The French School is the fourth best represented in the Prado after the Spanish, Italian and Flemish. With more than 300 paintings, mainly from the Spanish royal collection, it offers an incomplete but highly interesting overview of French paintings from the 16th- to the early 19th-centuries. Best represented within this group are the 17th- and 18th- centuries. As in the case of the other foreign schools, historical events and the artistic taste of the Spanish monarchs determined the presence of these works in greater or lesser numbers in the various royal residences. A number of paintings by Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorraine, the leading French, classicising painters, were directly commissioned from the artists during the reign of Philip IV to decorate the Buen Retiro palace.
In the 18th-century the reign of Philip V marked the start of the Bourbon dynasty in Spain and French art became more appreciated by royal collectors. Various French artists worked for the first Bourbon monarch, such as Michel-Ange Houasse, Jean Ranc and Louis-Michel van Loo. A considerable number of works also arrived from France at this time or were acquired on the international market, including paintings by Watteau, Coypel and Rigaud.