Paris boasts a grand legacy of art, one that it continues into the 21st century. From the art salons to the great schools for artists, from Rococo to Impressionism, from French artists like Degas and Rodin to creative expatriates found conspiring in a café, you cannot take a step in the City of Lights without walking through a passage of art history.
There is art in the very bricks that make this city. There is art in the air that blows over the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and in the water that flows through the Seine.
That is why, in all eras and in every generation, Paris is the city where the great artists learn their craft and create their finest works. And by birth or by adoption, it becomes their home.
If we take even a brief look into the past, examining only a few threads in the historic tapestry of art in Paris, we sense the power of this city to enliven the human spirit and bring forward new visionary creators. It’s what inspired the creation of Tours in Paris, the best way to engage this fascinating city.
Let’s take a short stroll through art history in Paris, appreciating a few of the great moments and achievements waiting there — reminding ourselves once again why millions of artists and art lovers around the world make the pilgrimage to Paris every year.
Art was the most powerful propaganda of the past. The artists, mainly painters, architects and sculptors, had an advantageous social status.
But if we take even a brief look into the past, examining only a few threads in the historic tapestry of art in Paris, we sense the power of this city to enliven the human spirit and thus, bring forward innovation and new visionary creators.
It’s what inspired me to offer visits with licensed tour guides, the best way to engage this fascinating city !
Paris has been the setting for some of the biggest turning points in art history, as well as fertile soil for the seeds of masterpieces.
By looking at only a few of the events in this storied past, we quickly see just how influential this city is to humanity’s never ending desire to create and communicate through color and form. It’s this art which makes up one of the most important endowments we are given at birth, no matter where we are in the world.
Mid-19th century art in France was controlled by the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
This institution was entrusted with the preservation of French painting, and so their traditional tastes became the de facto rules that artists had to follow if they wanted to have any kind of career.
Historical scenes and religious paintings, along with portraits, were prized above all else — as long as it fit into the expected painting style.
But when you give artists rules to follow, they always find a way to break them. A new generation of painters, including the likes of Claude Monet and Édouard Manet, were interested in painting from life as they knew and lived it. Many of these young artists also loved hiking and painting landscapes en plein air, made more convenient with recent innovations in paint manufacturing.
But these works had no allies in the tradition-bound halls of the Académie. They were rejected en masse from the major exhibits of their time, so they began a revolt against the system. They organized their own society of artists to show their work. When they finally presented their paintings to the public, a critic panned the new style for being a “mere impression” of a painting.
The word stuck, but the judgment did not.
Soon, the world fell in love with these Impressionists. The gentle handling of light, the effervescent strokes of color that gathered into a visual tone poem of a moment, the depiction of life as people actually lived it — these innovations forever changed the trajectory of art.
The generations to come would take these painters as their example, and they went on to invent new forms like cubism, fauvism and abstract art. And all of those tumultuous breakthroughs happened in the same city that inspired the Impressionists to upend centuries of tradition.
The Musée du Louvre stands today as the most-visited and perhaps greatest art museum in the world.
But when construction began in the 12th century under King Philip II, it was meant to be a fortress against attacks coming from the West, not a safe place to keep our precious works of art.
Over the centuries the building began to change, being expanded into a royal residence and renovated to match the French Renaissance style. It was in 1682, after Louis XIV moved to Versailles, that it became the home for artists with the king as their patron.
As French royalty began collecting vast amounts of art, the Louvre seemed the most appropriate place to store them. By the 18th century, the French were calling for a public art museum to be displayed in the halls of the Louvre.
Over the course of the 1700s, it became just that. A museum.
Today, the museum stands as a world treasure, housing a collection of nearly 40,000 objects at any given time.
That collection includes incredible masterpieces like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, as well as work representing the heights of artistic achievement from around the world.
In the 1920s, a group of mostly American artists and writers began moving to Paris. Drawn by the allure of French society and escaping the culture back home, these creatives forged an identity in the cafés and homes of the Parisian literati.
Known as the Lost Generation, this small group would go on to become some of the most influential and important voices of the 20th century. Their ranks include Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Their coterie included other international notables like Salvador Dalí and James Joyce. And French artists like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp passed through these circles. It was a time unlike any other in the history of art and literature, where the streets and restaurants were filled with painters and novelists, poets and sculptors.
The café Jardin du Luxembourg played host to conversations between them, leading no doubt to some of the most important artistic and literary achievements of the era.
Paris was the perfect setting for this group, for the same reasons it still inspires creatives today.
With a legendary bohemian scene and streets lined with historic architectural achievements, one can’t go anywhere in the city without engaging with new ideas and exhilarating works of art.
Just as artists and art lovers have been called to the city for centuries, so we are called today.
We want to walk the same streets as Vincent van Gogh, visit the same jail cell where Jacques-Louis David was held captive.
Whether we make art or find its appreciation deeply rewarding, we know our path must go through Paris.
The more we learn about the events and personalities from its history, the more Paris shines in our imagination. But it is a real place. And we can go there. But when we arrive, we find all the layers of history are stacked on top of each other.
We need a guide to help unearth what is hidden — even when it is hiding in plain sight.
With the right guide, we can understand the significance of every building in the Latin Quarter, and we can get the most out of the overwhelming displays of art at places like the Louvre and Versailles.
You can’t expect to get to know the real Paris by staying a few nights, searching for things to do on your phone.
To meet the very soul of the city and absorb the full weight of its history in art, you need someone with a wealth of knowledge and the ability to share it with you.
You need a storyteller and a historian, someone who loves the city and the artists who made their name there.
You can book few tours in Paris with me:
I invite you to join me on a private tour of the art world’s capital city, tracing the grand narratives and hidden mysteries that weave through its fabled streets.
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With the expertise available through Tours in Paris, you can enjoy the views of the city and learn the stories of art’s history, reliving it every step of the way. With many tour options available, there is a special experience to match your interests — no matter how broad or specific. Contact Flora today and start your journey through time and art in Paris.
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