A flippant expose of the country and people who will host the Paris 2024 Olympics. In the first of this weekly series, senior correspondent Mike Osborne takes an avant-garde look at French art.
France is home to some of the world’s great art created by the likes of Renior, Monet, Matisse, Gaugan and Degas – but the country’s two most popular paintings are not even by French artists.
The most famous is La Gioconda, better known as the Mona Lisa, by Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci, which hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
You’ll need to queue, sometimes for hours, to get about 10 minutes in a crowded room of more than a hundred people to see the painting that is much smaller than most expect.
History tells us that da Vinci brought the portrait of Italian woman Lisa del Gioconda with him to France when he came to work for the king in 1516.
But the artist and famed inventor died three years later and the painting fell into the possession of King Francis.
After spending time hanging at the Palace of Versailles it eventually found its way to the Louvre following the French Revolution.
At least da Vinci made a living from his art. The other great work in France is by a pauper who never sold a painting in his life, and suffered from mental health issues that caused him to slice off an ear and eventually kill himself.
Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhône hangs in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. The 1888 canvas also draws daily large crowds wanting to savour a moment of van Gogh’s magic and madness.
The effects of light at night were a regular theme for Van Gogh and a similar painting called The Starry Night painted a year later hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Aside from these two masterpieces, there are a lot of spectacular paintings by great French artists in both the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay as well as many other galleries around the country.
One of the most popular among the French is the impressionist Claude Monet, who has his own permanent exhibition at the Musee de l’Orangerie – in the heart of Paris on the River Seine between the Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries Gardens.
Monet gifted eight giant paintings of his legendary Water Lilies to the French government at the close of World War 1 as a symbol of peace and they are now housed in two large oval rooms in the l’Orangerie.
But Monet, considered the father of Impressionism, also has hundreds of great paintings hanging in many French city galleries.
Likewise another famous impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir has his work displayed in galleries in Paris and around the country, while Edgar Degas has his sculptures as well as art on display.
The other French artists that are a must-see for lovers of beauty include Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, Edouard Manet, Paul Cezanne, and my favourite – for his art not his name – Camille Pissarro.
Michael Osborne has been a journalist for more than four decades including 35 years with the national news agency Australian Associated Press, rising from junior reporter to Editor.
He was AAP Editor for 11 years and served four years as Head of Sport and Racing. He was also posted to London and Beijing as AAP’s Bureau Chief and Foreign Correspondent.