French Painting – Nineteenth Century

Joseph Marie Vien (1716-1809) began the revolt against eighteenth-century art, and inaugurated that reform which culminated in his pupil David.

His preference was for the serious and the dignified, and the classic art that he found in Rome appealed far more to him than did the frivolous brilliance of Watteau and his followers.

He opened a school in Paris in 1781 which became noted for its illustrious students.

His work may be best seen in the Louvre, Paris, and at Versailles.

Jacques Louis David (1748–1825), pupil of Vien, afterward studied the antique marbles in Rome, and became most enthusiastic in this line of art. He wholly abandoned the study of nature, and when he returned to Paris devoted him-self exclusively to the practice and teaching of classic art, and exerted a very great influence. The military spirit of his time gave occasion for the heroic style of picture that he loved best to paint. He was first painter to the court of Louis XVI, and one of Napoleon’s dearest friends. Some of his finest works commemorate scenes connected with Napoleon.

His work is most severe ; many of his figures look more like marble statues than like living, breathing flesh. Indeed, he was accustomed to paint first the nude figure, modelling it as carefully as one would a statue, before painting garments upon it.

He cared very little for color.

In his latest pictures there is slightly more sentiment and a softer expression. He painted many portraits.

After the downfall of Napoleon he was exiled from France, but left there many able pupils who carried out his principles of work.

Representative works :

” Napoleon Crossing the Alps,” ” Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine,” ” Rape of the Sabine Women,” ” Leonidas at Thermopylae,” portrait of Madame Récamier, and other pictures. Louvre.

François André Vincent (1746—1816) and Jean Baptiste Regnault (1754—1829) are important among David’s many pupils and followers. Regnault shared with David in the glorification of Napoleon, and also painted many purely classic pictures.

His best works may be studied in the Louvre and at Versailles.

Peter Paul Prudhon (1758—1823), while following many of the principles of David’s art, infused much nature into it. He chose scriptural and mythological rather than heroic subjects, and gave much living grace to his figures. His light and shade are soft ; the outlines of his figures much less severe than those of David, and his draperies are charmingly rendered.

Representative works :

“Assumption of the Virgin,” ” Justice and Vengeance Pursuing Crime,” and many others. Louvre.

Many exquisite drawings by Prudhon are in existence. The expression “grace of Prudhon ” grew out of these rather than from his paintings.

Antoine Jean Gros (1771—1835) is one of the most noted of David’s pupils ; noted, not because he followed his master, but because he began to originate, and thus produced works that are individual and contain the germs of growth. His purely classic works are inferior to those of David ; his historical paintings are superior, being full of real life, and yet marked by the dignity and heroic element of classic art.

His light, shade, and color are excellent.

He was for several years professor in the École des Beaux-arts, Paris.

Representative works :

Pest of Joppa,” ” Battlefield of Eylau,” and others. Louvre.

Jean Dominique Auguste Ingres (178o—1867) holds a middle place between the art of his master David and the romantic school that completely displaced it.

After leaving the studio of David he spent many years in Rome, and became an ardent student of Raphael’s works. In the endeavor to combine the excellencies of both methods, he acquired the practice of subordinating all other qualities of a picture to its forms, so that we find his figures possessed of an almost Greek beauty of line and action, and also a natural grace, that compel admiration.

He painted many pictures containing a single figure, and these show his style of work to the best advantage.

During his lifetime his works ranked in importance with those of Delacroix and other noted artists who were flinging aside all study of the antique and devoting themselves to the representation of nature and its actualities.

Many important works by Ingres are in the Louvre.

Émile Jean Horace Vernet (1789–1863) is especially noted as a battle painter, though he produced many good portraits, scriptural scenes, and genre pictures. He stood somewhat apart from the style of painting established by David, being influenced strongly by those artists who were breaking away from the old traditions.

He was an observer, and possessed a great facility for representation ; was far from being a simple military chronicler, as were some of his contemporaries. He served for a time as a soldier and wrought experience into his pictures.

He commonly painted alla prima, as the Italians express it; that is, without any retouching.

His work is seen to great advantage at Versailles, in the Hall of Constantina.

Several of his pictures are in the Louvre, where is the popular one, ” Raphael Encountering Michael Angelo on the Steps of the Vatican.” Into this he introduced, as a Roman peasant, his only daughter, who afterward became the wife of the artist Delaroche.

Ary Scheffer (1797-1858), of German nationality, is essentially the poet painter of France. The chief quality of all his pictures is sentiment. In treatment of the figure he was influenced by Ingres.

His works have a uniform melancholy tendency that is very striking.

His most noted pictures, ” Francesca da Rimini,” ” Dante and Beatrice,” ” St. Augustine and his Mother, St. Monica,” “Christus Consolator,” “Temptation of Christ,” and his many illustrations of Goethe’s Faust are well known through engravings and photographs.

Several of his paintings are in the Louvre, Paris.

Paul (Hippolyte) Delaroche (1797—1856) was first a landscape painter, afterwards represented familiar scenes of history. He also painted religious pictures.

He chose qualities from both schools, classic and romantic, which were striving against each other in his time.

His subjects are dramatic and his color powerful. His design is somewhat conventional and his drawing most careful in detail.

His pictures are very popular, and have often been reproduced.

Representative works :

” Death of Elizabeth,” ” Children of Edward IV.” Louvre, Paris.

” Strafford going to the Scaffold.” Collection of Duke of Sutherland, England.

“Hemicycle of the Fine Arts.” École des Beaux-arts, Paris.

Other names of this time worthy of notice are Madame Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842), a very successful portrait painter, and Jean Victor Bertin (1775—1842), landscape painter.

Jean Louis Géricault (1791—1824) gave the first powerful impulse toward a complete turning from classic to romantic art. Classic art, founded on the antique, is cold and formal ; it does not awaken any powerful emotion. The new school, called Romantic, places all other qualities in a picture below its power of causing deep feeling. It is dramatic ; it portrays tragedies.

Géricault died young, before the revolt was complete, but his painting of a single picture, the ” Wreck of the Medusa,” a French frigate that had just been lost off the coast of Africa, gives him the right to an important name among its leadership.

The ” Wreck of the Medusa” is an immense canvas, and represents in the most dramatic manner, full of powerful movement, the wretched survivors at the very moment when, after having been on the raft exposed to the sufferings of shipwreck for thirteen days, they first catch sight of another vessel.

It is now in the Louvre, where are also a large number of other pictures by Géricault.


In the early part of the present century the war between classic and romantic art waged strongly, until finally a new era in painting was ushered in by the famous “men of 1830,” as they have been called.

Most important among these are Delacroix, Decamps, Fromentin, Corot, Rousseau, Dupré, Diaz, Daubigny, Troyon, Millet.

Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix (1799–1863) is the greatest name among the leaders of the romantic school of painting. He was powerfully impressed by the ideas and the stir of public events of his time, and used his art to move men’s feelings. He has been called the painter of the soul of his age. He was influenced by Géricault, of whom he was a companion in study. After the death of Géricault, Delacroix carried on with great ardor the reform begun by him.

He met with scorn and censure from the adherents to the classic style, but was followed with a sort of passion by his contemporaries, who sympathized with him.

His works show a most vivid power of imagination and strength of expression; they are indeed living dramas.

His color is exceedingly rich and harmonious ; his design and drawing sometimes weak ; his forms are always subordinate to their color.

He labored intensely. It was his custom to study his subject until, as he said, he had learned it by heart, using models for this study, but totally discarding them when he painted his picture, for he felt that the actual copying of any model would inevitably lower his work.

Representative works :

” Barque of Dante,” ” Massacre of Scio,” ” Women of Algiers,” ” Jewish Wedding in Morocco.” Louvre, Paris. ” Crusaders entering Constantinople.” Versailles.

Alexandre Gabriel Decamps (1803—1860) was the leader of the new school in Orientalism. At first he was a painter of French genre, but after travelling in the east found most of his subjects among that civilization.

He loved light, color, and warmth, and his pictures are saturated with these qualities. There is a surpassing faith-fulness to detail in them, which, if thoroughly studied, forms a source of education regarding the people and countries pictured.

Important works may be found in the Louvre, in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and in many private art collections.

Eugène Fromentin (1820-1876), painter and writer, is the chief interpreter of Arab life. Horses and horsemen were his delight, and he set them in a glory of oriental freedom, space, and color.

Representative works :

Falcon Hunt in Algiers,” ” Arab Encampment,” ” Arab Women on the Nile,” ” The Courier,” and others. Louvre.

Other noted Orientalists are Prosper Marilhat (1811-1847), especially noted for Egyptian scenes; Charles Théodore Frére (1815 ); Jean Léon Gérôme (see p. 154); Gustave Boulanger (1824–1888) ; Henri Regnault (1843–1871); and J. J. Benjamin-Constant (1845).

Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1796–1875) is the greatest name among landscape painters at the time of the transition from classic to romantic painting. He is also the first name in the famous Fontainebleau-Barbizon School, a school that was devoted primarily to the study of light, color, and impression. It was so named because its artists clustered about Barbizon and the forest of Fontainebleau.

In his work details are suppressed ; he endeavored to interpret the impression received from viewing a landscape, and his strongest excellence is the suggestiveness with which he accomplished this.

His management of light and atmosphere is inimitable, especially when he represented early morning and twilight.

His color is cool and silvery — pale greens and grays and browns.

Examples of Corot’s and of the following artists’ works may be found in the Louvre, the Luxembourg,’ and other French galleries, and in the most important museums and private galleries of this country.

Pierre Étienne Théodore Rousseau (1812–1867), who also belongs to the Fontainebleau-Barbizon School of landscape painters, has sometimes been called the “father of modern landscape painting.” He excelled Corot in his conceptions of the grandeur of nature; his color is richer and finer his works are more real, but lack that peculiar suggestiveness that is the charm of Corot.

He suffered particularly from the hostility of the leaders of the classic school during the greater part of his life, and has been called the ” proto-martyr of modern landscape.” In the later years of his life he was immensely popular.

Jules Dupré (1812–1889) was artist-companion of Rousseau, and regarded his subject from a point of view between that of Corot and of Rousseau. His own feeling is peculiarly apparent in his pictures, which are impressive by reason of this.

Sometimes a violence of nature is seen in bent and twisted trees.

He also painted marine pieces and genre.

Narcisso Virgilio Diaz de la Pena (1808–1876), called simply Diaz, of the Fontainebleau-Barbizon School, excelled in light and atmosphere. His pictures are all joyous, full of sun-shine and happy people. His drawing is sometimes defective. His works are especial favorites in this country.

Charles François Daubigny (1817–1878) followed Corot in his breadth of treatment. He is eminently the painter of river scenes, whose banks are covered with a wealth of vegetation and numbers of noble trees. He excelled in the art of etching.

Constant Troyon (1810–1865) painted the fields about him, with forests as backgrounds, and cattle at labor or at rest.

His work possesses the qualities of the Fontainebleau-Barbizon School of landscape painting. He also studied the Dutch School, and many of his pictures of animals are worthy successors of Paul Potter’s (Dutch School).

Other important French animal painters are Charles Emile Jacque (1813–1890), who is chiefly celebrated for paintings and etchings of sheep ; Emile van Marcke (1827–1890), a follower of Troyon; Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899), the greatest woman painter of animals, especially of horses; Auguste Bonheur (18 24-1884) ; and Jules Jacques Veyrassat (1825 ), painter of work horses.

Jean François Millet (1814–1875) was leader in what maybe called the rustic genre, an important art development. In landscapes full of natural beauty and poetry of feeling he pictured the hard-working peasantry of France woodcutters, water carriers, stone breakers, charcoal burners, toilers in the fields, etc. ; and pictured them with a depth of feeling, an earnestness hitherto unknown ; with a sympathy which was born of his own peasant life and nature.

Like Rousseau, he suffered much at the hands of the adherents of classic or academic art, and was long refused admittance to the Salon exhibitions. Gradually, however, the worth of his work became understood.

He had a fine feeling for line and form ; and a thorough appreciation of chiaroscuro, which, in his hands, expresses thought and feeling.

His works are tinged with a certain melancholy.

Representative works:

“The Sower,” “The Gleaners,” Shepherdess with Sheep,” “Sheepfold by Night,” ” Water Carrier,” ” Woodcutter,” ” The Angelus,” and many others found in the Louvre and other French galleries ; in the Metropolitan Museum, New York ; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ; Art Institute, Chicago, and private collections.

Gustave Courbet (1819—1878) scorned both the classic and the romantic schools, taking nature only as a mistress. His subjects are landscape, marine views, figures, and animals ; but his most important pictures are his landscape genre, especially those in which he represented the toiling peasantry in the midst of most charming landscapes. His technique is very strong.

His pictures are to be found in all French and American art galleries and in many private collections.

Other important artists who are painting the French peasantry are Jules Adolphe Breton (1827), Alphonse Legros (1837-), Léon Augustin L’hermitte (1844-), and Henry Lerolle, in his later work.

Jean Léon Gérôme (1824-) has been a very versatile painter. His first training was classic and his first subjects are mythological. Then he chose historical subjects, rendered in the classic style ; then oriental scenes, in which his work is far more realistic, inclining to the romantic; and finally he is a painter of the higher genre and a leader in what is sometimes styled the “New-Greek” School. The practice of this school is to treat the commonest incident with a grace of line and a poetry of sentiment that raise it to the classic. It shows a fondness for the nude.

His work is brilliant and impressive from its strength, grace, and truth, rather than from the expression of any depth of feeling.

His most important pictures have been engraved, and are familiar. Some of the best known are : “The Christian Martyrs in the Arena,” “The Death of Caesar,” ” Cleopatra before Casar,” “Phryne before the Areopagus,” and “Pollice Verso” (The Thumb Reversed).

Among followers of the “New-Greek” School are Jean Louis Hamon (1821-1874), Henri Pierre Picou (1822), and Ernest jean Aubert.(1824-).

Jean Louis Meissonier (1815-1891), the “prince of genre painters,” was once, perhaps, the most noted of the French artists of his time. He was a follower of the romantic school in sentiment, and a realist in execution. Many of his subjects are historical; many belong to what may be called the semi-aristocracy.

A chief element in his work is its miniature-like quality, but it never loses in power because of this ; for he constantly made large sketches in order to retain force of treatment. He painted a few large pictures of scenes connected with the life of Napoleon.

His drawing is excellent; his treatment of costumes admirable ; his color fine, and his technique without fault. His works have been largely reproduced.

Some most noted pictures are : “1814,” ” Napoleon at Solferino,” ” Reading Military Orders,” ” The Man at the Window,” “The Etcher,” ” Amateurs of Painting,” ” Chess Players.”

Other noted names among modern French artists are : Thomas Couture (1815–1879), who borrowed from both classic and romantic schools ; Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1889) and William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825), semi-classicists, who have exerted much influence by teaching ; Paul Baudry (1828–1886), follower of old Roman masters ; Édouard Detaille (1848) and Alphonse de Neuville (1836-1885), painters of war incidents ; Léon J. F. Bonnat (1833), Carolus-Duran (1837), and J. P. Laurens (1838), portrait and figure painters ; and Puvis de Chavannes (1824–1898), decorative painter. Gustav Doré (1833–1883) was a most imaginative, fantastic painter, more remarkable for the great number of his works than for their artistic qualities.


This is the latest school, or rather movement in painting, in France. Its leader was Édouard Manet (1833–1883). That which he advocated and tried to accomplish in his work is the rendering of the exact vision of a moment — the vision of movement, of life, of light ; hence the name.

Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848–1884), whose celebrated picture, ” Joan d’Arc,” is so widely known, was the greatest follower of Manet. Others are Ernest Duez (1843–1898) and Louis Butin (1838–1883), painters of scenes by the sea; Alfred Philippe Roll and Jean Béraud, painters of street scenes ; Besnard, historical painter, and Pissaro, painter of peasants.

The so-called ” Landscape Impressionists ” are endeavoring to reach the true pitch of nature’s coloring. Claude Monet is their leader, who, in trying to paint light, has abjured the old, dark shadow of black or dark brown, and substituted for it the violet or purple color. To represent surfaces in light, he employs the simple prismatic colors laid side by side, expecting the eye to blend them, instead of mixing the colors after the old method. Camille Pissaro follows the methods of Monet. Other followers of this new movement, yet in its infancy, and without doubt to be modified until it shall be of real value, are to be found today among artists of almost all countries.