16 Famous French Painters (And a Few Others You May Not Know)

From medieval innovators to avant-garde modern artists, France has a long history of talented painters.

Some have risen to worldwide fame and even single-name recognition. Here are 16 French painters whose work has had a major influence on artists and the general public alike…and a few others you may also know.

A brief history of French painting

painting brushes on wooden floor

Before we talk about French painters, it’s helpful to know a little background.

As in most other European countries and cultures, painting in some form or another has existed in France from the dawn of humanity. For instance, the Lascaux caves are decorated with what are possibly the most famous examples of prehistoric art in the world, painted between 15,000-17,000 years ago. You can learn more about them – and take a virtual tour – here.

The Gauls, the extensive group of Celtic tribes that lived in France in the centuries leading up to and shortly following 1 AD (1 CE), were better known for decorative art, jewelry, and sculpture, than paintings.  But in Gallo-Roman times, the rooms of villas were decorated with frescoes like this one.

Frescoes and illuminated manuscripts were used in the Middle Ages to depict everything from characters in courtly love to — much more commonly — religious stories and parables. Like most places in Europe at the time, artists were considered artisans, rather than gifted individuals. The Renaissance changed that.

The Renaissance (ca. 1450-1600 AD/CE) started in Italy but its ideas and art quickly crossed into France. Leonardo da Vinci himself was even the friend and longtime honored guest of modern-thinking King François I.

But the typical kind of “French painting” that we usually think about is more likely to date from the 18th or 19th century. This was an incredibly rich era of creativity in France. Decorative, deliberately frivolous works by artists like Watteau, Boucher, and Fragonard shared the spotlight with canvasses by traditional history painters like Poussin and Lebrun, whose style and artistic goals eventually clashed with Romantics like Delacroix and Géricault. The Romantics’ bold choice in putting emotion at the forefront, rather than the Renaissance and Classical ideals of balance, harmony, and geometry, inspired future generations to break the boundaries of traditional art.

In the mid-19th century, artistic “bad boys” like Courbet and Manet broke the rules again, depicting average people in a real way that was considered shocking at the time. For instance, while we may admire her bold gaze today, Manet’s Olympe also drew gasps and disapproval from the crowd at the 1865 Paris Salon for her dirty feet.

In the late 19th century, Impressionism and  Post-Impressionism were the rage among the avant-garde, although it took the average person a bit longer to understand and accept them. Today, these are probably the best-known examples of French painting, with prints by artists like Monet, Renoir, and Gauguin decorating calendars, t-shirts, coffee mugs, scarves….  Basically, works by Impressionists and Post Impressionists are easy to find in our everyday lives, even without setting foot in a museum or studying art. 

French painting continued to evolve and break the rules of traditional representation, with Post- Impressionist Paul Cézanne’s exploration of volume and space, which would eventually inspire Picasso and other Cubist artists. At the same time, the Nabis and Fauves broke with reality in other ways, deliberately painting in unusual, vivid colors, and freeing their forms from rigid reality.

Modern and contemporary French artists are often hard to group together, since they tend to have their own, very distinct styles and messages, and most don’t stick only to painting.

What is French painting?

Although there’s a long history of painting in France, it’s hard to think of stylistic or philosophical ideas that unite everything from prehistoric cave paintings to contemporary art. Even movements that started and evolved in France, like Impressionism, have struck such a chord with other artists and art lovers around the world that they’ve become universal.

Still, you could argue that French painting is united by self-expression. Even classically trained French painters or anonymous medieval artisans often found ways to insert a bit of their own worldview into their art. Going back even further, the prehistoric painters in Lascaux used two different strategies to leave imprints of their hands on the cave walls. That may be part of the reason why France has long been a place for artists to gather and find one another. 

How we chose 16 famous French painters

Brown wooden easel

It’s hard to choose just 16 French painters to highlight. The ones on our list were picked by how influential they are or how famous certain works they’ve created have become, as well, in some cases, as how easily their names are recognized, even among people who aren’t particularly into art.

Because of this, you may notice that there is only one woman artist on this list – and she’s included among the honorable mentions. There have been female painters in France – both amateur and recognized – for centuries, but their number is small, and those who are recognized haven’t achieved the fame of their male counterparts. If this bothers you or intrigues you, I highly recommend Linda Nochlin’s fascinating, famous essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”

You’ll also see that there are few people on the list who could be considered minorities or come from a diverse background. Some of what Nochlin writes about can also be applied. But it’s also important to remember that until relatively recently, the population of France, especially those who had the leisure and access to materials, lessons, etc., that would allow them to make art, was fairly homogenous.

Now, without further ado, here are…

16 Famous French painters

1. Jean Fouquet (ca. 1420-1481)

Jean Fouquet is probably the least famous French painter on this list, but we owe a revolutionary artistic milestone to him: Fouquet is considered the inventor of the miniature portrait –and of the self-portrait.

Before the Renaissance, few artists were known by name, and none were considered worthy of a self-portrait – or at least, not an overt, signed one. It’s possible that other artists painted self-portraits before Fouquet. Some art historians even believe that paintings on Ancient Greek pottery, for instance, may sometimes include self-portraits. But we know without a doubt that in 1450, Jean Fouquet painted a self-portrait inscribed with his name.

This is a sign of the times: the Renaissance, which was just beginning, was a time when artists stopped being considered (often anonymous) artisans, and started to be thought of as individuals known for their talent.

Famous works

Autoportrait (Self-Portrait)

The Melun Diptych (most notably the right panel)

You can see more of his works here.


2. The Limbourg Brothers (ca. 1385-1416)

All of the other artists on this list were born in France, but Herman, Paul, and Johan Limbourg are the exception. Although they were born and spent their childhoods in the Netherlands, as teenagers they were apprenticed to their uncle, Jean Malouel, a prominent medieval painter who was then based in Paris. They learned many of their techniques, including goldsmithing, there.

 The Limbourg Brothers are closely associated with medieval French art. The manuscript they mostly illustrated (all three died before it was finished, probably of the plague), Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry is widely considered the finest illuminated manuscript in the world. The book of hours is essentially a book of daily prayers, made for the Duke of Berry. But it’s become known for its depictions of the daily life of nobles and peasants alike in its illuminations of each calendar year.

The Limbourg Brothers’ naturalism was fairly innovative for the time, and they also used some new techniques for showing light, shadow, and reflections. But what puts them on this list is the overall style of the manuscript, which features typical rich colors of the time and typical International Gothic figures: thin, almost elongated, and often in contrapposto (one hip higher than the other), which shows movement and a certain grace. When you think of medieval French paintings, you probably imagine something like the Limbourg Brothers’ illustrations.

The Limbourg brothers also depicted many of the French castles that the Duc de Berry owned or would visit throughout the course of the year. Some, like the Château de Saumur and the Chateau de Vincennes (located just outside Paris), are still standing. Others, like the Louvre castle, which was demolished to make the current palace that’s there today), are only memories.

Famous works

A majority of the illuminations (illuminated manuscript illustrations) in Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.


3. Nicolas Poussin (1594-1664)

If you tend to think of French painting as canvasses featuring sober classical and religious subjects, in a beautiful but somewhat stodgy style, Nicolas Poussin’s work is probably what you’re picturing.

The masterful artist was inspired by Roman history and Italian Renaissance art. His canvasses are about balance and highly skilled draughtsmanship.

Poussin came to be known as the “Establishment” as far as many other artists went. Seven years after his death, a debate raged in Paris’s Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture: was draughtsmanship, of which Poussin was a master, more important than color, championed by painters like Rubens?  Artists were divided into two camps: Les poussinistes (pro-draughtsmanship) and the rubenistes (pro-color).  It’s said that in the end, color won the day, when the Académie accepted Watteau’s Embarkation for Cythera, a colorful Rococo piece composed of quick brushstrokes rather than carefully delineated forms.

Still, Poussin’s work continued to be an important influence on artists and viewers alike. His style inspired a number of the other French painters on this list, including Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Even certain artists who would seem to be stylistically or ideologically opposed to his work also admired him, including Delacroix and Seurat.

Famous works

Et in Arcadia ego (also called The Arcadian Shepherds). The most famous version is at the Louvre but there’s another version at Chatsworth House, UK. You can read a detailed analysis of both versions here.

L’Enlèvement des Sabines (The Rape of the Sabine Women)

You can see more of his paintings here.


4. Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)

When many people hear “French painter”, they think of artists like Watteau and the next person on this list, Fragonard. These artists painted in the Rococo style – that is, highly decorative and light. So, essentially, they’re the opposite of the former artist on this list, Nicolas Poussin. Their themes were usually about the finer things in life: beautiful people, leisure activities, love and sex, and so on.

Watteau came first. He popularized this style and is considered the inventor of a genre called fêtes galantes – happy groups of people in splendid dress (or often prettily dressed theater folk), enjoying themselves out in the countryside.

Famous works

L’Embarquement pour Cythère (The Embarkation for Cythera)

Pierrot (also known as Gilles)

You can see more of his paintings here.


5. Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)

Fragonard continued in Watteau’s Rococo style, painting carefree scenes of well-dressed people enjoying themselves in idealized settings. Unlike Watteau, his best-known works aren’t always set in the bucolic countryside. He’s also more explicitly erotic.

Interestingly, Fragonard painted during the French Enlightenment (ca. 1715-1789), when people gathered to discuss philosophy and other serious issues. Fragonard’s frivolous-seeming paintings provide a fascinating contrast.

Famous works

Les Hasards heureux de l’escarpolette (The Swing)  

Le Verrou (The Lock (sometimes called The Bolt))

Figure de fantaisie (sometimes called L’inspiration) (Inspiration)

You can see more of his paintings here.


6. Jacques Louis-David (1748-1825)

You could see Jacques Louis-David as the anti-Rococo. His best-known paintings are in a Neoclassical style, with realistic details; like Poussin before him, David was more interested in draughtsmanship than color.

In addition to drawing, David was also a master of composition. His canvasses feature geometry and balance, practices dating all the way back to the Renaissance. In one of his best-known works, Oath of the Horatii, he uses dynamic diagonal lines to draw the eye and suggest energy contrasted with sinuous lines that suggest grief. In The Death of Marat, he uses an unusual amount of negative space to put even more emphasis on his subject.

But more than his style, David’s subjects are what makes him one of the most famous French painters. Although he also depicted historical scenes, he painted many of his contemporaries…and if you look at his lifespan, this means major figures of the French Revolution, as well as Napoleon I. Amazingly, through decades of political upheaval, David stayed safe and on top. He started as a painter with close ties to the royal court, became friends with Revolutionaries (he did sincerely believe in their cause), and adapted to the First Empire.

It’s no wonder everyone wanted him to stick around; despite radical changes in government and ideals, despite David being known as a grouchy character, the man was a genius at composing a painting for maximum effect. And whether you want someone to depict a martyred member of the cause, like Marat, or the Emperor of the French (Napoleon I, of course), this is a useful talent indeed.

Famous works include

Le Serment des Horaces (Oath of the Horatii)

Marat Assassiné or La Mort de Marat (The Death of Marat)

Le Premier Consul franchissant les Alpes au col du Grand Saint-Bernard (Napoleon at the Saint Bernard Pass (also called Napoleon Crossing the Alps)). David painted five versions of this work. You can read about all five of them (and discover where to see each one) here.

Le Sacre de Napoléon (The Coronation of Napoleon)

You can see more of his paintings here.


7. Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)

 Delacroix is all about emotion. Going against the art that was favored by most critics and the general public at the time, he didn’t choose to paint ultra-realistic scenes, but rather worked with visible brushstrokes and color.

Whether or not you like Delacroix’s work, it’s hard to come away from his canvasses feeling nothing. From a painting of an historical doomed king, to a sketch of a horse, to the iconic Liberty Leading the People, Delacroix’s works are full of passion. He was the leader of the French Romantic movement and a major influence on the Impressionist painters.  

Famous works include

La Mort de Sardanapale (The Death of Sardanapalus)

La Liberté guidant le peuple (Liberty Leading the People)  

You can see more of his paintings here.


8. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)

Ingres is where the traditional, Neoclassical style of Poussin and David meet the Romanticism of Delacroix (even though Ingres was considered in opposition to Delacroix during the artists’ lifetimes).

Although he’s created many well-known history paintings, Ingres is best known for his portraits, which some have called photo-realistic. On the other side of all that realism, Ingres is also famous for his sensual female nudes. Some, like La Grande Odalisque, completely go against realistic anatomy in order to maintain a sinuous, eye-catching form.

Famous works include

La Grande Odalisque  

Portrait de Monsieur Bertin (Portrait of Monsieur Bertin). Read about it here  and here.

You can see more of his paintings here.


9. Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)

In the world of French painting, Courbet was one of the first “bad boy” artists. Although he was skilled as a draughtsman and also portrayed strong emotional moments in many of his canvasses, Courbet rejected the stuffiness of traditional painting and movements like Romanticism alike.

He founded his own movement, “Realism”, even though not all of his works are completely realistic – for instance, The Painter’s Studio: A real allegory summing up seven years of my artistic and moral life is an allegorical representation of his artistic career. He also painted a number of realistic but still somewhat idealized self-portraits that contributed to his bohemian, emotional, rebellious persona.

On the other hand, paintings like A Burial at Ornans, which shocked the art world with its unsentimental portrayal of a rural funeral, and The Origin of the World, a notorious close-up image of a woman’s genitalia, definitely have a realistic bent. 

Courbet was a bad boy in real life, too, notably contributing to toppling the column in the middle of the Place Vendôme during the Paris Commune. When the Commune fell, he was arrested and exiled. At the time of his death a few years later, he was still paying back the cost of the column.

Famous works include

Un enterrement à Ornans (A Burial at Ornans)  

Le Désespéré (Self-Portrait (also called The Desperate Man))

L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World)  – Before you open this link, be aware that the painting is NSFW.

You can see more of his paintings here.


10. Édouard Manet (1832-1883)

Instead of historical, religious, mythological, or emotion-filled themes, Manet often painted everyday life, namely the everyday life of bourgeois Parisians.  But in doing this, he experimented with how he depicted it, from light and illusion, to the realism of a courtesan’s dirty feet and the directness of her gaze (and its implications).

In many of Manet’s works, most notably Olympia and A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, the subject(s) look at or react to the viewer, giving him or her a sort of active role in the painting. In some cases, like Olympia, the implication of this was downright shocking; essentially, the painting makes the viewer play the role of a prostitute’s client.

In choosing to paint scenes of everyday contemporary urban life, as well as preparing his canvasses by using an undercoat of white paint to make them more luminous, Manet was a precursor to the Impressionists. For his sometimes shocking choices, as well as his tendency to outline his figures in black, making them look deliberately less realistic, he was an artist with a unique, modern vision.

Famous works include

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass)

Olympe (Olympia)

Un bar aux Folies Bergère (A Bar at the Folies-Bergère)

You can see more of his paintings here.


11. Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

His bright colors and portrayals of everyday life often make people categorize him as an Impressionist, but Degas is really in a category of his own. For one thing, unlike most Impressionists, he wasn’t particularly interested in nature. Most of Degas’ works are set in enclosed spaces. And more than the play of light on surfaces, he was interested in the movement of the human body.

Some of his works, like his famous paintings of ballet dancers, might seem to have a typical Impressionist’s palette, but the acid green and bright reds linger like an aftertaste.

His color palette and choice of subjects like dancers, circus performers, and pastel sketches of nude women influenced Post-Impressionist artists, most notably Toulouse-Lautrec. It can sometimes be difficult to tell their nude pastels apart.

Famous works

– Many canvasses of ballerinas on stage and behind the scenes

L’absinthe (The Absinthe Drinker or Glass of Absinthe)

Repasseuses (Women Ironing)

You can see more of his paintings here.


12. Claude Monet

Monet is the most famous of the Impressionists, which is saying a lot. His 1874 painting Impression: Sunrise gave the group its name (or at least gave critics something to call them).

Monet was especially fascinated by light and how it played on different surfaces. He would often paint multiple canvasses depicting the same subject, but at different times of the day – for instance, a haystack or the façade of Rouen Cathedral.

Towards the end of his life, Monet had nearly gone blind. He continued to paint the waterlilies and flowers in the pond of his garden at Giverny. With forms often giving way to streaks of color, these canvasses are considered precursors to abstract art. 

Famous works include

Impression, soleil levant (Impression: Sunrise)

Les Coquelicots (The Poppy Field)

Femme à l’ombrelle tournée vers la gauche (Woman with a parasol)

Nymphéas (Water Lilies) – Like many of his paintings, Monet’s water lilies are a series. The most famous group is probably the one assembled in the rotunda of the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. You can learn more about them and take a virtual visit here.

You can see more of his paintings here.


13. Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Renoir’s paintings exude light, peace, and pleasure.

One of the most famous Impressionists, Renoir was as inspired by the play of light as he was by feminine beauty and sensuality. A typical Renoir painting features feathery, visible brush strokes, bright colors that seem to shine from the canvass, and probably at least one pleasantly plump lady – dressed or otherwise.

Probably the most technically impressive works by Renoir are those that combine these two fascinations, including what might be his best-known painting, Dance at the Moulin de la Galette. Here, we see a sun-dappled crowd (with two prettily-dressed bourgeois women in the center foreground, natch) beneath the trees of the famous outdoor dance venue (which you can still visit today, although it’s more of a tourist trap than a popular destination for Parisians like it was in Renoir’s time).

Famous works include

Bal du moulin de la Galette (Dance at the Moulin de la Galette)

Le déjeuner des canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party)

Jeunes filles au piano (Girls at the Piano, sometimes called Young Girls at the Piano or Two Young Girls at the Piano)

La Danse à Bougival (Dance at Bougival)

You can see more of his paintings here.


14. Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)

Gauguin is among the most famous of the Post-Impressionists. These are artists who were influenced by the bold experimentation of the Impressionists, but took things one step further. Their precursors had explored how light shines on surfaces; now, the Post-Impressionists looked inwards to see, you could say, how the light within them made them see the world.

Post-Impressionism is associated with France, but the most famous Post-Impressionist was Vincent Van Gogh, who was Dutch (although he did live in France for a significant part of his life). Gauguin was someone Van Gogh admired and dreamed of collaborating with. But while Van Gogh was a gentle soul tormented by mental illness, Gauguin had a sort of savage brutality to him.

Gauguin often chose to paint what he saw, rather than what was conventional. And so, a tree that might have a bluish tone in the shadows became blue in his canvasses. People in Brittany became spiritually infused beings who could have religious visions. The Tahitian women he was enamored with look how he wanted them to in his paintings – idealized primitives, rather than everyday people. By choosing to paint life as he saw it, Gauguin was a precursor to many artistic movements to come.

Famous works include

La Vision après le sermon ou La Lutte de Jacob avec l’ange (Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel))

Portrait de l’artiste au Christ jaune (The Artist with the Yellow Christ, sometimes called Self-Portrait with the Yellow Christ)

Manao Tupapau (L’Esprit des morts veille) (Spirit of the Dead Watching (Manao tupapau))

D’où venons-nous ? Que sommes-nous ? Où allons-nous ? (Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?)

You can see more of his paintings here.


15. Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

Fascinated by the way forms exist in space, Cézanne is known as a precursor to Cubism, a movement that would come about in the 1910’s. Decades earlier, Cézanne was already painting landscapes whose houses were geometric shapes that almost seem to shy away from traditional perspective and solidity, rather than realistic representations.

Cézanne’s colors are often very pleasant, typically combinations of creams, oranges, and greens. But he was far more interested in shape and form. So interested, in fact, that one sort of funny thing about him is that none of the portraits he painted, including even portraits of his wife, are what could be considered “flattering”. He was more interested in how figures fit into space than in making them pretty, harmonious, or realistic.

That said, his many still lifes with fruit have a curving, rolling rhythm and softness to them that provides a nice break to his frequently jagged lines. It’s an interesting contrast that shows the diversity of his talent.

Famous works include

His series of paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire

Les joueurs de cartes (The Card Players)

Les Grandes Baigneuses (The Bathers, sometimes called The Large Bathers)

Still lifes that usually include fruit, for instance Le panier de pommes (The Basket of Apples).  Here’s a video about these still lifes and their complexity.

You can see more of his paintings here.  


16. Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Matisse first made a name for himself as one of the Fauves (Wild Beasts) – early 20th century artists who used bold, vivid colors, rejecting the realistic colors of traditional painting. But he also became known for his own distinct abstract style that focused not only on color, but sinuous lines and shapes.

Matisse’s works generally provoke a sense of joy and warmth, which is why they continue to be popular today. They were also an important influence on many abstract artists.

Famous paintings include

La Raie Verte (The Green Stripe, sometimes called Portrait of Madame Matisse)

L’atelier rouge (The Red Studio)

Le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life)

La danse (The Dance, sometimes called Dance)

You can see more of his paintings here.


Other French painters you should know 

French painting

As we’ve seen, French art has a long and rich history. The list here includes only the best-known French painters, but there are many others you should know. Some of these might be fairly unknown artists whose works await your gaze in a museum or gallery, in real life or online. Others are fairly well-known.

If you want to really get to know French art, here are some other French painters you should look up:

Georges de la Tour (1593-1652)

Famous for his paintings of figures in the darkness illuminated by candle flames or lanterns. You can see more of his paintings here.

Charles Le Brun (1619-1690)  

A Neoclassical artist of the Poussin school. You can see more of his paintings here. https://www.charleslebrun.com/site_anglais/ses_realisations_english_1.htm

Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842)

The most famous female French painter, she was known for her realistic and charming portraits. Marie-Antoinette was one of her patrons. You can see more of her paintings here.

Théodore Géricault (1791-1824)

A Romantic painter with a Neoclassical style, Gericault’s best-known work is Le radeau de la Méduse (The Raft of the Medusa), a monumental canvass showing the desperate survivors of a shipwreck.  You can see more of his paintings here.

Jean-François Millet (1814-1875)

Famous for his luminous paintings of peasants, which elevate them to a sort of sacred state. This seems calm and nice, but was actually a reflection of the revolutionary mindset of the 1840’s. Les Glaneuses (The Gleaners) is his most famous work. You can see more of his paintings here.

Georges Seurat (1859-1891)

A Neo-Impressionist known for his Pointillist works – canvasses composed of dots of opposing colors. His most famous painting is the iconic Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte). You can see more of his paintings here.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

This eccentric Post-Impressionist is better known for his prints and posters, which is why he didn’t make our list. This was a very difficult decision. With iconic works to his name, including posters like Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, he’s obviously a big part of what we think of when we think of French art, capturing the joy, gaiety, and excess of Belle-Epoque Paris. You can see more of his works here.

Henri Rousseau (often called Le Douanier Rousseau) (1844-1910)

A Naïve artist, Rousseau was known for painting stiff, childish-looking figures and imaginary landscapes. He sometimes painted from real life, as in his portraits, but often was inspired by illustrations – for instance, when creating his many famous paintings of the jungle. Rousseau’s work led to a lot of mockery in his time, but also admiration from the likes of Picasso and the Surrealists.  You can see more of his paintings here.

Georges Braque (1882-1963)

Along with Picasso, Braque was the co-founder of Cubism, one of the most important movements in modern art. You can see more of his paintings here.

Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)

This 20th-century French painter defined a category of art known as art brut – essentially, art created by people who are not formally trained, and that shows a certain kind of openness of spirit. Dubuffet is best known for his childish portraits that can seem amusing or angry by turn, as well as his large sculptures and installations painted with imaginative shapes and lines. If you ever go to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, be sure to step inside his Jardin d’hiver, a sort of modern-day painted cave that’s so much fun to walk around in (and makes for really cool photos, as if you’re inside an abstract painting). You can see more of his works here.

Yves Klein (1928-1962)

A modern artist, Klein is particularly famous for his canvasses of female forms, made by the women themselves. In fact, like many artists of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, Klein would hold “happenings” , where people could see his works created in real time. In this case, nude women would roll in blue paint – a blue color called “International Klein Blue (IKB)”, which Klein had invented himself – and then lie down on a large canvass. You can see more of his paintings here.

What about French painters from the late 20th century to now?

Don’t worry – French painting didn’t stop in the mid-20th century. But so much art has been created since then, in so many different artistic domains (sculpture, installations, photography, collage, etc.), that no single French painter has risen to superstardom on the level of the others on this list. Of course, not all of the painters we’ve featured here were widely known or appreciated in their time, so maybe a few decades or centuries from now there will be many famous French painters from the late 20th century to the 2020’s.

Where can I learn more about French painters?

People taking pictures of "Liberty guiding the people" painting in Louvre museum

If you’d like to learn more about French painting, as well as French art in general, feel free to have a look at this article.  

And why not plan a trip or virtual visit to a French museum (or any museum that features French artists in their collections)?

Another amazing way to see cavasses by an impressive range of painters is searching for them via Olga’s Gallery, a wonderful resource that usually features dozens to hundreds(!) of works by a particular artist. As an art fan, this has been one of my favorite websites since the early 2000’s. Web Gallery of Art is a similar site.

You can also check out art books from your local library or buy them to make for a nice presence in your home. Just do an online or library catalogue search for something like “French painting” or an artist or movement that particularly interests you.

YouTube also features lots of documentaries, short films, and even features about painters as well as individual paintings. Just type in the name of a French painter that interests you. If you want to watch a documentary about them or their work in French, try searching for their name (or the French title of the painting you want to learn more about) along with words like “documentaire”, “analyse”, “biographie,” or “français”.  

If you’re more of an audio person, you could also type the name of a painter or the French title of a painting into your online search engine of choice, followed by “podcast français” – or search for the name of a French museum and “podcast”.  For instance, le Centre Pompidou has several different  podcasts that explore works in their permanent collection.


Do you have a favorite French painter or painting? Is there a French painter you feel should have been included on our list? Feel free to share in the comments!

Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.

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