The Paleolithic Cave Art of France


Le Cap Blanc Horse Sculptures
Le Cap Blanc Horse Sculptures
In France, only 18 sites are known with sculptures. The most important ones are Le Cap Blanc in the Dordogne and the Roc-aux-Sorciers in the Vienne (lakovieva & Pinion 1997, Airvaux 2001). That technique is the one that required most work. Some images evidence a 5 cm relief or more. It is present in all the main groups except that of the south-east.
Clay modellings are all dated to the Middle or Late Magdalenian and they are all found within a restricted area, in four caves of the Ariege Pyrenees : Labouiche, Bedeilhac, Montespan and Le Tuc d’Audoubert. Those in the latter two caves are famous, Montespan because of a clay bear which is a real statue, nearly lifesize, and Le Tuc d’Audoubert because of two extraordinary bison following each other in a premating scene. A particularly naturalistic female figure was modelled on the ground in Bedeilhac. It is difficult to understand why other works made with such a simple technique have not been found in other groups and at other periods.
Caves of the Ariege Pyrenees
Artist Impression
Bison of Le Tuc d'Audobert
Bison of Le Tuc d'Audobert
Statues of bison modelled in clay in Le Tuc d'Audobert. Photo R. Begouen (right) Artists Impression PreHistoric children.
Finger tracings from the Rouffignac Cave
Finger tracings from the Rouffignac Cave
Finger tracings are everywhere. Their presence depends upon the qualities of the walls : when their surface is soft it becomes possible to draw with one’s fingers. Finger tracings are often not naturalistic, with volutes and incomprehensible squiggles that occupy many square meters on the walls and ceilings, as in Gargas and Cosquer (Clottes & Courtin 1996). Most frequently they belong to the earliest periods of the art. The engravings on the ground are more frequent in the Pyrenees than anywhere else. For them as for the paintings in the open preservation problems are vital: it is so easy not to notice them and to destroy them by trampling. This must have happened innumerable times.
Chauvet Cave Art Paintings
Stumping painting technique in the Chauvet Cave
The engravings on the walls are less famous than the paintings because they are less spectacular, but they probably are more numerous. They were mostly made with a flint and the effects achieved are very diverse. Sometimes, the artists contented themselves with sketching the outlines of animals by means of simple lines which can be deep and wide or thin and superficial according to the hardness of the surface. The finest ones can only be seen now under a slanting light, but modern experimentation has shown that they must have been far more visible at the time they were made, when they stood out white against the darker colour of the wall; since then they have become patinated and their colour is the same as that of their environment. This remark may explain the very numerous superimpositions of motifs that can be found in caves like Les Trois-Freres, Lascaux or Les Combarelles. In other cases, the artists used scraping, which shows white on the wall and enables all sorts of possibilities by playing with the darker hues of the wall and the lighter ones of engravings (Les Trois-Freres, Labastide) (G.R.A.P.P. 1993).
Paintings are generally red or black. The reds are iron oxides, such as hematite. The blacks, either charcoal or manganese dioxide. Sometimes they did real drawings with a chunk of rock or of charcoal held like a pencil. Elsewhere veritable paintings were made. The pigment was then crushed and mixed with a binder to ensure the fluidity of the paint which was then either applied with a finger or with a brush made with animal hair, or blown through the mouth (stencilling).
Modern analyses even revealed that in the Magdalenian of the Pyrenees some paintings (Niaux, Fontanet) had been made according to real recipes by adding an extender, i.e. a powder obtained from the crushing of various stones (biotite, potassium feldspath, talcum). The aims were to save on the pigment, to make the paint stick better to the wall and to avoid its crackling when drying (Clottes, Menu, Walter 1990). Some images evince different techniques for the same subject : bicolour, joint use of engraving & painting.
As early as the Aurignacian, more than 30,000 years ago, the most sophisticated techniques of representation had been discovered and were in use, as can be seen in the Chauvet Cave. Those artists made use of stump drawing in order to shade the inside of the bodies and provide relief. They also used the main two colours (red and black), fine and deep engraving, finger tracing and stencilling.
The Paleolithic Cave Art of France
France Rock Art Archive
Bradshaw Foundation
Like us on Facebook & Follow us on Twitter to receive news & updates:
Support our work & become a
Friend of the Foundation
Bradshaw Foundation Twitter @BrashawFND
Homepage About the Foundation Contact Us Facebook News Articles Twitter List of Research Papers Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Travel Index About the Expeditions Forthcoming Expeditions Bespoke Expeditions Enquire Practical Information History of Exploration Welcome to the iShop Film Downloads DVD's Sculpture Prints Clothing Messenger Bag eBooks INORA Downloads About iLecture Films Shipping & Handling iLectures In Conversation Video Stories Travel Films Read the reviews Privacy Policy Bradshaw Foundation Facebook Friends of the Foundation Archive Index World's Oldest Rock Art Africa Documentary Films South Africa RARI Giraffe Carvings Niger Namibia Western Central Africa Africa Paintings Gallery Tanzania The Tuareg People Tuareg Salt Caravans Gilf Kebir Birnin Kudu Rock Art Center Archive Index San Rock Art Paintings San Bushman San Rock Art Film Origins Centre Johannesburg Archive Index Arizona Baja California Baja California Film Coso Range Talking Stone Film Nevada Oregon Territory Moab, Utah Clovis First Australia Archive Index Introduction Bradshaw Paintings Kimberley Region The Unambal Hugh Brown Leif Thiele Gallery Dan Clark Grahame Walsh Bradshaws / Gwion Gwion Archive Index Introduction Origins of the British Avebury Stonehenge Sounds of Stonehenge The British Museum British Isles Megaliths Gower Peninsula Rock Art Mendip Hills Prehistory Northumberland Rock Art Red Lady of Paviland Stone Age Mammoth Abattoir Archive Index Introduction Peterborough Petroglyphs Western Canadian Rock Art Writing-On-Stone Wuikinuxv Territory Dinosaur Provincial Park Archive Index Huashan Rock Art Yinchuan Museum Rock Art Festival Field Trip Gallery Itinerant Creeds Inner Mongolia & Ningxia Vanishing Civilization Life in Rock Art (PDF) Tibet Tibet Photographs Dazu Rock Carvings Tiger Motif Archive Index Chauvet Cave Lascaux Cave Niaux Cave Cosquer Cave Rouffignac Cave Portable Art Defining Rock Art Tuc d'Audoubert Bison Dr. Jean Clottes Index UNESCO World Heritage Introduction Cave Paintings Gallery Visiting the Chauvet Cave Return to Chauvet Cave Investigating the Cave Venus & Sorcerer Werner Herzog Film Chauvet Publications India Archive Index Rock Art Central India Pachmarhi Hills India Rock Art Gallery Preservation & Education Dr. V. S. Wakankar Articles on India Rock Art Contemporary Art Middle East Archive Index Middle East Inroduction Rock Art of Iran Rock Art of Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates Rock Art Ancient Geometry Middle East Colonisation Scandinavian Rock Art Archive Scandinavian Introduction Alta Rock Art Norway Rock Art in Finland Tanum Rock Art Sweden Thor Heyerdahl Archive Index Introduction America's Oldest Art? Pedra Furada Bolivian Rock Art Campeche Island - Brazil Checta Petroglyphs - Peru Cueva de las Manos Santa Catarina Island - Brazil Rock Art in Britain Campeche Rock Art Petroglyphs El Salvador - Corinto Cave Hand Rock Art Paintings Tibetan Rock Art United Arab Emirates Uzbekistan Yinchuan Rock Art Museum Introduction Ice Age Art Gallery Claire Artemyz Jill Cook Interview Cycladic Introduction Cycladic Gallery Introduction Geometric Signs Chart Research Methodology Geometric Signs in France Sign Types/Countries/Regions Bibliography Ancient Symbols in Rock Art Newsletter Archive Download Issues Introduction Genetic Map Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Further Reading Origins of the British BBC Documentary Origins Index Origins Overview 13 Big Questions Stanley Ambrose Homo Floresiensis Herto Skulls Homo Dmanisi Liujiang Skull Introduction Sentinels in Stone Easter Island Rock Art Birdman Cult / Motif Sea & Marine Creatures Design & Motifs Dr Georgia Lee Easter Island Map Contemporary Art Glossary Conclusion Thor Heyerdahl Introduction When & Who Built It? How Was It Built? The Area Sounds of Stonehenge Meaning of a Pyramid Pyramid Studies Pyramid Superstructure Pyramid Substructure Pyramid Preparations Pyramid Building Saqqara Nabil Swelim Temples of Malta and Gozo Research in the Caucasus The Keselo Foundation Homo Dmanisi Ancient Toolmakers Index Introduction Descent into the Cave The Decorated Caves Shamanistic Experience Spring Initiation Rites Summary Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Professor John P. Miller Motif: Eternal Index Banksy Han Meilin Bruce Radke Christian Tuki Gordon Ellis-Brown Site Map Search the Website Glossary of Terms & Definition Podcast on iTunes Other Websites Contact the Foundation