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French Art Vocabulary

In the series d'Art d'Art, new at Yabla French, you'll learn the stories behind some of the most famous works of European art. You'll also learn plenty of art-related vocab too! Here are some key words from the first two videos in the series, on the Mona Lisa and The Death of Marat:



une œuvre - a work


"D'Art d'Art", c'est l'histoire d'une œuvre d'art.

"D'Art d'Art" is the story of a work of art.

Caption 3, d'Art d'Art - "La Mort de Marat" - David

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When we talk about an artist's "œuvre" in English, we're usually referring to the artist's entire body of work. In French, une œuvre can have that same connotation, but it can also just mean a single work of art.


un tableau - a painting


Voyez la solennité antique quasi religieuse

See the ancient, almost religious solemnity

qui se dégage de ce tableau.

that emerges from this painting.

Captions 10-11, d'Art d'Art - "La Mort de Marat" - David

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As we explained in a previous lesson, there are three French words for "painting": une peinture (cognate with "painting"), une toile (literally, "canvas"), and un tableau (literally, "little table"). 


un pinceau - a paintbrush


Sous son pinceau, la mort de Marat devient la mort de Jésus.

Under his brush, the death of Marat becomes the death of Jesus.

Captions 35-36, d'Art d'Art - "La Mort de Marat" - David

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Un pinceau is a paintbrush, but it can also refer to a makeup brush (un pinceau de maquillage). It's related to the English word "pencil" (un crayon in French).


tracer - to trace, draw, write


Les dernières lignes

The last words

qu'il a tracées avec sa plume, désormais inerte,

that he wrote out with his quill, now unmoving,

ce sont des noms destinés à la guillotine

are names (of those) intended for the guillotine

Captions 43-45, d'Art d'Art - "La Mort de Marat" - David

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In an artistic sense, "to trace" usually just means to copy something by drawing over it. Tracer has that connotation too, but depending on context, it can also be a synonym of dessiner (to draw) and écrire (to write).


un cadre - a frame 

un chef-d'œuvre - a masterpiece


Ce jour-là, au musée du Louvre,

That day, at the Louvre Museum,

à la place du chef-d'œuvre de Léonard de Vinci,

in the place of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece,

il ne reste que le cadre.

only the frame remains.

Captions 10-12, d'Art d'Art - "La Joconde" - Vinci

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Le cadre is the frame around a painting or photograph. But that's not all! It's also the word for "framework" (as in the expression dans le cadre de, "within the framework of"), the word for "setting" or "surroundings," and the word for "executive" or "manager." You could say le cadre contains a lot of meanings within its "frame."


Finally, we have un chef-d'œuvre. We can think of a masterpiece as an artist's "chief work," or the "chief" of the artist's entire œuvre. 


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Caption 45, 44, 43, 36, 35, 11, 10, 3

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