French art

The Twentieth Century

The innovations of postimpressionism, combined with the influence of Cézanne and a new current of interest in the art of Africa, to give rise to the early 20th-century movements of fauvism, led by Matisse and Rouault, and cubism, created by Picasso and Braque. Picasso's work, spanning seven decades, provided in its enormous variety of styles a working vocabulary for many of the major art movements of the 20th cent. After World War I a further reaction against the decorative and formal emphasis of prewar art resulted in the emergence of surrealism and Dada. Paris had become the artistic center of Europe in the 19th cent. and the school of Paris continued as a source of aesthetic inspiration in the 20th cent.

In sculpture, a new emphasis on relatively static, simplified forms was shown in the works of Aristide Maillol and the Romanian Constanin Brancusi, who worked in Paris and whose strong, exquisite style had a profound influence on 20th-century sculpture. Other major sculptors of the modern era include Charles Despiau, Henri Laurens, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon.

After 1945 the leading painters, including Nicholas de Staël, Jean Fautrier, Georges Mathieu, and Pierre Soulages worked in the idiom of abstract expressionism, while Jean Dubuffet emerged as the initiator of l'art brut, with strikingly grotesque images constructed of almost any conceivable sort of material.

In the decorative arts, the 20th cent. saw an attempt to revive the craft tradition and to introduce nonderivative designs. Leading artists such as Maillol, Matisse, and Lurç furnished tapestry and textile designs. In addition, new tendencies toward simplification and functionalism were manifest in the furniture of the modern style. More recently, postmodernism has had a strong effect on the decorative arts.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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