French painting of the 18th century was a vibrant era for French art in general. This is due to the founding of the Royal Academy, and talented nugget painters who, with their masterpieces, were able to elevate French painting of the 18th century and, subsequently, influence future generations of artists. History of French Art of the 18th Century French painting of the 18th century was marked primarily by the founding of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. It is an institution that has dominated the art world for nearly 200 years.
Founded in 1648 under the leadership of Louis XIV, the Royal Academy was designed to train talented artists for the French court.
The main French artists of the direction:
- Jean-François de Troy (1679-1752),
- Antoine Watteau (1684-1721),
- Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743),
- François Boucher (1703-1770),
- Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin (1699-1779).
The artistic world of France in the 18th century is characterized by three main events:
- First, more accomplished portrait painters flourished in the middle of the century than ever before in any country;
- Secondly, the philosophy of the Enlightenment was actively developing with its empirical bias, which greatly encouraged realism in art;
- Third, in the second half of the century, neoclassicism led to a revival of interest in the objects and aesthetics of classical antiquity (emphasis on the historical theme).
Consider the most prominent representatives of the French painting world of the 18th century.
1. Jean François de Trois
Jean François de Trois the first hero of our list, was born in Paris and was the son of a portrait painter from Toulouse François de Trois. He studied at the center of the artistic life of Europe in Italy from 1699 to 1706, where he was inspired by Venetian art.
De Trois was a successful and fashionable artist in all areas of painting. As a charming and talented young painter and the son of a successful secular portraitist, De Troyes was well received by the elite of Paris, and soon met two especially influential patrons of the time financiers Samuel Bernard and Christophe de Lalive. The first ordered a large series of 4 large canvases on the history of Rome, and the second a series of 35 allegorical panels for a hotel on Neuve du Luxembourg.
Subsequently, De Trois was appointed director of the French Academy in Rome in 1738 and worked there until his death. De Trois’ early works belonged almost exclusively to the historical genre and the classics. But the fashionable portraits of De Troy, which depict the leisure of aristocratic French society, turned out to be more popular among the Parisian bohemians and significantly distinguished him from his colleagues.
Iconic works of Jean François de Troyes:
- “Lot with Daughters” (1721);
- Apollo and Daphne (1728);
- The Abduction of Proserpine (1735);
- Scene in the Park (1750);
- Pan and Siringa (1720).
2. Antoine Watteau Jean
Antoine Watteau is an artist who embodies the lyrically charming and sophisticated Rococo style. He was born in the Flemish city of Valenciennes. The father of the future artist was a master tiler of Flemish origin.
According to Watteau’s biographers, the boy’s childhood was unhappy, he was too sensitive and susceptible to rapid mood swings. But at the same time he was an insatiable reader of novels and an inveterate music lover (by the way, these interests influenced the Rococo style, beloved in the future).
Having shown an early interest in painting, the young Watteau became a student of the local artist Jacques-Albert Gerin. And later, around 1702, Watteau left for Paris for further studies. In Paris, Watteau performed countless sketches from nature, which were supposed to be a source of inspiration for him for the rest of his life.
In 1703, he was hired as an assistant to the painter Claude Gillot, whose work provided a noticeable contrast to the official art under the reign of Louis XIV. Later, Watteau moved to the workshop of Claude Audran III, an interior decorator, under whose influence he began to create drawings with unrivaled elegance. Watteau’s artistic career was short in comparison to other influential masters, but he still managed to gain recognition and influence the future generation of Rococo artists.
Significant works of Antoine Watteau:
- The Lesson of Love (1716);
- “An Embarrassing Proposition” (1715-1716);
- “Pilgrimage to the island of Kiferu” (1717);
- Society in the Park (1718-1719);
- The Capricious Woman (1718).
3. Nicolas Lancre
Nicolas Lancre was a French genre painter whose brilliant depictions of court entertainment in an Arcadian setting perfectly reflected the society of the time.
He became famous for his small paintings depicting elegantly dressed aristocrats during their leisure a style of painting called “gallant scenes”, in which Lancre was the most famous master in Paris in the 18th century. Lancre is traditionally considered a follower of the Antoine Watteau style. After a short period of study in engraving, Lancre was apprenticed to the little-known artist-historian Pierre Dulen, and soon after that in 1719 he entered the Royal Academy (Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture) as an artist of “gallant scenes”.
Like the previous hero of our story, Lancre also studied at Gillot’s studio. And this decision marked his future career as a genre painter and the abandonment of the desire to become a historical painter. Lancre managed to get numerous orders from the great patrons of the time, including Louis XV and Frederick II. By the way, Lancre’s works often adorned the residences of representatives of the royal circle.
Lancre’s iconic works:
- The Seasons (1738);
- Young People in the Park or Swing (1730s);
- Concert in the Park (1720-1743);
- Spring (1730);
- “Portrait of the Dancer Camargo” (1730).
4. François Boucher
As the son of a draftsman, painter and embroiderer, Boucher had a humble but artistic background. He received his early training from his father in Paris, and later his work was noticed by the revered artist François Lemoyne (François Lemoyne).
Although the 17-year-old Boucher remained under Lemoine’s tutelage for only a few months, he quickly mastered the academic style of his first mentor. Boucher’s skill as an artist and engraver was admired by the famous collector and great philanthropist Jean de Julienne, who commissioned the young artist to create engravings based on drawings by Antoine Watteau. Without an academic background, Boucher won the Rome Prize, the Academy’s highest honor, at just 20 years old.
This prize was supposed to provide a training trip to Italy for three years, but the internal politics of the Academy intervened. Then Boucher began to carry out private orders for paintings, drawings and prints. His skills proved to be so in demand that he was able to finance his own trip to Italy in 1728. Upon his return to Paris, Boucher was officially invited to the Royal Academy. Literally overnight, Boucher became a sensation in the French art world. His portraits were among the most famous among the Parisian elite, and the client was Louis XV himself.
Significant works of Francois Boucher:
- “Venus, asking Vulcan for weapons for Aeneas” (1732);
- Rinaldo and Armida (1734);
- Summer Pastoral (1749);
- “Portrait of Mademoiselle O’Murphy” (1752);
- Pan and Siringa (1762).
5. Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin
Little is known about the first years of Chardin’s life. Chardin was born on the rue Seine in Paris and spent his childhood in the workshop of his father, a billiard table maker. The successful but humble Chardin family belonged to the class of bourgeois artisans. These years influenced the plots of many of his later genre paintings.
Young Chardin first entered the studio of the artist Pierre-Jacques Kas, where he studied the methods of academic drawing, and then the studio of Noël-Nicolas Coypel, a renowned painter and historian. He received further education at the Guild of St. Luke. Chardin’s works during these years included a number of genre scenes. However, it was still lifes that attracted the attention of the Royal Academy, where he was accepted as an artist of “animals and fruits”.
In 1731, Chardin received his first official order for the Parisian house of Konrad-Alexander de Rothenburg, the French ambassador to Spain, for whom he made decorative panels. After 1740, Chardin carried out not only private orders, but also received more and more orders from aristocratic circles. At the same time, he established himself at the royal court. In 1743 he became an advisor to the academy, and then treasurer. In 1755, Chardin finally became a respected court painter. Chardin became the “First Painter of the King,” and his 1,400 livre pension was the highest at the Academy.
Chardin’s iconic works:
- The Silver Cup (c. 1728);
- “Skat” (1728);
- Soap Bubbles (1733-1734);
- Prayer Before Dinner (1744);
- Still Life with Attributes of the Arts (1766).
Thus, the heroes of our story iconic French painters of the 18th century identified with their works the main messages of society of that time (addiction to festivities and entertainment) and, thus, founded the genre of “gallant festivities”, and also played an important role for the royal circle. Performing portraits of the king, his family and close people, the painters with their talents actively developed the official portrait genre.