With the establishment of the French Court at Versailles toward the end of the 17th century, Louis XIV conscientiously established France as the center of the artistic world, a position held through the advent of World War II. Not to suggest stylistic stagnation, to the contrary, new artistic approaches regularly challenged those of previous generations.

The artifice of the 18th century Rococo style yielded to political and artistic revolutions, leading to the academic approach embraced by the Napoleonic Empire. The morality and ideals of ancient Rome placed a formality on the visual arts until an expressive romantic style brought the first of many challenges. New technological developments of the 1830s allowed paint to be placed in tubes freeing artists from the confines of the studio. Artists began to paint through direct observation in the outdoors. This new realism, known as plein air painting, flourished in the Barbizon forest and eventually led to the approach of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. By the mid-1870s, other European artists as well as Americans traveled to Paris to embrace these revolutionary ideas. 

French-1951 5 2-Corot-bigtree


The Big Tree      1863
Oil on Canvas
Camille Corot
French, 1796-1875
Gift of Mr. William G. Mather






Experimenting with tonal qualities of light and color, Corot painted the landscape he witnessed. He did not attempt to record nature, but rather provide what he experienced. This approach to realism was in direct opposition to French painting of early generations. Corot and the Barbizon painters were influenced by the new ideas of painting in the outdoors known as plein air painting. 




Spirit Guarding the Secret of the Tomb      1879
Rene De Saint-Marceaux
French, 1845-1915
Gift of Mrs. Elsie C. Mershon






Saint-Marceaux fostered his interest in themes from antiquity while in Italy where he created Spirit Guarding the Secret Tomb. Recalling figures found in the Sistine Chapel demonstrates the strong influence of the 16th century Italian artist Michelangelo. The artist won the Medal of Honor in 1879 for this work, resulting in the production of an engraving and the increased popularity among Parisians.

A version in marble is at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.