France Arts in 19th and 20th Centuries

By | October 13, 2021


With the Empire and the Restoration, Neoclassicism acquired an academic and “reconstruction” character (Vaudoyer, B. Vignon, P.-F.-L. Fontaine, Ch. Percier), paving the way for the emergence of the Neo – Gothic (E. -E. Viollet-le-Duc), of the Neo-Renaissance and finally of the eclecticism of the Second Empire (Opéra, by J.-L.-Ch. Garnier, 1861-74). Under Napoleon III, between 1853 and 1869, the prefect G.-E. Haussmann conferred in Paris his current face. In those years, the étoile radial pattern was formed, entire neighborhoods were rebuilt, including the Cité, others were gutted, the great boulevards were builtthat scenographically connect one monument to another. Paris acquired a coherent physiognomy, but Haussmann’s conception, which is credited with having made the first attempt to rationally plan the expansion of a large city, remained tied to a traditional grandiloquent politics, and his planning overlapped with the organism of the city without resolving its most intimate needs. In the traditionalist climate of the French architecture of the sec. 19th and 20th century the work of some architects and engineers appears to be completely isolated and they exploited the possibilities of new materials such as steel, iron, glass (reading room of the National Library, by H. Labrouste, 1858-68; Tour Eiffel, 1889) and reinforced concrete (house of rue Franklin, of A. Perret, 1905; project for the industrial city of T. Garnier, 1901-04). Even sculpture, like architecture closely linked to bourgeois clients, was unable to really renew itself except with the most recent avant-gardes: the late Romanticism of the Second Empire (J.-B. Carpeaux, A. Rodin) was almost the only alternative to official academicism.

According to globalsciencellc, the panorama of painting is much more varied and vital. Since 1830 the romantics E. Delacroix and J.-L.-Th. Géricault opposed the academic tradition represented by J.-A.-D. Ingres; simultaneously H. Daumier and P. Gavarnithey developed the caricature of political and social content. J.-BC Corot, innovator with respect to historical and neoclassical landscape painting, marked the overcoming of traditional landscape painting and prepared the naturalism en plein airof the painters of the Barbizon School: Th. Rousseau, who brought Constable’s lesson in a painting into his work built with deep backlight effects, J. Dupré, Ch.-F. Daubigny, C. Troyon, who referred to the Dutch of the seventeenth century. In the complex panorama of French painting before the great revolution of Impressionism the important personality of G. Courbet, who opposed, with the provocative realism of his painting for those times, both the sentimentality of the romantics, the academicism of the classicists, and the superficiality of the eclectics. From the second half of the nineteenth century, therefore, the happiest season of French and European painting began in Paris. Impressionism marked with É. Manet, C. Monet, C. Pissarro, P.-A. Renoir, A. Sisley, B. Morisot a clear break with tradition, proposing the relationship between painter and nature on a new basis. The pictorial flowering continued with H.-G.-E. Degas, who exhibited together with the Impressionists, although without accepting their name; P. Cézanne, recognized today as the initiator of modern painting; P. Gauguin, whose formal simplifications prelude to Symbolism; H. Rousseau the customs officer, whose naively archaic painting is rich in intense poetry; the neo – impressionists P. Signac and G.-P. Seurat.


In the sec. XX Paris continued her function as director of taste. In fact, the propulsive movements of all contemporary art originated here: Fauvism (represented by H.-É. Matisse, A. Marquet, M. de Vlaminck, A. Derain, R. Dufy, G. Rouault, then passed to other researches) and Cubism, whose birth and development are linked to the art of G. Braque and especially of P. Picasso. Cubism was joined by A. Gleizes, J. Metzinger, the Spaniard J. Gris, F. Léger, R. Delaunay, who aimed at the decomposition of colors instead of volumes (Orphic Cubism), followed by F. Picabia, one of the animators of Dadaism. Cubism also renewed sculpture, which in the previous period had recorded only a few very high works by Renoir and Degas, as well as the experience of Rodin, a longing for a new classical harmony. Matisse was also a sculptor and his work is linked to the Impressionist experience. But the real renewal was due to the Romanian C. Brâncusi, who sought forms of pure abstraction, and to Picasso, who adapted the new Cubist syntax to sculpture, starting from exotic and primitive art. Other Cubist sculptors were H. Laurens, A. Archipenko and J. Lipchitz, Parisians by culture and adoption. In the years that followed the birth of Cubism, Paris continued to be the liveliest center for the forces of the new world painting, welcoming masters of all nationalities: M. Chagall, C. Soutine, A. Modigliani, G. Severini, G. De Chirico. Alongside the leading trends, the less conspicuous but no less appreciable researches of the Nabis and M. Utrillo flourished. In the meantime, Abstractionism was also making its way to Paris, which was to become its vital centerabsolute, however mainly promoted by foreign artists. In the last postwar period, the new “ informal ” trends of J. Dubuffet, J. Fautrier, H. Hartung, H. Michaux were affirmed. As for architecture, however, Le Corbusier, one of the masters of functional style, began his activity in France, in the period between the two wars, whose works (among the most famous the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, completed in 1952, and the Ronchamp chapel, from 1955) remained isolated for decades in the French architectural landscape.

Among the major projects launched in this period, the construction of the ultra-modern Parisian district of La Défense, commissioned by President de Gaulle, is worth the 1960s and contracted to the triad of architects J. De Mailly, R. Camelot and B. Zehrfuss. In the last decades of the century, however, Lecorbusi’s lesson re-emerged in the attention to the harmony and functionality of urban spaces, the taste for the exhibition of structural elements and the mixture of industrial components and cutting-edge technologies. These new architectural features are visible in the public buildings of large cities (especially Paris), created by contemporary architects such as J. Nouvel (Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, 1986; Opéra Theater in Lyon, 1993; shopping center in Lille, 1994); D. Perrault (National Library of Paris, 1995); and C. de Portzamparc. R. Piano and R. Rogers, architects of the Center Pompidou in Beaubourg (1977), or of the American I. Ming Pei, author of the glass pyramid of the Louvre. In 2006 the church of Saint Pierre in Firminy was built, from a project by Le Corbusier.

France Arts in 19th and 20th Centuries