by Fiona McMurrey

1. Great Masters of Painting: Eugène Delacroix

“Liberty Leading the People,” (1830) Eugène Delacroix, currently on exhibition in the Louvre.

Perhaps the most influential painter of the Romantic movement of the early 19th century, Eugène Delacroix, upon whom Baudelaire expounds upon with impressive praise in his essay collection, “The Painter of Modern Life,” Delacroix is responsible for many of the irreplicable, monumental paintings that have forged new concepts of a French national identity through art alone.

2. Great Masters of Painting: Pierre Auguste Renoir

“The Swing,” (1876) Pierre Auguste Renoir, currently on exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay.

Father of the innovative filmmaker Jean Renoir who was described by Orson Welles as “The greatest of all directors,” Pierre Auguste Renoir, was a founding proponent of impressionism whose original technique of broken brushstrokes and emphasis on sensuality profoundly changed the art world and catapulted the impressionist movement into the mainstream cultural conscious.

3. Claude Monet

“Impression, soleil levant,” (1872) Claude Monet, currently on exhibition at le Musée Marmottan Monet.

Trained by landscape painter Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet followed in his instructors footsteps painting outdoors, in plein air, so as to articulate nature on the canvas in real time. Though Monet is considered one of the founding fathers of the Impressionist movement, his entry into the art world was replete with trials and tribulations as his work was systematically rejected by the popular salons of the time. His first notable success arrived with his 1872 painting exhibited at the “Exhibition of the Impressionists,” in 1874, the triumphant “Impression, soleil levant,” whose title is credited with inspiring the eponymous art movement, impressionism.

4. Édouard Manet

“Le Balcon,” (1868-1869) Édouard Manet, currently on exhibition in the Musée d’Orsay.

One of the major French painters of the latter half of the 19th century, Édouard Manet transforming an art landscape saturated by impressionism with his idiosyncratic realist paintings which employed contemporary techniques of color, light, and the inclusion of modern life which was excoriated by the declining romantic movement that favored more canonical, and antiquated depictions of the world.

5. Berthe Morisot

“The Cradle,” (1872) Berthe Morisot, currently on exhibition in the Musée d’Orsay.

Another critical installment in our documentary series “The World’s Greatest Painters,” this episode pertains to the often misinterpreted but renowned painter Berthe Morisot, whose intimate depictions of women within their daily lives portrayed the complexity of femininity excluding the imposition of the male gaze. Her emphasis on domesticity, and multifarious expressions exhibiting the multiplicity of women’s emotions, not always manifest in the work of her male contemporaries, denoted a profound advancement for women’s representation in art wherein they could witness themselves as more than two dimensional paragons of beauty or contempt.

6. Great Masters of Painting: Edgar Degas

“The Dance Foyer at the Opera on the rue Le Peletier,” (1872) Edgar Degas, currently on exhibition at Musée d’Orsay.

The son of a banker, Edgar Degas grew up in a cultivated Parisian bourgeois social milieu featuring frequent exposure to the opera and ballet which would come to define his later work. But from a young age Degas sought to rebel, even going so far as to abandon his schooling at École-des-Beaux-Arts in favor of the school of life. Inspired by the art of the Italian Renaissance which he encountered on his travels, Degas experimented in his work by combining Renaissance humanist lighting, color layering, and particular emphasis on the human subject with contemporary subject matter. On account of the quality and innovation of his work he made a place for himself in the Impressionist movement though he did not wholly identify with the pastoral images promulgated by the group.

7. Great Masters of Painting: Paul Cézanne

“L’Estaque with Red Roofs,” (1883-1885) Paul Cézanne, currently located in a private collection.

Surprisingly, one of France’s most renowned painters, Paul Cézanne did not always plan for a career in the arts, rather he began his career while studying law. His change of heart occurred upon his move to Paris where he came into contact with the Impressionist movement, and his life was forever changed. Cézanne’s work, however, transcended this movement as he ventured into and conceived of a plethora of genres including post-impressionism, cubism, romanticism, and more.

Are there any documentaries I missed that you preferred? Don’t hesitate to let me know. I hope you’ve learned something or are inspired to rediscover or enhance your knowledge of French art history with this collection of documentaries available to stream on France Channel!