French people are often regarded as very proud of their national and cultural identity, but since the French cultural trends have played a decisive part in the development of world culture and the artists of France have been a major influence in the history of art, they're rightly entitled to this self-indulgence.
The development of French painting and applied arts has contributed significantly to the world culture. The first French paintings dating back to prehistoric times were found in the region of Dordogne.
Art flourished already in the times of Charles the Great as can be observed by looking at various books and hand-made illustrations of this period.
The styles changed and so did the most famous painters. Poussin and Lorrain are representatives of the 17th-century French Classicism.
Soon, Classicism was replaced by Baroque, which in turn gave way to the Rococo. The most famous painters of this era are Fragonard, Watteau and Boucher. At the end of the Century, Louis David introduced the Neo-Classical school, only to be followed by Delclacroix and Gericault, who initiated the Romantic period.
Later, the more realistic Barbizon school appeared. Its followers Daumier and Courbet were most of all interested in the nature and the lanscape.
Finally, Impressionism - a true milestone in the development of art - appeared in France at the turn of the 20th Century. The most inflluential Impressionist was Claude Monet, however his contemporaries such as Paul Gaugin, Paul Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec belong among the major world artists as well.
Only Cubism, an avant-garde movement which emerged in the beginning of the 20th Century in France and was represented by such great names as Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris and Georges Braque, can be compared to Impressionism when it comes to their innovative and influential qualities.
French museums provide an immense knowledge of the French art as well as of the world's artistic heritage. In 1981, the Musee d’Orsay, which exhibits a collection of artworks from the second half of the 19th Century representing the Impressionist school was opened.
In the same year, the former La Vilette Abattoirs were converted into a Museum of Science and Industry, the largest of this kind in Europe.
Museum buffs can also visit: the Pablo Picasso Museum in the Hotel Sale, the Art and Fashion Museum in the Mansart pavilion of the Louvre and, located on the bank of the Seine river, the Institute of the Arab World housing a fine collection of objects from ancient civilizations. The Louvre, naturally, is the most famous and the largest museum in the world.
Formerly a royal palace, it is now is home to major pieces of art such as Leonardo da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa'. Entering the Louvre, you go through a Glass Pyramid, where already the exhibitions begin.
The Louvre is like one enormous encyclopedia bringing together several thousand years of world's art, from the Sumerian civilization to the paintings of the 19th-century Romantic artists. It is a stunning collection of masterpieces.
Many artists across Europe and beyond were inluenced by the Parisian Bohème. It drew such famous figures as Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec, Gertrude Stein and Samuel Becket to France and particularly to the artistic French capital.
The word Bohème refers to the non-traditional lifestyle of the artists, writers, musicians and actors. The artists of the Bohemian movement are often associated with their unorthodox and anti-establishment political and social views.
Let's not forget about the most practical of all artists - the architects. The architectural legacy of France, the bold and lavish brick and stone constructions reflect the power of kings, the Church and the state.
Many architectural styles came to France from Italy such as the Romanesque, Renaissance and the Baroque trends but they were refined and adapted by the French.
Art Nouveau - one the styles that are most frequently associated with France appeared as a brilliant combination of Baroque features and the possibilities introduced by the emerging cast-iron industry.
The architecture of this time produced two great names Auguste Perret and Le Corbusier. The contemporary architecture in France is still thriving and every once in a while suprises with new ideas.