During the Modern art boom of the 20th century, France housed and fostered a multitude of artists and their related movements. Even with a list of 10 remarkable 20th-century French painters, this number only breaks the surface of the wealth of artistic genius that was thriving in France during this period.
10. Raoul Dufy
Raoul Dufy was a Fauvist painter who successfully adopted the movement’s colorful, decorative style. He commonly painted open-air scenes with lively social engagements.
Unfortunately, in his old age, Dufy developed rheumatoid arthritis in his hands. This made it difficult to paint, but the artist chose to fasten paintbrushes to his hands in order to continue working, speaking to his remarkable love for his craft.
9. Fernand Leger
Fernand Léger was a notable French painter, sculptor and filmmaker. He studied at both the School of Decorative Arts and the Académie Julian but was rejected from the École des Beaux Arts. He was only allowed to attend courses as a non-enrollment student.
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Even with that setback, Léger became a known name in Modern art. Léger began his career as an impressionist painter. After seeing a Paul Cézanne exhibition in 1907, he transitioned to a more geometric style.
Throughout his career, Leger’s paintings became increasingly abstract and rough, with patches of primary colors. His works were shown at the Salon d’Autumn alongside other Cubists such as Picabia and Duchamp. This style and grouping of Cubists became known as the Section d’Or (The Golden Section).
8. Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp came from an artistic family. His brothers Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp Villon, and Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti are all artists in their own right but Marcel arguably made the largest imprint on art.
Marcel Duchamp is usually remembered for being the inventor of the readymade art form. He broke open the definition of art, making it almost undefinable. He did so though finding objects, placing them on a pedestal, and calling them art. That being said, his artistic career began with painting.
Duchamp painted more realistically in his early studies, then became an accomplished Cubist painter. His paintings were shown in the Salon des Indépendents and Salon d’Autumn.
7. Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was originally a law student, but an appendicitis caused him to drop out for what was supposed to be a short time. While in recovery, his mother bought him art supplies to occupy his time and this changed his life forever. He never returned to law school and instead, chose to study at the Académie Julian. He was a student of Gustave Moreau and William-Aldolphe Bougereau.
After reading Paul Signac’s essay on Neo-Impressionism, Mattisse’s work became more solid, and sober with a preoccupation on form. This led to his notoriety as a Fauvist artist. His emphasis on flat imagery and decorative, striking colors made him the defining the defining artist of this movement.
6. Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia is a renowned painter, poet, and typographer. He began his more serious art career in an interesting fashion. Picabia had a stamp collection and he needed more funds to grow it. Picabia noticed that his father owned many valuable Spanish paintings and came up with a scheme to sell them without his father finding out. He painted exact copies and filled his father’s home with the copies in order to sell the originals. This gave him the practice he needed to jumpstart his painting career.
Picabia began in the usual styles of the time, impressionism and pointillism before transitioning into Cubist work. He is one of the major artists involved with the Section d’Or as well as the 1911 Puteaux Group.
5. Georges Braque
Georges Braque was trained to work in the Braque family business. He was as a decorator and house painter but found time to study at the École des Beaux Arts at night.
Like many other Cubist, French painters, Braque began his career as an impressionist painter. After attending the 1905 Fauvist group show, he transitioned his style. Braque began to paint using the new movement’s brilliant, emotional coloring.
As his career progressed, he moved towards the Cubist style. He is one of the Section d’Or artists. His Cubist style is comparable to Picasso’s Cubist period. Their Cubist paintings are sometimes difficult to differentiate.
4. Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall, considered the “quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century,” was a painter that also worked in many artistic formats. He dabbled in stained glass, ceramic, tapestry, and fine art prints as well.
Chagall often painted from memory. He was gifted with a photographic memory but that still is not always accurate. This often blurred reality and fantasy, creating particularly creative subject matter.
Color was a central focus of his paintings. Chagall could create visually striking scenes using only a few colors. In paintings that used more colors, their intensity still commands the viewer’s attention and stir intense emotions.
3. Andre Derain
André Derain began his artistic studies on his own, experimenting with landscape painting while studying engineering. As his interest in painting grew, he took courses at the Académie Camillo where he met Matisse.
Matisse saw raw talent in Derain and persuaded Derain’s parents to allow him to drop engineering to pursue art full-time. His parents agreed and both artists spent the summer of 1905 preparing works for the Salon d’Autumn. At this show, Matisse and Derain became the fathers of Fauvist art.
His later work evolved towards a new sort of classicism. It reflected themes and styles of the Old Masters but with his own modern twist.
2. Jean Dubuffet
Jean Dubuffet’s embraced the “low art” aesthetic. His paintings emphasize authenticity and humanness over conventionally accepted artistic beauty. As a self-taught artist, he was not tethered to the academy’s artistic ideals. This allowed him to create a more natural, naive art. He founded the “Art Brut” movement that focused on this style.
This being said, he did attend the art Académie Julian, but only for 6 months. While there, he made connections with famous artists like Juan Gris, André Masson and Fernand Léger. This networking ultimately helped his career.
His oeuvre consisted mainly of paintings with strong, unbroken colors that had its roots in Fauvism and Die Brücke movements.
1. Elisa Breton
Elisa Breton was an accomplished pianist and surrealist painter. She was the third wife of writer and artist Andre Breton and a mainstay in the Paris Surrealist group until 1969.
After the death of her husband, she “sought to foster authentic surrealist activity” in her works. Though she was not extremely assertive among the Surrealists, she was still considered a remarkable Surrealist painter even though she was rarely exhibited.
She is known for her paintings as well as her surrealist boxes.