Let us take a journey to the land of crème filled crepes, men in berets and streets lined with boutique coffee shops. A country whose inhabitants look up to the Eiffel tower and look down… on anyone that isn’t French!
France has long been honored for its fine food and fashion couture, but above all France has a lengthy and rich history when it comes to art. Case in point- The Louvre. If a visitor were to read all the labels that accompany the paintings in the Louvre, it would take an estimated 3 weeks to finish them!
So where does Naïve art fit into the French art scene?
As is the nature of all Naïve paintings, French naïve artists take scenes of the life, people and culture of France, and turn them into colorful, fun and light pieces of art. When you examine French naïve art you are looking through the lens of a child’s eyes, that is, the eyes of a little French child. And, where else to start the journey than with the most happy and delicious part of French life: the food.
Where do we begin? There is no shortage of mouth watering food in France. You can order a croissant and cafe au lait in any of their famous patisseries, or perhaps snack on some smelly fromage in a fresh baked baguette. How about some filet mingnon accompanied by the best red wine? …Unless, of course, you opt for Champagne – and as any French citizen will tell you, the delicious bubbly beverage must come from grapes grown and harvested in champagne France. Otherwise, you are holding a fraud…not Bourgeoisie at all.
But French food is not only delicious, it is beautiful. Many of the most acclaimed chefs have studied in French culinary schools where they learn not only to mingle exotic and distinct flavors, but also to create an aesthetic plate. The same is true of their art. Look at any Naïve painting and you will find French accents decorating and garnering the scene. From the traditional porcelain plates and teapots to the clothing of the villagers, the fine details of France come alive on the canvas.
Most people think of Paris when they hear of France, and although Paris is a remarkable city, it is only a small part of the vast landscape. The Vosges Mountains are found in the northeast. The Pyrénées line the border with Spain. There are forests and plateaus and grasslands, not to mention 4 river basins. French Naïve artists have fun playing with the different geographical features.
French, the official language of France, is spoken by over 88% of the population as a first language and is spoken as a second language by most of the latter. But, although France exemplifies uniformity when it comes to language , the lifestyles of her people are a different story. The citizens of France are as varied as the land they inhabit. You can find farmers, world famous ballet dancers, engineers and hipster filmmakers. French Naïve artists play on this fact by painting a wide range of scenarios, from simple country scenes to lively city nightlife. Does the French countryside ever meet the city? Yes! Bus stops, train rides, outings at the beach and fresh markets are some common places where everyone intermingles.
Is that a real Chanel?
Sometimes people have a reason to be snobby. France boasts more labels than the filing cabinets of an overworked paralegal. Chanel, Christian Dior and Estée Lauder all come from France, as do 30% of the worlds perfume sales. Ever worn Pierre Cardin or Yves Saint Laurent? What about a classic Louis Vuitton purse? All of these successful designers are French! Many modern French Naive artists make a point to dress their figures in classy suits or flowing dresses to reflect the trendy, designer culture.
For most of the nineteenth century, Catholicism was the official religion of France. Then it all changed. In 1905, the Separation of State and Church became law and this had a profound effect on the population. While Catholicism still remains the most widely practiced religion, an Ipsos/MORI poll in 2011 showed that 35% of citizens claim to have no religion or are atheist. You wouldn’t be able to guess this by looking at the art, though. When you compare French Naïve Art to other countries, such as Spain or Italy (which have traditionally held onto religion as a staple of their culture), you can easily find scenes from Sunday school or religious symbols commemorating special occasions. For example; in the painting ‘Summer Wedding,’ by Martine Clouet, the windows are all lined with crosses.
That’s French Naive Art in a nutshell: Food, Fragrance and Fun. Whether you are a miller in the country or a high-society Parisian, all citizens share a love and pride for their culture! Vive la France!