Louis Le Nain - Return from the Harvest

The most famous representatives of French classicism in painting

French classicism. Lamentation for Christ, Nicolas Poussin
Lamentation for Christ, Nicolas Poussin, French classicism

French classicism was formed in the 17th century, reigned for a hundred years and only briefly gave way to frivolous rococo, after which it reigned again until the first third of the 19th century.

The most famous classicist painters in France laid the foundations of this trend and created the great works of art that now adorn the best museums in the world. They were imitated by both compatriots and masters of other countries, including Russian painters. Let’s remember the most significant representatives of French classicism and their best paintings!

The most famous French classicism painters

France French classicist painters are represented in the collections of the best museums in the world. Typically, these authors depicted historical scenes and drew inspiration from the masterpieces of antiquity or the Renaissance. Some representatives of the trend turned to the genre of everyday life, landscape or still life, but even these works are imbued with the main ideas of the era. The classicists believed in the harmonious structure of the world, the correctness of the law and the triumph of the human mind.

Landscape with Fokion's funeral, Nicolas Poussin
Landscape with Fokion’s funeral, Nicolas Poussin

Nicolas Poussin: the brightest representative of early classicism

Poussin was familiar with the then innovative ideas of the Carracci brothers (Annibale and Agostino Carracci), who took ancient canons as a model for teaching young artists. He painted pictures on mythological and religious subjects, depicting heroes happily living in harmony with nature. In his later work, majestic landscapes prevail.

French classicism. Landscape with Ascania Shooting Sylvia's Buck, Claude Lorrain
Landscape with Ascania Shooting Sylvia’s Buck, Claude Lorrain

Claude Lorrain Master of Classical Landscape

Although the classicists ranked landscape among the low genres, it became the central theme of Claude Lorrain’s work. The painter created idyllic paintings in which the main characters were the sun, sky, sea harbors and rocky shores.

Ruins of ancient buildings often appear, reminiscent of the frailty of man and the eternity of nature. In the 19th century, these ideas were taken up by German romantic artists. Like Poussin, Lorrain spent most of his life in Italy, but was well known in his homeland. For the next two centuries, both French and Italian landscape painters were inspired by his work.

Louis Le Nain - Return from the Harvest
Louis Le Nain – Return from the Harvest

Louis Le Nain the founder of the peasant theme in painting

Artist Louis Le Nain came from a wealthy but simple farming family. He perfectly knew the daily life of the peasants and depicted it in his paintings. This topic is far from the lofty ideals of Antiquity, but the master painted people from the people within the framework of the traditions of classicism. This manifested itself in the following:

The author pays great attention to composition, clearly prescribes forms, chiaroscuro and draperies.

Often the figures line up, as in ancient Roman reliefs, and the low horizon makes them larger and more significant.

Le Nain’s characters, although modest, are full of inner dignity and nobility, which makes them related to the characters of the historical genre.

The moral basis of the life of the peasants, their naturalness and closeness to nature are emphasized.

Return from the Market (Animal Carrier), Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardet
Return from the Market (Animal Carrier), Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardet
Jean Baptiste Chardin: a poetic approach to the genre of everyday life

Jean Baptiste Chardin did not consider the masterpieces of the Renaissance to be examples, but the works of Dutch masters. Instead of solemn moments from myths or history, he preferred to paint still lifes and everyday scenes with representatives of the third estate.

His approach is close to Le Nain and very different from that of the representatives of 19th century realism, who turned to the same topic. In Chardin, peasant life appears calm and sincere. He seems to be calling on to take an example from his heroes, who appreciate the simple joys and warmth of family ties. Among other merits, the painter is famous as the most skillful colorist.

French classicism. Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine at Notre Dame Cathedral on December 2, 1804 Jacques-Louis Davie
Coronation of Napoleon and Josephine at Notre Dame Cathedral on December 2, 1804 Jacques-Louis Davie
Jacques-Louis David singer of the French Revolution

Jacques-Louis David is a prominent representative of neoclassicism, who created his best works at the turn of the 18th-19th centuries. The master warmly welcomed the revolution and its main figures. He took an active part in the political life of the country and sought to immortalize in painting the historical events that took place before his eyes. One of his most recognizable paintings is The Death of Marat. David admired Napoleon Bonaparte and painted the famous portrait of the emperor.

French classicism. Napoleon on the Imperial Throne, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Napoleon on the Imperial Throne, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres the leader of academism in the 19th century

By the 1830s, classicism began to lose ground, yielding to the onslaught of romanticism, but an outstanding master, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, joined the camp of the classicists. He studied with David, and when he became famous, he headed the Academy of Arts in Paris and Rome. Ingres believed that painting reached its peak under Raphael (Raffaello Santi), and then developed in the wrong direction. He considered his mission to return to the heights of the Renaissance and continue to improve in the same traditions. The artist has created many epic works on mythological, literary and biblical subjects.

Already at the time of Ingres, classicism began to decline. He was accused of artificiality and conservatism; young authors preferred the search for new methods. But at one time this direction was advanced. The best works of the classicists still impress the audience with the grandeur of the subjects and the technical skill.