The Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, dominated the arts throughout the Age of Enlightenment. The hierarchy of genres was omnipotent and state commissions were awarded only to academicians. But the court gradually lost its exclusivity in matters of taste and individual patronage took on a new significance.

Up to around 1750, painting was imbued with pleasure, fable and light-heartedness. But, in the second half of the century, painters found themselves faced with a choice. Were they to be charming or instructive? Just as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Diderot denounced society's decadence and exhorted a return to a simple, virtuous way of life, the trend towards heroic Antiquity, which in David and Jean-Germain Drouais' works soon became synonymous with revolutionary valour, was directly opposed to the rocaille style and its best-known exponents Boucher and Fragonard. But, between these two extremes, were a host of nuanced styles sometimes represented by lesser-known painters, such as Natoire. At the very end of the century, the François Gérard, Gros and Girodet generation was already forming the avant-garde of Romanticism.