English Translation of: L’Histoire et La Civilisation de la France sur le XXe Siècle: La Belle Epoque

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Guimard Metro sign

The first part of the 20th century in France marked the beginning of WWI (1914-1918) in consequence of the economic rivalries between the European powers.

The immediate cause was the assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia, of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. France, England, Russia, Belgium, Serbia entered the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary. In the following years, the following countries joined the war: 1914 Japan 1915 Italy and Turkey, Romania in 1916, and 1917 United States. There was an Armistice Peace November 11, 1918 at the Treaty of Versailles June 28, 1919.

Other consequences of the war were: Alsace and Lorraine reverted to French;  The Austro-Hungarian Empire disappeared; new states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were recognized; and the League of Nations was created.

Picasso Pompidou
Picasso, Pompidou

La Belle Époque (1895-1914) was a period largely based on peace and prosperity and stability before the two world wars and created a time of exhilaration unlike the 20th century challenges. There was technical progress: electricity, automobile, bicycle, subway, cinema, telephone, jazz, sports and tennis fashion. This is the rendezvous for artists from all over Europe and the New World.

 Art Nouveau (1890-1910) is a very decorative art in nature: the architecture and furnishings are covered in curves. The decorative elements: plants and animals butterflies, swans, and iris. The main architects and decorators: * Hector Guimard (the Paris subway entrances, Louis Majorelle, and Victor Prouvé .


Art Deco (1910-1940) is a reaction against the Art Nouveau; one looks for rectangular lines within the decor. There is stylized pink or stylized floral elements which are almost flat. The main architects: Auguste Perret (Champs Elysees) Franz Jourdain (the Samaritan); Antoine Bourdelle (Hercules); Francois Pompon Aristide Mailloi.

Matisse notredame apres midi
Notre Dame, Matisse


The Neo-Impressionists (Post-Impressionist): Paul Gaugin; * Claude Monet (see Further Reading)

* Monet invented the art of painting simple subjects in a series of daily and seasonal changes as seen in The Haystacks, Rouen Cathedral, and Poplars. He also painted Les Nympheas to honor the veterans of World War II and has posted these amazing works in the Musée de l’Orangerie, which can still be seen at that time.


Musee de l'orangerie (2)
Les Nympheas by Monet, Musee de l’Orangerie

Les nabis : Maurice Denis ; Pierre Bonnard ; Edouard Vuillard

Les fauves : *Henri Matisse ; André Derain ; Henri Toulouse-Lautrec

Le cubisme :  Pablo Picasso ;  Georges Braque ; Fernand Léger ; Marcel Duchamp

L’art abstrait : *Vassily Kandinsky ; Robert Delaunay ;

L’Ecole de Paris : Amadeo Modigliani ; *Marc Chagall

Jewish Museum (2)
Chagall, Jewish Museum, Paris

 In addition, foreign influences were strongly felt in Paris. The official art school in Paris, the School of Fine Arts, organized an exhibition of Japanese prints that changed approaches to graphic design. La Belle Époque introduced French cuisine to the world of gastronomy.

Chagall Pompidou
Chagall, Pompidou

Realistic or naturalistic French authors : * * Guy de Maupassant and Émile Zola. Realism gradually developed into Modernism as Marcel Proust published In Search of Lost Time in 1909. The works of German Thomas Mann had a huge impact in France with Death in Venice, and Colette shocked France with the publication of the new sexually frank Claudine series, and other works. André Gide, Anatole France, Alain-Fournier, Paul Bourget are among the authors of popular fiction of France at the time.

 Les auteurs de L’Existentialisme : Jean Paul Sartre (La Nausée) ;  Simone de Beauvoir (L’invitée) ;  Albert Camus (L’Etranger). Among the poets, the Symbolistes such as  *Charles Baudelaire remained  à l’avant-garde with his collection of  poems  Les Fleurs du mal. (see Further Reading). The additional independent authors : Guillaume Apollinaire (Le Pont Mirabeau) ; and Paul Valéry (Charmes).

Le Dadaïsme : Tristan Tzara ;  Le Surréalisme : André Breton

Many of the composers of  the Belle Époque working in Paris are still popular today : Lili Boulanger,Igor Stravinsky, Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Jules Massenet, Cesar Franck, Camille Saint-Saens, Gabriel Faure and his pupil Maurice Ravel.

Copyright 2021 by Robyn Lowrie.  May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)

Further Reading:

Claude Monet

Musée de l’Orangerie : https://frenchquest.com/2012/10/21/impressionism-monet/

Monet in the United States: https://frenchquest.com/2014/04/28/where-to-find-monet-in-the-united-states/

Gare Saint-Lazare: https://frenchquest.com/2014/02/21/my-art-review-la-gare-saint-lazare-part-5-claude-monet/

Monet in Paris: https://frenchquest.com/2014/04/09/where-to-find-monet-in-paris/ https://frenchquest.com/2014/04/09/where-to-find-monet-in-paris/

 Charles Baudelaire: