France has been a centre of Western cultural development for centuries. Many French artists have been among the most renowned of their time, and France is still recognised in the world for its rich cultural tradition.
The successive political regimes have always promoted artistic creation, and the creation of the Ministry of Culture in 1959 helped preserve the cultural heritage of the country and make it available to the public. The Ministry of Culture has been very active since its creation, granting subsidies to artists, promoting French culture in the world, supporting festivals and cultural events, protecting historical monuments. The French government also succeeded in maintaining a cultural exception to defend audiovisual products made in the country.
France receives the highest number of tourists per year, largely thanks to the numerous cultural establishments and historical buildings implanted all over the territory. It counts 1,200 museums welcoming more than 50 million people annually. The most important cultural sites are run by the government, for instance through the public agency Centre des monuments nationaux, which is responsible for approximately 85 national historical monuments.
The 43,180 buildings protected as historical monuments include mainly residences (many castles, or châteaux in French) and religious buildings (cathedrals, basilicas, churches, etc.), but also statutes, memorials and gardens. The UNESCO inscribed 41 sites in France on the World Heritage List.
The origins of French art were very much influenced by Flemish art and by Italian art at the time of the Renaissance. Jean Fouquet, the most famous medieval French painter, is said to have been the first to travel to Italy and experience the Early Renaissance at first hand. The Renaissance painting School of Fontainebleau was directly inspired by Italian painters such as Primaticcio and Rosso Fiorentino, who both worked in France. Two of the most famous French artists of the time of Baroque era, Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, lived in Italy.
The 17th century was the period when French painting became prominent and individualised itself through classicism. Louis XIV's prime minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert founded in 1648 the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture to protect these artists, and in 1666 he created the still-active French Academy in Rome to have direct relations with Italian artists.
French artists developed the rococo style in the 18th century, as a more intimate imitation of old baroque style, the works of the court-endorsed artists Antoine Watteau, François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard being the most representative in the country. The French Revolution brought great changes, as Napoleonfavoured artists of neoclassic style such as Jacques-Louis David and the highly influential Académie des Beaux-Artsdefined the style known as Academism. At this time France had become a centre of artistic creation, the first half of the 19th century being dominated by two successive movements, at first Romanticism with Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix, and Realism with Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet, a style that eventually evolved into Naturalism.
In the second part of the 19th century, France's influence over painting became even more important, with the development of new styles of painting such as Impressionism and Symbolism. The most famous impressionist painters of the period were Camille Pissarro, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir. The second generation of impressionist-style painters, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Georges Seurat, were also at the avant-garde of artistic evolutions, as well as the fauvist artists Henri Matisse, André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Cubism was developed by Georges Braque and the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, living in Paris. Other foreign artists also settled and worked in or near Paris, such as Vincent van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani and Wassily Kandinsky.
Many museums in France are entirely or partly devoted to sculptures and painting works. A huge collection of old masterpieces created before or during the 18th century are displayed in the state-owned Musée du Louvre, such as Mona Lisa, also known as La Joconde. While the Louvre Palace has been for a long time a museum, the Musée d'Orsay was inaugurated in 1986 in the old railway station Gare d'Orsay, in a major reorganisation of national art collections, to gather French paintings from the second part of the 19th century (mainly Impressionism and Fauvism movements).
Modern works are presented in the Musée National d'Art Moderne, which moved in 1976 to the Centre Georges Pompidou. These three state-owned museums welcome close to 17 million people a year. Other national museums hosting paintings include the Grand Palais(1.3 million visitors in 2008), but there are also many museums owned by cities, the most visited being the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (0.8 million entries in 2008), which hosts contemporary works.
Outside Paris, all the large cities have a Museum of Fine Arts with a section dedicated to European and French painting. Some of the finest collections are in Lyon, Lille, Rouen, Dijon, Rennes and Grenoble.
During the Middle Ages, many fortified castles were built by feudal nobles to mark their powers. Some French castles that survived are Chinon, Château d'Angers, the massive Château de Vincennes and the so-called Cathar castles. During this era, France had been using Romanesque architecture like most of Western Europe. Some of the greatest examples of Romanesque churches in France are the Saint Sernin Basilica in Toulouse, the largest romanesque church in Europe, and the remains of the Cluniac Abbey.
The Gothic architecture, originally named Opus Francigenum meaning "French work", was born in Île-de-France and was the first French style of architecture to be copied in all Europe. Northern France is the home of some of the most important Gothic cathedrals and basilicas, the first of these being the Saint Denis Basilica (used as the royal necropolis); other important French Gothic cathedrals are Notre-Dame de Chartres and Notre-Dame d'Amiens. The kings were crowned in another important Gothic church: Notre-Dame de Reims. Aside from churches, Gothic Architecture had been used for many religious palaces, the most important one being the Palais des Papes in Avignon.
The final victory in the Hundred Years' War marked an important stage in the evolution of French architecture. It was the time of the French Renaissance and several artists from Italy were invited to the French court; many residential palaces were built in the Loire Valley. Such residential castles were the Château de Chambord, the Château de Chenonceau, or the Château d'Amboise.
Following the renaissance and the end of the Middle Ages, Baroque architecture replaced the traditional Gothic style. However, in France, baroque architecture found a greater success in the secular domain than in a religious one. In the secular domain, the Palace of Versailleshas many baroque features. Jules Hardouin Mansart, who designed the extensions to Versailles, was one of the most influential French architect of the baroque era; he is famous for his dome at Les Invalides. Some of the most impressive provincial baroque architecture is found in places that were not yet French such as the Place Stanislas in Nancy. On the military architectural side, Vauban designed some of the most efficient fortresses in Europe and became an influential military architect; as a result, imitations of his works can be found all over Europe, the Americas, Russia and Turkey.
After the Revolution, the Republicans favoured Neoclassicismalthough neoclassicism was introduced in France prior to the revolution with such building as the Parisian Pantheon or the Capitole de Toulouse. Built during the first French Empire, the Arc de Triomphe and Sainte Marie-Madeleine represent the best example of Empire style architecture.
Under Napoleon III, a new wave of urbanism and architecture was given birth; extravagant buildings such as the neo-baroque Palais Garnier were built. The urban planning of the time was very organised and rigorous; for example, Haussmann's renovation of Paris. The architecture associated to this era is named Second Empire in English, the term being taken from the Second French Empire. At this time there was a strong Gothic resurgence across Europe and in France; the associated architect was Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. In the late 19th century, Gustave Eiffel designed many bridges, such as Garabit viaduct, and remains one of the most influential bridge designers of his time, although he is best remembered for the iconic Eiffel Tower.
In the 20th century, French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier designed several buildings in France. More recently, French architects have combined both modern and old architectural styles. The Louvre Pyramid is an example of modern architecture added to an older building. The most difficult buildings to integrate within French cities are skyscrapers, as they are visible from afar. For instance, in Paris, since 1977, new buildings had to be under 37 meters (121 feet). France's largest financial district is La Defense, where a significant number of skyscrapers are located. Other massive buildings that are a challenge to integrate into their environment are large bridges; an example of the way this has been done is the Millau Viaduct. Some famous modern French architects include Jean Nouvel, Dominique Perrault, Christian de Portzamparc or Paul Andreu.
The earliest French literature dates from the Middle Ages, when what is now known as modern France did not have a single, uniform language. There were several languages and dialects and writers used their own spelling and grammar. Some authors of French mediaeval texts are unknown, such as Tristan and Iseult and Lancelot-Grail. Other authors are known, for example Chrétien de Troyes and Duke William IX of Aquitaine, who wrote in Occitan.
Much mediaeval French poetry and literature were inspired by the legends of the Matter of France, such as The Song of Roland and the various chansons de geste. The Roman de Renart, written in 1175 by Perrout de Saint Cloude, tells the story of the mediaeval character Reynard ('the Fox') and is another example of early French writing.
An important 16th-century writer was François Rabelais, whose novel Gargantua and Pantagruel has remained famous and appreciated until now. Michel de Montaigne was the other major figure of the French literature during that century. His most famous work, Essais, created the literary genre of the essay.French poetry during that century was embodied by Pierre de Ronsard and Joachim du Bellay. Both writers founded the La Pléiade literary movement.
During the 17th century, Madame de La Fayette published anonymously La Princesse de Clèves, a novel that is considered to be one of the very first psychological novels of all times. Jean de La Fontaine is one of the most famous fabulist of that time, as he wrote hundreds of fables, some being far more famous than others, such as The Ant and the Grasshopper. Generations of French pupils had to learn his fables, that were seen as helping teaching wisdom and common sense to the young people. Some of his verses have entered the popular language to become proverbs.
Jean Racine, whose incredible mastery of the alexandrine and of the French language has been praised for centuries, created plays such as Phèdre or Britannicus. He is, along with Pierre Corneille (Le Cid) and Molière, considered as one of the three great dramatists of the France's golden age. Molière, who is deemed to be one of the greatest masters of comedy of the Western literature, wrote dozens of plays, including Le Misanthrope, L'Avare, Le Malade imaginaire, and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. His plays have been so popular around the world that French language is sometimes dubbed as "the language of Molière" (la langue de Molière), just like English is considered as "the language of Shakespeare".
French literature and poetry flourished even more in the 18th and 19th centuries. Denis Diderot's best-known works are Jacques the Fatalist and Rameau's Nephew. He is however best known for being the main redactor of the Encyclopédie, whose aim was to sum up all the knowledge of his century (in fields such as arts, sciences, languages, philosophy) and to present them to the people, in order to fight ignorance and obscurantism. During that same century, Charles Perrault was a prolific writer of famous children's fairy tales including Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Bluebeard. At the start of the 19th century, symbolist poetry was an important movement in French literature, with poets such as Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Stéphane Mallarmé.
The 19th century saw the writings of many renowned French authors. Victor Hugo is sometimes seen as "the greatest French writer of all times" for excelling in all literary genres. The preface of his play Cromwell is considered to be the manifesto of the Romantic movement. Les Contemplations and La Légende des siècles are considered as "poetic masterpieces", Hugo's verse having been compared to that of Shakespeare, Dante and Homer. His novel Les Misérables is widely seen as one of the greatest novel ever written and The Hunchback of Notre Dame has remained immensely popular.
Other major authors of that century include Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte-Cristo), Jules Verne (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), Émile Zola(Les Rougon-Macquart), Honoré de Balzac (La Comédie humaine), Guy de Maupassant, Théophile Gautier and Stendhal (The Red and the Black, The Charterhouse of Parma), whose works are among the most well known in France and the world.
The Prix Goncourt is a French literary prize first awarded in 1903. Important writers of the 20th century include Marcel Proust, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Antoine de Saint Exupéry wrote Little Prince, which has remained popular for decades with children and adults around the world. As of 2014, French authors had more Literature Nobel Prizes than those of any other nation. The first Nobel Prize in Literature was a French author, while France's latest Nobel prize in literature is Patrick Modiano, who was awarded the prize in 2014. Jean-Paul Sartre was also the first nominee in the committee's history to refuse the prize in 1964.
Medieval philosophy was dominated by Scholasticism until the emergence of Humanism in the Renaissance. Modern philosophy began in France in the 17th century with the philosophy of René Descartes, Blaise Pascal, and Nicolas Malebranche. Descartes revitalised Western philosophy, which had been declined after the Greek and Roman eras. His Meditations on First Philosophy changed the primary object of philosophical thought and raised some of the most fundamental problems for foreigners such as Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Berkeley, and Kant.
During the 18th century, French philosophers produced one of the most important works of the Age of Enlightenment. In The Spirit of the Laws, Baron de Montesquieu theorised the principle of separation of powers, which has been implemented in all liberal democracies since it was first applied in the United States. In The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau openly criticised the European divine right monarchies and strongly affirmed the principle of the sovereignty of the people. Voltairecame to embody the Enlightenment with his defence of civil liberties, such as the right to a free trial and freedom of religion.
19th-century French thought was targeted at responding to the social malaise following the French Revolution. Rationalist philosophers such as Victor Cousin and Auguste Comte, who called for a new social doctrine, were opposed by reactionary thinkers such as Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald and Lamennais, who blamed the rationalist rejection of traditional order. De Maistre is considered, together with the Englishman Edmund Burke, one of the founders of European conservatism, while Comte is regarded as the founder of positivism and sociology.
In the early 20th century, French spiritualist thinkers such as Maine de Biran, Henri Bergsonand Louis Lavelle influenced Anglo-Saxon thought, including the Americans Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, and the Englishman Alfred North Whitehead. In the late 20th century, partly influenced by German phenomenology and existentialism, postmodern philosophy began in France, with notable post-structuralist thinkers including Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze.
France has a long and varied musical history. It experienced a golden age in the 17th century thanks to Louis XIV, who employed a number of talented musicians and composers in the royal court. The most renowned composers of this period include Marc-Antoine Charpentier, François Couperin, Michel-Richard Delalande, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Marin Marais, all of them composers at the court. After the death of the "Roi Soleil", French musical creation lost dynamism, but in the next century the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau reached some prestige, and today he is still one of the most renowned French composers. Rameau became the dominant composer of French opera and the leading French composer for the harpsichord.
French composers played an important role during the music of the 19th and early 20th century, which is considered to be the Romantic music era. Romantic music emphasised a surrender to nature, a fascination with the past and the supernatural, the exploration of unusual, strange and surprising sounds, and a focus on national identity. This period was also a golden age for operas. French composers from the Romantic era included: Hector Berlioz(best known for his Symphonie fantastique), Georges Bizet (best known for Carmen, which has become one of the most popular and frequently performed operas), Gabriel Fauré (best known for his Pavane, Requiem, and nocturnes), Charles Gounod (best known for his Ave Maria and his opera Faust), Jacques Offenbach (best known for his 100 operettas of the 1850s–1870s and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann), Édouard Lalo (best known for his Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra and his Cello Concerto in D minor), Jules Massenet (best known for his operas, of which he wrote more than thirty, the most frequently staged are Manon (1884) and Werther (1892)) and Camille Saint-Saëns (he has many frequently-performed works, including The Carnival of the Animals, Danse macabre, Samson and Delilah (Opera), Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and his Symphony No. 3 (Organ Symphony)).
Later came precursors of modern classical music. Érik Satie was a key member of the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde, best known for his Gymnopédies. Francis Poulenc's best known works are his piano suite Trois mouvements perpétuels (1919), the ballet Les biches(1923), the Concert champêtre (1928) for harpsichord and orchestra, the opera Dialogues des Carmélites (1957), and the Gloria (1959) for soprano, choir and orchestra. Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy are the most prominent figures associated with Impressionist music. Debussy was among the most influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and his use of non-traditional scales and chromaticism influenced many composers who followed.Debussy's music is noted for its sensory content and frequent usage of atonality. The two composers invented new musical forms and new sounds. Ravel's piano compositions, such as Jeux d'eau, Miroirs, Le tombeau de Couperin and Gaspard de la nuit, demand considerable virtuosity. His mastery of orchestration is evident in the Rapsodie espagnole, Daphnis et Chloé, his arrangement of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and his orchestral work Boléro (1928).
More recently, at the middle of the 20th century, Maurice Ohana, Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Boulez contributed to the evolutions of contemporary classical music.
French music then followed the rapid emergence of pop and rock music at the middle of the 20th century. Although English-speaking creations achieved popularity in the country, French pop music, known as chanson française, has also remained very popular. Among the most important French artists of the century are Édith Piaf, Georges Brassens, Léo Ferré, Charles Aznavour and Serge Gainsbourg. Although there are very few rock bands in France compared to English-speaking countries, bands such as Noir Désir, Mano Negra, Niagara, Les Rita Mitsouko and more recently Superbus, Phoenix and Gojira have reached worldwide popularity.
Other French artists with international careers have been popular in several countries, for example female singers Dalida, Mireille Mathieu, Mylène Farmer and Nolwenn Leroy, electronic music pioneers Jean-Michel Jarre, Laurent Garnier and Bob Sinclar, and later Martin Solveig and David Guetta. In the 1990s and 2000s (decade), electronic duos Daft Punk, Justice and Air also reached worldwide popularity and contributed to the reputation of modern electronic music in the world.
Among current musical events and institutions in France, many are dedicated to classical music and operas. The most prestigious institutions are the state-owned Paris National Opera(with its two sites Palais Garnier and Opéra Bastille), the Opéra National de Lyon, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, the Théâtre du Capitole in Toulouse and the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. As for music festivals, there are several events organised, the most popular being the Eurockéennes and Rock en Seine. The Fête de la Musique, imitated by many foreign cities, was first launched by the French government in 1982. Major music halls and venues in France include Le Zénith sites present in many cities and other places in Paris (Paris Olympia, Théâtre Mogador, Élysée Montmartre, etc.).
France has historical and strong links with cinema, with two Frenchmen, Auguste and Louis Lumière (known as the Lumière Brothers) having created cinema in 1895. Several important cinematic movements, including the late 1950s and 1960s Nouvelle Vague, began in the country. It is noted for having a particularly strong film industry, due in part to protections afforded by the French government. France remains a leader in filmmaking, as of 2006 producing more films than any other European country. The nation also hosts the Cannes Festival, one of the most important and famous film festivals in the world.
Apart from its strong and innovative film tradition, France has also been a gathering spot for artists from across Europe and the world. For this reason, French cinema is sometimes intertwined with the cinema of foreign nations. Directors from nations such as Poland (Roman Polanski, Krzysztof Kieślowski, and Andrzej Żuławski), Argentina (Gaspar Noé and Edgardo Cozarinsky), Russia (Alexandre Alexeieff, Anatole Litvak), Austria (Michael Haneke), and Georgia (Géla Babluani, Otar Iosseliani) are prominent in the ranks of French cinema. Conversely, French directors have had prolific and influential careers in other countries, such as Luc Besson, Jacques Tourneur, or Francis Veber in the United States.
Although the French film market is dominated by Hollywood, France is the only nation in the world where American films make up the smallest share of total film revenues, at 50%, compared with 77% in Germany and 69% in Japan. French films account for 35% of the total film revenues of France, which is the highest percentage of national film revenues in the developed world outside the United States, compared to 14% in Spain and 8% in the UK. France is in 2013 the 2nd exporter of films in the world after the United States.
Until recently, France had for centuries been the cultural center of the world, although its dominant position has been surpassed by the United States. Subsequently, France takes steps in protecting and promoting its culture, becoming a leading advocate of the cultural exception. The nation succeeded in convincing all EU members to refuse to include culture and audiovisuals in the list of liberalised sectors of the WTO in 1993. Moreover, this decision was confirmed in a voting in the UNESCO in 2005, and the principle of "cultural exception" won an overwhelming victory: 198 countries voted for it, only 2 countries, the U.S and Israel, voted against it.
Fashion has been an important industry and cultural export of France since the 17th century, and modern "haute couture" originated in Paris in the 1860s. Today, Paris, along with London, Milan, and New York City, is considered one of the world's fashion capitals, and the city is home or headquarters to many of the premier fashion houses. The expression Haute couture is, in France, a legally protected name, guaranteeing certain quality standards.
The association of France with fashion and style (French: la mode) dates largely to the reign of Louis XIV when the luxury goods industries in France came increasingly under royal control and the French royal court became, arguably, the arbiter of taste and style in Europe. But France renewed its dominance of the high fashion (French: couture or haute couture) industry in the years 1860–1960 through the establishing of the great couturierhouses such as Chanel, Dior, and Givenchy. The French perfume industry is world leader in its sector and is centered on the town of Grasse.
In the 1960s, the elitist "Haute couture" came under criticism from France's youth culture. In 1966, the designer Yves Saint Laurent broke with established Haute Couture norms by launching a prêt-à-porter ("ready to wear") line and expanding French fashion into mass manufacturing. With a greater focus on marketing and manufacturing, new trends were established by Sonia Rykiel, Thierry Mugler, Claude Montana, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix in the 1970s and 1980s. The 1990s saw a conglomeration of many French couture houses under luxury giants and multinationals such as LVMH.
According to a BBC poll in 2010, based on 29,977 responses in 28 countries, France is globally seen as a positive influence in the world's affairs: 49% have a positive view of the country's influence, whereas 19% have a negative view. The Nation Brand Index of 2008 suggested that France has the second best international reputation, only behind Germany.
According to a poll in 2011, the French were found to have the highest level of religious tolerance and to be the country where the highest proportion of the population defines its identity primarily in term of nationality and not religion. 69% of French have a favourable view of the US, making France one of the most pro-American countries in the world.
In January 2010, the magazine International Living ranked France as "best country to live in", ahead of 193 other countries, for the fifth year running.
The French Revolution continues to permeate the country's collective memory. The tricolour flag, the anthem "La Marseillaise", and the motto Liberté, egalité, fraternité, defined in Title 1 of the Constitution as national symbols, all emerged during the cultural ferment of the early revolution, along with Marianne, a common national personification. In addition, Bastille Day, the national holiday, commemorates the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789.
A common and traditional symbol of the French people is the Gallic rooster. Its origins date back to Antiquity, since the Latin word Gallus meant both "rooster" and "inhabitant of Gaul". Then this figure gradually became the most widely shared representation of the French, used by French monarchs, then by the Revolution and under the successive republican regimes as representation of the national identity, used for some stamps and coins.
French cuisine is renowned for being one of the finest in the world. According to the regions, traditional recipes are different, the North of the country prefers to use butter as the preferred fat for cooking, whereas olive oil is more commonly used in the South. Moreover, each region of France has iconic traditional specialities: Cassoulet in the Southwest, Choucroute in Alsace, Quiche in the Lorraine region, Beef bourguignon in the Bourgogne, provençalTapenade, etc. France's most renowned products are wines,including Champagne, Bordeaux, Bourgogne, and Beaujolais as well as a large variety of different cheeses, such as Camembert, Roquefort and Brie. There are more than 400 different varieties.
A meal often consists of three courses, hors d'œuvre or entrée (introductory course, sometimes soup), plat principal (main course), fromage (cheese course) and/or dessert, sometimes with a salad offered before the cheese or dessert. Hors d'œuvres include terrine de saumon au basilic, lobster bisque, foie gras, French onion soup or a croque monsieur. The plat principal could include a pot au feu or steak frites. The dessert could be mille-feuille pastry, a macaron, an éclair, crème brûlée, mousse au chocolat, crêpes, or Café liégeois.
French cuisine is also regarded as a key element of the quality of life and the attractiveness of France. A French publication, the Michelin guide, awards Michelin stars for excellence to a select few establishments. The acquisition or loss of a star can have dramatic effects on the success of a restaurant. By 2006, the Michelin Guide had awarded 620 stars to French restaurants, at that time more than any other country, although the guide also inspects more restaurants in France than in any other country (by 2010, Japan was awarded as many Michelin stars as France, despite having half the number of Michelin inspectors working there).
In addition to it wine tradition, France is also a major producer of beer. The three main French brewing regions are Alsace (60% of national production), the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Lorraine. A meal often consists of three courses, hors d'œuvre or entrée (introductory course, sometimes soup), plat principal (main course), fromage (cheese course) or dessert, sometimes with a salad offered before the cheese or dessert