French Lessons


Painting Three Ways

Since France has such a rich artistic history, from Gothic architecture to Surrealism and beyond, it's not too surprising that there are three different words for "painting" in French. You'll find one of them in our new video on the artist Karine Rougier:


Un travail à la fois de peintures, de sculptures... de pierres peintes
Works of both paintings, of sculptures... of painted rocks
Cap. 9-10, Le saviez-vous? - Karine Rougier présente son art - Part 1


Une peinture shouldn't be too hard to remember, since it's a cognate of "painting." Its relatives also have direct English equivalents: peindre (to paint), peint/peinte (painted), peintre (painter).


Peinture is also the word for "paint," as in the substance: 


Et la peinture, euh... on peut dire, se sépare pas comme une vinaigrette.
And the paint, uh... we can say, doesn't separate like a vinaigrette. 
Cap. 31, Salon Eco Habitat - La peinture à l'ocre


So la peinture à l'huile, for example, can either mean "oil painting" or "oil paint."


In English, a "tableau" is an artistic grouping or arrangement, originally referring to a motionless group of people representing a scene or historical event, kind of like a living painting. As a matter of fact, "tableau" is short for tableau vivant, which means exactly that. Un tableau (literally, "little table") is another word for "painting" in French:


Actuellement, je prépare un grand tableau, "La naissance de Vénus".
At the moment, I'm preparing a great painting, "The Birth of Venus."
Cap. 67, Il était une fois - les Explorateurs - 10. Amerigo Vespucci - Part 1


Finally, there's la toile, which technically means "canvas," but is just as often used for "painting":


Vous y découvrirez la reproduction d'une toile de Sisley
There you'll find the reproduction of a Sisley painting
Cap. 10, Voyage en France - Saint-Mammès


But that's not all! Une toile is also "a web," as in une toile d'araignée (spider's web). And just as you can say "the web" in English to refer to the internet, in French you can say la toile.


We hope this lesson has inspired you to get out your pinceaux (paintbrushes)!


You May Also Like