French artists have been influential to the development of European culture throughout the ages. There are certain types of art that are distinctly French or originated in France, eventually becoming prevalent through Europe and the rest of the world.
The Rococo style of French art refers to the type of decor that was fashionable throughout Europe during the 18th century. Rococo was a reaction to the grand, rigid works created during the Baroque era, the period of European art history spanning from the late 1500s to the late 1700s which favored ornateness and formality over simplicity and the whimsical. The Rococo style reintroduced lightheartedness, optimism and femininity to French art. The Rococo type of art first appeared during the reign of Louis XV, and its popularity as an interior-design style quickly spread throughout France and Europe. Pieces made in the Rococo style of French art are highly ornamental and feature S- and C-shaped curves, pastel colors, playful subject matter and attention to fine details.
Art Nouveau is a French artistic style that was popular at the turn of the 20th century. The term, which means "new art," would come to describe many richly decorated pieces of architecture, paintings, sculptures and commercial pieces of the time. Influenced by scenes in nature as well as patterns and motifs from Japanese, Celtic, Javanese, Persian and Roman works, Art Nouveau also revived some lost themes from French Gothic and Rococo pieces. Staple themes of pieces made in the Art Nouveau style include dragonflies, moths, peacocks, oceanic scenes, flowers and other plant life as well as mythological creatures such as nymphs, fauns and fairies. Brightly colored enamels and gold filigree were used as highlights. Art Nouveau pieces could follow a strict symmetry and repeated pattern or be abstract or otherworldly.
Gothic architecture was the first type of French art to captivate the rest of Europe, and buildings made in this style were built on grand scales, featured lofty, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses and huge yet detailed stained glass windows. Originally developed in northern France during the mid-12th century, Gothic art and architecture quickly spread throughout Europe to become the dominant style through the 16th century. Merchants who would benefit from the artistic innovation in their area were behind the construction of ornate Gothic cathedrals that still captivate observers to this day: Notre Dame de Paris, Saint-Denis and Chartres Cathedral. Gothic architecture also featured elaborately decorated sculptures both inside and outside the structure, such as pillar-like statues, decorative cusps and the famous gargoyle waterspouts.
Impressionism is the artistic style that developed in French painting during the latter half of the 19th century by leaders including Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro. Perhaps the most distinctly recognizable type of French art, impressionistic pieces were created as a rebellion against academic rigidity and the classical themes painted by Romantics. Impressionists often painted outdoors, or "en plein air," focused on modern subjects in their everyday lives, considered the natural effect colors have on each other and tried to present a single moment in time.