The greatest ages of French art both predate and postdate the Italian Renaissance. Between approximately the life of Nicholas Poussin (1594–1665) and the late 1960s French art achieved its greatest appearance. By the mid-sixteenth century, Paris started to become a magnet for artists. The all-embracing building program of Henri VI attracted many, and the growing centralization of the monarchy under Cardinal Richelieu had the same effect.
Ironically, the two greatest French painters of the age worked almost absolutely in Italy. The life and work of Nicholas Poussin (1594–1665) and Claude Lorrain (1600–1682) harmonized and contrasted with each other. Steeped in classical learning, Poussin moved to Italy at the age of 30, developed close Relationship to the papacy at Rome, and was highly regarded by the Spanish who then controlled the Italian peninsula. He reluctantly returned to France on the orders of Richelieu to work for Louis XIII. But disputes with Vouet and the royal court led to his depart to Italy for the rest of his life. He is usually regarded as the utmost European painter of his age and the quintessence of classical order and harmony, with his paintings that concerned dramatic and decisive moments in classical and biblical history.
Courbet’s influence seen in Manet’s 1863 paintings Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe and Olympia. What made these paintings about women so scandalous was not that they were nude, as this had long been tolerable in a mythological enviroment, but that they were portrayed in modern Parisian society with expressions not of tranquility but of either pleasure or insolence. Thus a nude woman on the grass of a Parisian park flamed a scandal at the famous Salon des Refusés (1863). For critics whose criteria derived from academic painting, this art depicted depravity and decadence, though Manet saw himself as merely creating a new art for a new, modern world.
Renowned painters of this Century
The most important painters in this era were Paul Cézanne, Paul Gaugin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat.
Effect of World War I & II on Parisian Artistic Environment
During the late 1920s and 1930s, as dictatorial state emerged in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, Parisian artistic cosmopolitanism became ever more prominent. One result was that scores of modern artists, such as the revolutionary Russian abstractionist Wassily Kandinsky, moved to Paris, and the city became the center of abstract art as Russian and German artists escaped the authoritative regimes of then Germany and Russia.
Emergence of New York as the modern art scene
Defeat of France and German occupation totaled the Parisian art planet. A major chunk of the best artistic minds, such as the founder of surrealism, André Breton, moved to New York, By 1970 practically all critics and historians believe that New York had exceeded Paris to become the world’s art capital.