Most of the French paintings in the collection date from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Before the establishment of an art academy in Paris in 1648, many French painters travelled to Italy to study or to work. Some, such as Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, spent most of their careers there. Others, such as Simon Vouet, stayed for a time, coming under the influence of Caravaggio. The Gallery possesses particularly fine examples of the work of Claude and Vouet, as well as four important religious and mythological paintings by Poussin.
The charming compositions of Jean-Siméon Chardin, Nicolas Lancret, François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard characterise the Rococo period, while the restrained elegance of the Neo-classical era is represented in the collection by Baron François Gérard’s portrait of Julie Bonaparte as Queen of Spain. Jacques Louis David's Funeral of Patroclus was executed while the artist was a student at the Académie Française in Rome in 1778.
Works by the nineteenth-century artists Jean-Léon Gérôme, Gustave Guillaumet and Eugène Fromentin share Orientaliste themes, then popular in France. The Gallery has a large collection of landscapes by Barbizon painters including Jean-François Millet and Constant Troyon as well as works by the history painter Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier. The collection holds two pieces by the Realist painter Jules Breton, including his masterpiece, The Gleaners, painted in 1854.
The Impressionists are represented by landscapes and interior scenes by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Gustave Caillebotte, Berthe Morisot and Eva Gonzalès. French art at the turn of the century includes a pointilliste painting by Paul Signac and three works by the Intimiste Pierre Bonnard.