Anna Karina, an icon of French New Wave cinema, has died at the age of 79.

The Danish-French actress died in a hospital in Paris after living with cancer, her agent told AFP news agency.

French culture minister Franck Riester tweeted in tribute: “Today, French cinema has been orphaned. It has lost one of its legends.”

Karina rose to prominence as the muse of her director ex-husband Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s.

She got her big break as a teenager, soon after moving to Paris from her native Denmark – apparently when Godard spotted her walking down the Champs-Elysees.

He wanted to cast her in his first and most famous film Breathless, Karina recalled years later, but she turned him down because the role required nudity.

An archive photo of Jean-Luc Godard carrying Anna Karina while the two of them laugh

After a few months he offered her another role, cementing their fruitful working relationship and her place in cinematic history.

In 1961, she and Godard got married – and just months later, Karina won best actress at the Berlin Film Festival for Godard’s A Woman is a Woman.

Although they divorced just four years later, their relationship became almost as iconic as the films they made together.

Anna Karina laughing on the set of Pierrot le Fou

“It was really a great love story, but very tiring in a way for a young girl because he would go away a lot,” Karina told Vogue in 2016.

“He would say he was going to buy some cigarettes and he would come back three weeks later.”

After their divorce, she continued to have a long and prosperous career, working with filmmakers Jacques Rivette, Luchino Visconti and Tony Richardson.

In the early 1970s she worked behind the camera too, directing Vivre Ensemble, a film about a turbulent romance between a history teacher and a free-spirited young woman that ends in domestic violence and drug abuse.