The 19th century
According to Estatelearning, the cult of the ancient, carried out in an increasingly archaeological way during the Empire, raising triumphal arches and columns, and the perpetuation of the classicist ideal (A.-C. Quatremère de Quincy) are flanked by functionalist instances, carried forward by J.-N.-L. Durand in the new École polytechnique, and romantiche, with the revaluation of medieval monuments (E. Viollet-le-Duc, France-C. Gau).
But the 19th century. is marked above all by the implementation of the grandiose urban planning projects in Paris by G.-E. Haussmann and the intuition of the technical and expressive potential of new materials, in particular iron, with the works of V. Baltard, H. Labrouste, G. Eiffel.
The romantic movement in painting finds its most tormented and restless expression in J.-L.-A. Géricault and E. Delacroix, but it also unfolds in the researches of the orientalists (➔orientalism) or in the ideal beauty of J.-A.-D. Ingres. T. Rousseau, N. Diaz, L. Cabat and others form the so-called Barbizon school of landscape. J.-B.-C. Corot is the greatest landscape painter of this period. Among the manifestations of Romanticism there are illustrated pamphlets, the “human comedy” treated in a humorous-caricatural key by P. Gavarni and with a satirical and dramatic force by H. Daumier. While the rural subjects of J.-E. Millet have immense resonance, G. Courbet launches the manifesto of realism. Historical painting is successful in the bourgeois environment for the patriotic enthusiasm it arouses (J.-L.-E. Meissonnier, J.-L. Gérôme, E. Detaille); an academic current represented by A. Cabanal, P. Baudry and others is not negligible.
Around 1860 one of the happiest periods in French pictorial history begins. Five or six “independent” masters, almost the same age, begin to form a famous group, all in their twenties: É. Manet, H.-G.-E. Degas, C. Monet, P.-A. Renoir, T. Fantin-Latour. In 1874 there was an exhibition of the Independents with the photographer Nadar with works by Monet, A. Sisley, C.-J. Pissarro, Renoir, B. Morisot, P. Cézanne, A. Guillaumin, Degas, from which impressionism was born. However Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne are very strong personalities and very different from each other, who do not share the same badly under the label of impressionism which, as a theoretical principle, they soon fail, or, like Cézanne, even opposed. G. Seurat and P. Signac from the decomposition of the “tone” arrive at the decomposition into elements of pure color (neo-impressionism).
The aspects of modern life give rise on the one hand to the very subtle satire of H. de Toulouse-Lautrec, on the other to the refusal of any figurative inheritance by P. Gauguin and his taking refuge in exoticism. The painting of the latter and that of the Dutch V. van Gogh oppose research on vision due to the need for a direct expressiveness of color; in their work and, in a differentiated way, in that of G. Moreau and P. Puvis de Chavannes we can also identify elements consonant with the symbolist current, which has in O. Redon its most authentic exponent and is expressed in the group of nabis (M. Denis, P. Sérusier, A. Maillol, P. Ranson etc.) the tendency towards total involvement.
Sculpture follows the path of painting with some delay; great sculptors of the first half of the century are P.-J. David d’Angers, A.-L. Barye, modeler of animals, and France Rude. The dramatic and plastic force of the latter declines in the naturalism of J.-B. Carpeaux. But A. Rodin has established himself on the art scene since 1880. However, more academic tendencies also remain (J. Dalou and E. Frémiet).
The first half of the 20th century
Against the backdrop of an official art that sees the historical painting of É. Detaille and the eclecticism of A. Besnard, Paris continues to have an important role in the elaboration of new expressive languages, is an attraction for many foreign artists and is also the center of a far-sighted activity of merchants and collectors (A. Vollard, G. Stein etc.). At the Salon d’Automne, founded in 1903, the works of Gauguin (1903) and Cézanne (1904) are presented and, in 1905, those of H. Matisse, G. Rouault and A. Derain, scandalous in the eyes of official critics. and, for their expressive violence, defined fauves. The reflection on Cézanne’s lesson, on African art and on modern primitives (H. Rousseau the Customs Officer) sets in motion the revolutionary research of Cubism by Picasso and Braque. At the Salon des Indépendants of 1911, among the heterogeneous group of artists presenting their works under the Cubist banner, France Léger stands out for his markedly plastic research, R. Delaunay for the taste of pure color, J. Villon, who gives life to the Section d’or (1912), M. Duchamp, whose name will be linked to the Dada movement, and R. Duchamp-Villon, who with H. Laurent, J. Lipchitz, A. Archipenko is among the most significant Cubist sculptors. Among the many foreign artists in Paris, A. Modigliani stands out, M. Chagall, C. Soutine.
In the field of sculpture E.-A. Bourdelle follows a personal path to the rediscovery of classical civilization; A. Maillol develops the formal researches of the Impressionists with a modern sense of classicism. Having come to Paris to study with Rodin, the Romanian C. Brancusi soon turns towards a plastic essentiality of absolute forms.
The art nouveau, which from the last quarter of the 19th century. had found its happiest expression in the applied arts (E. Gallé and the school of Nancy, E. Grasset etc.), in architecture it has a prominent exponent in H. Guimard. But at the beginning of the 20th century. the first innovative projects by A. Perret (houses in rue Franklin in Paris, 1903, with a reinforced concrete structure) and by T. Garnier (project for an industrial city, 1904) also date back.
After the first postwar period the impetuousness of the first avant-gardes was abandoned, following different paths, Picasso, Braque, Léger, Matisse remained at the center of the artistic scene. A. Ozenfant and C.-E. Jeanneret (Le Corbusier) with the poster Après le cubisme (1918) and with the magazine L’Esprit nouveau (1920-25) sought an art of rigor and precision. Abstractionism after 1929 finds valid support in Cercle et Carré and in Abstraction-Création, with the support of numerous foreign artists (A. Pevsner, V. Kandinskij). The absence of any rational meaning, affirmed by Dadaism, prepares the surrealism that sees in Paris developing alongside the researches of M. Ernst and J. Miró, those of Y. Tanguy and by A. Masson. Expressionism between the two wars has in France the most significant exponent in M. Gromaire.
In architecture, the modern movement sees alongside the vital figure of Le Corbusier (pavilion of the Esprit nouveau of the 1925 Paris exhibition; villa Savoye in Poissy, 1928-30; projects for the Ville radieuse, 1930; etc.) interest by P. Chareau, R. Mallet-Stevens, A. Lurçat, H. Sauvage, M. Lods, E. Beaudouin. But we must also remember the official academic taste exemplified by the Trocadéro museum in Paris (1937) by J.-C. Dondel, A. Aubert, P. Viard and M. Dastugue.