave, and Trois-Frères Cave. Gold work and manuscript illumination were influenced by Celtic traditions of the fifth to eighth centuries. Romanesque art and Gothic styles were popular in French architecture from about 1000AD and 1200AD. Gothic painting didn’t appear until about 1200.
During the 1500s, Italian Renaissance influences on art began to seep across the border. Artists like Rosso Fiorentino, Nicolo dell’Abbate, Michelangelo da Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and others introduced adding mythological ideas into their art. As French artists moved through Classicism, Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassicism movements, France and Paris especially was becoming a haven for artists all over Europe.
After the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the face of French art changed drastically. Instead of being mostly influenced by Greek and Roman mythology and art, artists started looking beyond Europe to Asia and Africa. Probably the most prolific artistic style coming out of France is the Impressionistic movement. Artists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas paved the way for other artists to this day. The late 19th century brought another wave of art movements, such as expressionism and others, introducing artists such as Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gaughin to the world and marking their place in art history and art museums. There were many artists who were born in other countries but moved to France to study art and ended up staying, such as Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso.
|Seurat was known for his pointillism.|
The 20th century brought forward the French counterparts of many of the modern movements: cubism, surrealism, avant-garde Dadaism (or perhaps, anti-art is the term), abstract art, expressionism, pop art, and everything in between and outside of it. Today, France has a plethora of art museums and art schools. The Louvre in Paris is the most visited art museum in the world. The Musée d’Orsay also in Paris is another museum that ranks high on tourist must-sees. There are also many smaller museums showing works for a specific artist or a particular art period. In fact, there are even several textile and tapestry museums.
French literature is written in French, and mostly by people who are from France; however, writers from other French-speaking countries are considered Francophone literature. French literature dates back to the Medieval period; the most famous surviving pieces are epic poems and stories.
The 18th century brought along one of my favorite authors: Voltaire. He is most famous for writing Candide, and Zadig, or the Book of Fate, both of which I’ve read. I actually bought a copy of Candide when I was in Brazil so that I could have a copy in Portuguese. And of course, don't forget Leonard Bernstein's operetta of the same name (I have the soundtrack, too). Another famous name from this period of the Marquis de Sade, better known for lending his namesake to the word “sadism” or “sadist.” His most well-known work is Justine.
The 19th century would introduce many works that are now considered classics, many of which I read in college and afterwards. Some of my favorites include Honoré de Balzac (La Comédie humaine), Alexandre Dumas (The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers [I’m reading this now]), Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame [read it], Les Misérables [read it]), Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary [read it]), and Jules Verne (Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea [read it], Around the World in Eighty Days [read it], Journey to the Center of the Earth). Albert Camus is a 20th century writer that I enjoyed reading: I’ve read both The Stranger and The Plague. Gaston Leroux may not be a household name, but his work may be: The Phantom of the Opera. Collette’s novel Gigi was also made into a musical by the same name. One of my favorite 20th century French books is The Little Prince (or Le Petit Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I love this book and want to get a tattoo from this book. I also have this book in French, Japanese, and English.
Molière is often considered one of the masters of comedy theatre, most famous for The Misanthrope (first performed in 1666). Pierre Beaumarchais is best known for his plays The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville. Mozart’s opera based on The Marriage of Figaro and Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville remain to be the best-known versions of his plays. Edmond Rostand is probably best known for his play Cyrano de Bergerac, although his play Les Romanesques is best known by its musical version, The Fantasticks.
Of course, French writers also led their works toward the development of modern politics, philosophy, and science. Writers such as Blaise Pascal, René Descartes, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Jean-Paul Sartre were great influences on the current thinking of the time.
Up next: music and dance