French Art of the Nineteenth Century

NMW A 2473, Jean-François Millet, The Peasant Family 1871–72

NMW A 2443, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Castel Gandolfo, dancing Tyrolean Shepherds by Lake Albano , 1855-60

The social changes and political upheaval of the nineteenth century had a profound effect on French artists.

They rejected tradition and challenged authority, sowing the seeds of modernism in art. Artists were expressing an increasing awareness of the world around them.

‘Realists’ such as Jean-François Millet and Honoré Daumier focussed on everyday life and ordinary working people. They often depicted scenes of poverty and social injustice, which sparked political outrage.

While many were struck by their vivid observations, others found the coarseness of their subjects offensive.

As a reaction there was also a revival in historic imagery. The luxury and frivolity of the eighteenth century were a popular and decorative escape for those with more traditional tastes.

New technology brought other developments in art. Tubes of ready-made paints allowed artists to leave their studios and work in the open air.

Landscapists like Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot took advantage of the new railways to leave the cities and paint the countryside first hand.

Instead of composing imaginary landscapes they created scenes which critics thought were informal, unstructured and unworthy of exhibition.

These innovations in portraying everyday life, light and atmosphere sparked a revolution in art and inspired a new generation – the Impressionists.