French art Studies of French art usually begin with the 12th century, when the kingdom was starting to take a recognizable shape. There were several important centres of manuscript illumination in Cistercian abbeys, but for many centuries French architecture was more prominent than the visual arts. During the Renaissance, the art of the court was heavily influenced by Italian trends, as is evident from the output of Jean Fouquet and the Fontainebleau School. It was not until the 17th century that artists of international stature emerged. Dominant figures were Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin, both masterful exponents of classical landscape painting. The latter was particularly important, and his rigorous draughtsmanship was used as a benchmark for academic standards until well into the 19th century. The twilight years of the ancien régime were celebrated in the light-hearted rococo fantasies of François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. As the revolution drew near, however, these gave way to the stern moralizing of neo-classical painters such as Jacques Louis David. He remained influential into the Romantic period, when the leading French artist was Eugène Delacroix. In the second half of the 19th century, there were a succession of movements which increased artistic freedom. These began with the realism of Gustave Courbet, and culminated in impressionism, post-impressionism, and symbolism. This creativity continued into the 20th century, when the School of Paris fostered many new developments. France remained the leading force in avant-garde art until after World War II, when its mantle passed to the USA.
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