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"Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self."

Jean-luc Godard (b. 1930), French filmmaker, author.


On the death of Louis XIV in 1715, his 5-year-old great-grandson, Louis XV, became king. The realm was guided until 1723 by a regent, Louis XIV's nephew Philippe d'Orleans. During the regency, the single-minded direction given the arts by Louis XIV was relaxed in favor of individualism and personal indulgence.

Painting and Sculpture

During the last years of the reign of Louis XIV and the first half of the 18th century, the French became enamored of the small genre subjects of 17th-century Holland and of the more lighthearted, mythological scenes of the Italian baroque. In French hands, these subjects gave new definition to social refinement and luxury. Decorative arts and interior design were transformed by the growing popularity of the rococo style, a light-hearted and elegant style based on asymmetrical natural forms.

While the academies continued to pay lip service to the grandeur of the age of Louis XIV, public attention shifted from the courtly taste set at Versailles to the fashion set by the nobility and wealthy bourgeoisie in their private Parisian residences, called hotels. Here literate free-thinking tastes led to a delightful style of painting and sculpture rich in decorative effect and expressive of human sentiment. This new spirit received its finest expression in the brilliant work of the Flemish painter Antoine Watteau, whose scenes of revelers in contemporary dress, inhabiting a mythological realm of pleasure, changed the direction of private patronage in France. Artists such as Francois Boucher were inspired by the subject matter and technical brilliance of Watteau to create ravishing combinations of color and graceful forms. This development was encouraged by the court of Louis XV, who adopted the taste of Paris as his courtly style in the second quarter of the 18th century.

In the third quarter of the 18th century, an effort was made by members of the Royal Academy and Arts administration, notably the Marquis de Marigny (1727-81), director of Royal Works, to revive the disciplined and elevated goals of art established in the 17th century by Louis XIV and his minister Colbert. The demand for a didactic, grand style led to the emergence in the last quarter of the century of a generation of artists devoted to high principles of art and the service of the state. Most famous of these was the painter Jacques Louis David, pioneer of a pure classicizing style based on that of Poussin. A wide divergence existed between the didactic art of David and the courtly taste of Louis XV and his grandson, Louis XVI, who preferred artists such as Jean Honore Fragonard and Hubert Robert. Consequently, a healthy variety characterized the art of late-18th-century France. With the radical change of political and social structure that came with the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon I, the didactic art of David found a new outlet never anticipated by his royal sponsors.


French architecture of the 18th century continued the classicizing tendencies of the 17th century in France with greater reserve and refinement, using classical motifs in a late baroque style. Restrained ornament, delicate carved limestone details, and the sophisticated play of volume and lighting give the domestic and public architecture of the period a sense of calm grandeur. Among the architectural gems of the reign of Louis XV is the Petit Trianon (1762) by Ange Jacques Gabriel, a leisure retreat in the park at Versailles. The regular and sedate proportions of the nearly cubic Petit Trianon never become ponderous or dull, so refined are the rhythms of the surface ornamentation, arrangement of windows, and crowning balustrade.

Late-18th-century architecture was affected by a neoclassical revival comparable to that in painting, and quoted architectural usages of the past with archaeological correctness. Neoclassicism was particularly well suited to monumental buildings, such as Jacques Germain Soufflot's Sainte-Genevieve, now called the Pantheon, in Paris.


Alden Rand Gordon
Source: 1997 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia v.9.0.1

Art Database (searchable, in French only)
The "Joconde" database is a catalogue of drawings, stamps, paintings, sculptures, photography and objects of art conserved in more than 60 museums throughout France. It contains details on more than 130,000 works, dating from the 7th century to the present, representing over 10,000 artists.

Introduction to French Art & Architecture

Pre-Historic, Celtic & Roman Periods

Merovingian and Carolingian Periods

Romanesque Period || Gothic Period

Renaissance Period || Baroque Period

18th Century || 19th Century || 20th Century


Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Gustave Caillebotte

Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Gustave Courbet

Edgar Degas, Eugène Delacroix, Paul Gauguin

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Le Corbusier

Fernand Leger, Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse

Jean François Millet, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso

Camille Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin

Henri Rousseau, Georges Pierre Seurat

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh


Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Cubism, Fauvism

French Sculpture, Impressionism, Museums

Neoimpressionism, Postimpressionism

Realism, Rococo Style, Romanticism

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