Abbeys and cathedrals of the Middle Ages
Your journey through the French artistic movements begins in the 11th century, at a time when Roman art spread through France from the Cluny Abbey. Rigor and austerity defined the architectural style of these abbeys and monasteries, as can best be seen at Fontenay in Burgundy. In Normandy, relive the invasion of England through the tapestry of Bayeux, now listed as a Memory of the World by UNESCO. From the 13th century, Roman art was gradually substituted by the gothic style, characterized by buttresses and ribbed vault ceilings, allowing for buildings of great height to be erected. In Paris, admire the magnificence of the religious edifices built in medieval times with visits to the Sainte-Chapelle and Notre-Dame Cathedral.
From Renaissance to Classicism
The Loire Valley region is home to the finest remnants of the Renaissance, that period of artistic, literary and scientific renewal that followed the Middle Ages from the 15th century on. At the Chambord Castle, admire the works of Italian painters and decorators called on by François the First, who named Leonard da Vinci as "the King's first painter, engineer and architect." The artist, who spent the last years of his life at Château du Clos Lucé, now rests in the chapel of the Château d’Amboise. As of the 17th century, Classicism became a response to the extravagant excesses of Baroque and Mannerism. Inspired by Antiquity, Classicism was a pictorial language to service the absolute monarchy of the Sun King, Louis XIV. His residence, the Château of Versailles, remains France's best example of this artistic movement.
Impressionism and Art Nouveau
It was while looking at Monet's "Impression, soleil levant" that an art critique pejoratively coined the term "Impressionist" to identify this French art form, born in the 1870s. Free and provocative souls, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and many others left their Parisian workshops to replicate moments on canvas, to capture natural light along the Seine or in front of the Rouen Cathedral. Explore a large collection of Impressionist works at Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and further deepen your knowledge of the movement with the multimedia exhibit at Château d'Auvers-sur-Oise.
Around the same era, nature inspired another artistic movement, Art Nouveau, best defined by crafts and industrial art. At the Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy and the Villa Majorelle in the same city, admire pieces by master glass artists Emile Gallé and the Daum brothers, whose works are characterized by their fluid lines and arabesques. The Parisian subway entrances designed by architect Hector Guimard are another splendid example of Art Nouveau.
From the 20th century to today
Particularly representative of Art Nouveau, the Abbesses metro station brings you to Paris' temple of Surrealism, to the Espace Dali atop Montmartre. Only one step separates Salvador Dali's phantasmagorical universe from the contemporary art being created these days. Take that step into today's art world in France's major cities, from Bordeaux to Reims and from Marseille to Rennes, with a number of modern art museums and 23 FRAC establishments, or Regional Contemporary Art Funds. And don't miss the Centre Pompidou-Metz, the country's most visited temporary exhibition space outside Ile-de-France.