History of painting

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Art; General history

The history of painting reaches back in time to artifacts from pre-historic humans, and spans all cultures.


The oldest known paintings are at the Grotte Chauvet in France, claimed by some historians to be about 32,000 years old. They are engraved and painted using red ochre and black pigment and show horses, rhinoceros, lions, buffalo, mammoth or humans often hunting. There are examples of cave paintings all over the world—in France, India, Spain, Portugal, China, Australia etc. Various conjectures have been made as to the meaning these paintings had to the people that made them. Prehistoric men may have painted animals to "catch" their soul or spirit in order to hunt them more easily, or the paintings may represent an animistic vision and homage to surrounding nature, or they may be the result of a basic need of expression that is innate to human beings.

Eastern painting

South Asian painting

Shiva, the Hindu lord of destruction
Shiva, the Hindu lord of destruction
Agni, the Hindu fire deity.
Agni, the Hindu fire deity.

Indian painting

Indian paintings historically revolved around the religious deities and kings. Indian art is a collective term for several different schools of art which existed the Indian subcontinent. The paintings varied from large frescoes of Ellora to the intricate Mughal miniature paintings to the metal embellished works from the Tanjore school. The paintings from the Gandhar- Taxila are influenced by the Persian works in the west. The eastern style of painting was mostly developed around the Nalanda school of art. The works are mostly inspired by various scenes from Indian mythology.


The earliest Indian paintings were the rock paintings of prehistoric times, the petroglyphs as found in places like the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, and some of them are older than 5500 BC. Such works continued and after several millennia, in the 7th century, carved pillars of Ajanta, Maharashtra state present a fine example of Indian paintings, and the colors, mostly various shades of red and orange, were derived from minerals.

Bhimbetka rock painting
Bhimbetka rock painting

Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, India are rock-cut cave monuments dating back to the second century BCE and containing paintings and sculpture considered to be masterpieces of both Buddhist religious art and universal pictorial art.

A fresco from Cave 1 of Ajanta.
A fresco from Cave 1 of Ajanta.
Madhubani painting

Madhubani painting is a style of Indian painting, practiced in the Mithila region of Bihar state, India. The origins of Madhubani painting are shrouded in antiquity, and a tradition states that this style of painting originated at the time of the Ramayana, when King Janak commissioned artists to do paintings at the time of marriage of his daughter, Sita, with Sri Rama who is considered to be an incarnation of the Hindu god lord Vishnu.

Mother Goddess Durga slays a demon.
Mother Goddess Durga slays a demon.
Rajput painting

Rajput painting, a style of Indian painting, evolved and flourished, during the 18th century, in the royal courts of Rajputana, India. Each Rajput kingdom evolved a distinct style, but with certain common features.

Rajput soldier.
Rajput soldier.

Rajput paintings depict a number of themes, events of epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Krishna’s life, beautiful landscapes, and humans. Miniatures were the preferred medium of Rajput painting, but several manuscripts also contain Rajput paintings, and paintings were even done on the walls of palaces, inner chambers of the forts, havelies, particularly, the havelis of Shekhawait.

The colors extracted from certain minerals, plant sources, conch shells, and were even derived by processing precious stones, gold and silver were used. The preparation of desired colors was a lengthy process, sometimes taking weeks. Brushes used were very fine.

Emperor Akbar.
Emperor Akbar.
Mughal painting

Mughal painting is a particular style of Indian painting, generally confined to illustrations on the book and done in miniatures, and which emerged, developed and took shape during the period of the Mughal Empire 16th -19th centuries).

Tanjore painting

Tanjore painting is an important form of classical South Indian painting native to the town of Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. The art form dates back to the early 9th Century, a period dominated by the Chola rulers, who encouraged art and literature. These paintings are known for their elegance, rich colors, and attention to detail. The themes for most of these paintings are Hindu Gods and Goddesses and scenes from Hindu mythology. In modern times, these paintings have become a much sought after souvenir during festive occasions in South India.

The process of making a Tanjore painting involves many stages. The first stage involves the making of the preliminary sketch of the image on the base. The base consists of a cloth pasted over a wooden base. Then chalk powder or zinc oxide is mixed with water-soluble adhesive and applied on the base. To make the base smoother, a mild abrasive is sometimes used. After the drawing is made, decoration of the jewellery and the apparels in the image is done with semi-precious stones. Laces or threads are also used to decorate the jewellery. On top of this, the gold foils are pasted. Finally, dyes are used to add colors to the figures in the paintings.

The Madras School

During British rule in India, the crown found that Madras had some of the most talented and intellectual artistic minds in the world. As the British had also established a huge settlement in and around Madras, Georgetown was chosen to establish an institute that would cater to the artistic expectations of the royals in London. This has come to be known as the Madras School. At first traditional artists were employed to produce exquisite varieties of furniture, metal work, and curios and their work was sent to the royal palaces of the Queen.

Unlike the Bengal School where 'copying' is the norm of teaching, the Madras School flourishes on 'creating' new styles, arguments and trends.

The Bengal School

The Bengal School of Art was an influential style of art that flourished in India during the British Raj in the early 20th century. It was associated with Indian nationalism, but was also promoted and supported by many British arts administrators.

The Bengal School arose as an avant garde and nationalist movement reacting against the academic art styles previously promoted in India, both by Indian artists such as Ravi Varma and in British art schools. Following the widespread influence of Indian spiritual ideas in the West, the British art teacher Ernest Binfield Havel attempted to reform the teaching methods at the Calcutta School of Art by encouraging students to imitate Mughal miniatures. This caused immense controversy, leading to a strike by students and complaints from the local press, including from nationalists who considered it to be a retrogressive move. Havel was supported by the artist Abanindranath Tagore, a nephew of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore painted a number of works influenced by Mughal art, a style that he and Havel believed to be expressive of India's distinct spiritual qualities, as opposed to the "materialism" of the West. Tagore's best-known painting, Bharat Mata (Mother India), depicted a young woman, portrayed with four arms in the manner of Hindu deities, holding objects symbolic of India's national aspirations. Tagore later attempted to develop links with Japanese artists as part of an aspiration to construct a pan-Asianist model of art.

The Bengal School's influence in India declined with the spread of modernist ideas in the 1920s.

East Asian painting

China, Japan and Korea have a strong tradition in painting which is also highly attached to the art of calligraphy and printmaking (so much that it is commonly seen as painting). Far east traditional painting is characterized by water based techniques, less realism, "elegant" and stylized subjects, graphical approach to depiction, the importance of white space (or negative space) and a preference for landscape (instead of human figure) as a subject. Beyond ink and colour on silk or paper scrolls, gold on lacquer was also a common medium in painted East Asian artwork. Although silk was a somewhat expensive medium to paint upon in the past, the invention of paper during the 1st century AD by the Han court eunuch Cai Lun provided not only a cheap and widespread medium for writing, but also a cheap and widespread medium for painting (making it more accessible to the public).

The ideologies of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism played important roles in East Asian art. Medieval Song Dynasty painters such as Lin Tinggui and his Luohan Laundering (housed in the Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art) of the 12th century are excellent examples of Buddhist ideas fused into classical Chinese artwork. In the latter painting on silk (image and description provided in the link), bald-headed Buddhist Luohan are depicted in a practical setting of washing clothes by a river. However, the painting itself is visually stunning, with the Luohan portrayed in rich detail and bright, opaque colors in contrast to a hazy, brown, and bland wooded environment. Also, the tree tops are shrouded in swirling fog, providing the common "negative space" mentioned above in East Asian Art.

In Japonisme, late 19th century artists like the Impressionists, Van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Whistler admired traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige and their work was influenced by it.

Panorama of Along the River During Ching Ming Festival, 18th century remake of a 12th century original by Chinese artist Zhang Zeduan
Panorama of Along the River During Ching Ming Festival, 18th century remake of a 12th century original by Chinese artist Zhang Zeduan

Chinese painting

Spring Morning in the Han Palace, by Ming-era artist Qiu Ying (1494 - 1552 AD)
Spring Morning in the Han Palace, by Ming-era artist Qiu Ying ( 1494 - 1552 AD)

The earliest (surviving) examples of Chinese painted artwork date to the Warring States Period (481 - 221 BC), with paintings on silk or tomb murals on rock, brick, or stone. They were often in simplistic stylized format and in more-or-less rudimentary geometric patterns. They often depicted mythological creatures, domestic scenes, labor scenes, or palatial scenes filled with officials at court. Artwork during this period and the subsequent Qin Dynasty (221 - 207 BC) and Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD) was made not as a means in and of itself or for higher personal expression. Rather artwork was created to symbolize and honour geomancy, funerary rights, representations of mythological deities or spirits of ancestors, etc. Paintings on silk of court officials and domestic scenes could be found during the Han Dynasty, along with scenes of men hunting on horseback or partaking in military parade. During the social and cultural climate of the ancient Eastern Jin Dynasty (316 - 420 AD) based at Nanjing in the south, painting became one of the official pasttimes of Confucian-taught bureaucratic officials and aristocrats (along with music played by the guqin zither, writing fanciful calligraphy, and writing and reciting of poetry). Painting became a common form of artistic self-expression, and during this period painters at court or amongst elite social circuits were judged and ranked by their peers.

The establishment of classical Chinese landscape painting is accredited largely to the Eastern Jin Dynasty artist Gu Kaizhi (344 - 406 AD), one of the most famous artists of Chinese history. Like the elongated scroll scenes of Kaizhi, Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD) Chinese artists like Wu Daozi painted vivid and highly detailed artwork on long horizontal handscrolls (which were very popular during the Tang), such as his Eighty Seven Celestial People. Painted artwork during the Tang period pertained the effects of an idealized landscape environment, with sparse amount of objects, persons, or activity, as well as monochromatic in nature (example: the murals of Price Yide's tomb in the Qianling Mausoleum). There were also figures such as early Tang-era painter Zhan Ziqian, who painted superb landscape paintings that were well ahead of his day in portrayal of realism. However, landscape art did not reach greater level of maturity and realism in general until the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907 - 960 AD). During this time, there were exceptional landscape painters like Dong Yuan (refer to this article for an example of his artwork), and those who painted more vivid and realistic depictions of domestic scenes, like Gu Hongzhong and his Night Revels of Han Xizai.

During the Chinese Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 AD), not only landscape art was improved upon, but portrait painting became more standardized and sophisticated than before (for example, refer to Emperor Huizong of Song), and reached its classical age maturity during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD). During the late 13th century and first half of the 14th century, Chinese under the Mongol-controlled Yuan Dynasty were not allowed to enter higher posts of government (reserved for Mongols or other ethnic groups, such as Turks or Persians), and the Imperial examination was ceased for the time being. Many Confucian-educated Chinese who now lacked profession turned to the arts of painting and theatre instead, as the Yuan period became one of the most vibrant and abundant eras for Chinese artwork. Examples of superb art from this period include the rich and detailed painted murals of the Yongle Palace , or "Dachunyang Longevity Palace", of 1262 AD, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Within the palace, paintings cover an area of more than 1000 square meters, and hold mostly Daoist themes. It was during the Song Dynasty that painters would also gather in social clubs or meetings to discuss their art or others' artwork, the praising of which often led to persuasions to trade and sell precious works of art. However, there were also many harsh critics of others art as well, showing the difference in style and taste amongst different painters. In 1088 AD, the polymath scientist and statesman Shen Kuo once wrote of the artwork of one Li Cheng, who he criticized as follows:

...Then there was Li Chheng, who when he depicted pavilions and lodges amidst mountains, storeyed buildings, pagodas and the like, always used to paint the eaves as seen from below. His idea was that 'one should look upwards from underneath, just as a man standing on level ground and looking up at the eaves of a pagoda can see its rafters and its cantilever eave rafters'. This is all wrong. In general the proper way of painting a landscape is to see the small from the viewpoint of the large (i ta kuan hsiao), just as one looks at artificial mountains in gardens (as one walks about). If one applies (Li's method) to the painting of real mountains, looking up at them from below, one can only see one profile at a time, and not the wealth of their multitudinous slopes and profiles, to say nothing of all that is going on in the valleys and gorges, and in the lanes and courtyards with their dwellings and houses. If we stand to the east of a mountain its western parts would be on the vanishing boundary of far-off distance, and vice-versa. Surely this could not be called a successful painting? Mr. Li did not understand the principle of 'seeing the small from the viewpoint of the large'. He was certainly marvelous at diminishing accurately heights and distances, but should one attach such importance to the angles and corners of buildings?

Emperor Qianlong Practicing Calligraphy, mid 18th century.
Emperor Qianlong Practicing Calligraphy, mid 18th century.

Although high level of stylization, mystical appeal, and surreal elegance were often preferred over realism (such as in shan shui style), beginning with the medieval Song Dynasty there were many Chinese painters then and afterwards who depicted scenes of nature that were vividly real. Later Ming Dynasty artists would take after this Song Dynasty emphasis for intricate detail and realism on objects in nature, especially in depictions of animals (such as ducks, swans, sparrows, tigers, etc.) amongst patches of brightly-colored flowers and thickets of brush and wood (a good example would be the anonymous Ming Dynasty painting Birds and Plum Blossoms , housed in the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC). There were many renowned Ming Dynasty artists; Qiu Ying is an excellent example of a paramount Ming era painter (famous even in his own day), utilizing in his artwork domestic scenes, bustling palatial scenes, and nature scenes of river valleys and steeped mountains shrouded in mist and swirling clouds. During the Ming Dynasty there were also different and rivaling schools of art associated with painting, such as the Wu School and the Zhe School.

Classical Chinese painting continued on into the early modern Qing Dynasty, with highly realistic portrait paintings like seen in the late Ming Dynasty of the early 17th century. The portraits of Kangxi Emperor, Yongzheng Emperor, and Qianlong Emperor are excellent examples of realistic Chinese portrait painting. During the Qianlong reign period and the continuing 19th century, European Baroque styles of painting had noticeable influence on Chinese portrait paintings, especially with painted visual effects of lighting and shading. Likewise, East Asian paintings and other works of art (such as porcelain and lacquerware) were highly prized in Europe since initial contact in the 16th century.

Japanese painting

Japanese painting (絵画, Kaiga?) is one of the oldest and most highly refined of the Japanese arts, encompassing a wide variety on genre and styles. As with the history of Japanese arts in general, the history Japanese painting is a long history of synthesis and competition between native Japanese aesthetics and adaptation of imported ideas.

Western painting

see article Western painting

Egypt, Greece and Rome

Ancient Egypt, a civilization with very strong traditions of architecture and sculpture (both originally painted in bright colours) also had many mural paintings in temples and buildings, and painted illustrations to papyrus manuscripts. Egyptian wall painting and decorative painting is often graphic, sometimes more symbolic than realistic. Egyptian painting depicts figures in bold outline and flat silhouette, in which symmetry is a constant characteristic. Egyptian painting has close connection with its written language - called Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Egyptians also painted on linen, remnants of which survive today. In fact painted symbols are found amongst the first forms of written language, and religion.

To the north of Egypt was the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete. The wall paintings found in the palace of Knossos are similar to that of the Egyptians but much more free in style. Around 1100 B.C., tribes from the north of Greece conquered Greece and the Greek art took a new direction.

Ancient Greece had great painters, great sculptors, and great architects. The Parthenon is an example of their architecture that has lasted to modern days. Greek marble sculpture is often described as the highest form of Classical art. Painting on pottery of Ancient Greece and ceramics gives a particularly informative glimpse into the way society in Ancient Greece functioned. Black-figure vase painting and Red-figure vase painting gives many surviving examples of what Greek painting was. Some famous Greek painters on wooden panels who are mentioned in texts are Apelles, Zeuxis and Parrhasius, however no examples of Ancient Greek panel painting survive, only written descriptions by their contemporaries or later Romans. Zeuxis lived in 5-6 BC and was said to be the first to use sfumato. According to Pliny the Elder, the realism of his paintings was such that birds tried to eat the painted grapes. Apelles is described as the greatest painter of Antiquity for perfect technique in drawing, brilliant colour and modeling.

Roman art was influenced by Greece and can in part be taken as a descendant of ancient Greek painting. However, Roman painting does have important unique characteristics. The only surviving Roman paintings are wall paintings, many from villas in Campania, in Southern Italy. Such painting can be grouped into 4 main "styles" or periods and may contain the first examples of trompe-l'oeil, psuedo-perspective, and pure landscape. Almost the only painted portraits surviving from the Ancient world are a large number of coffin-portraits of bust form found in the Late Antique cemetery of Al-Fayum. Although these were neither of the best period nor the highest quality, they are impressive in themselves, and give an idea of the quality that the finest ancient work must have had. A very small number of miniatures from Late Antique illustrated books also survive, and a rather larger number of copies of them from the Early Medieval period.

Middle Ages

The rise of Christianity imparted a different spirit and aim to painting styles. Byzantine art, once its style was established by the 6th century, placed great emphasis on retaining traditional iconography and style, and has changed relatively little through the thousand years of the Byzantine Empire and the continuing traditions of Greek and Russian Othodox icon-painting. Byzantine painting has a particularly hieratic feeling and icons were and still are seen as a reflection of the divine. There were also many wall-paintings in fresco, but fewer of these have survived than Byzantine mosaics. In general Byzantium art borders on abstraction, in its flatness and highly stylised depictions of figures and landscape. However there are periods, especially in the so-called Macedonian art of around the 10th century, when Byzantine art became more flexible in approach.

In post-Antique Catholic Europe the first distinctive artistic style to emerge that included painting was the Insular art of the British Isles, where the only surviving examples (and quite likely the only medium in which painting was used) are miniatures in Illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells. These are most famous for their abstract decoration, although figures, and sometimes scenes, were also depicted, especially in Evangelist portraits. Carolingian and Ottonian art also survives mostly in manuscripts, although some wall-painting remain, and more are documented. The art of this period combines Insular and "barbarian" influences with a strong Byzantine influence and an aspiration to recover classical monumentality and poise.

Walls of Romanesque and Gothic churches were decorated with frescoes as well as sculpture and many of the few remaining murals have great intensity, and combine the decorative energy of Insular art with a new monumentality in the treatment of figures. Far more miniatures in Illuminated manuscripts survive from the period, showing the same characteristics, which continue into the Gothic period.

Panel painting becomes more common during the Romanesque period, under the heavy influence of Byzantine icons. Towards the middle of the 13th century, Medieval art and Gothic painting became more realistic, with the beginnings of interest in the depiction of volume and perspective in Italy with Cimabue and then his pupil Giotto. From Giotto on, the treatment of composition by the best painters also became much more free and innovative. They are considered to be the two great medieval masters of painting in western culture. Cimabue, within the Byzantine tradition, used a more realistic and dramatic approach to his art. His pupil, Giotto, took these innovations to a higher level which in turn set the foundations for the western painting tradition. Both artists were pioneers in the move towards naturalism.

Churches were built with more and more windows and the use of colorful stained glass become a staple in decoration. One of the most famous examples of this is found in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. By the 14th century Western societies were both richer and more cultivated and painters found new patrons in the nobility and even the bourgeoisie. Illuminated manuscripts took on a new character and slim, fashionably dressed court women were shown in their landscapes. This style soon became known as International style and tempera panel paintings and altarpieces gained importance.

Renaissance and Mannerism

The Renaissance is said by many to be the golden age of painting. Roughly spanning the 14th through the mid 17th century. In Italy artists like Paolo Uccello, Fra Angelico, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna, Filippo Lippi, Giorgione, Tintoretto, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raphael, Giovanni Bellini, and Titian took painting to a higher level through the use of perspective, the study of human anatomy and proportion, and through their development of an unprecedented refinement in drawing and painting techniques.

Flemish, Dutch and German painters of the Renaissance such as Hans Holbein the Younger, Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach, Matthias Grünewald, Hieronymous Bosch, and Pieter Brueghel represent a different approach from their Italian colleagues, one that is more realistic and less idealized. The adoption of oil painting (whose invention was traditionally, but erroneously, credited to Jan Van Eyck), made possible a new verisimilitude in depicting reality. Unlike the Italians whose work drew heavily from the art of ancient Greece and Rome, the northerners retained a stylistic residue of the sculpture and illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages.

Renaissance painting reflects the revolution of ideas and science (astronomy, geography) that occur in this period, the Reformation, and the invention of the printing press. Dürer, considered one of the greatest of printmakers, states that painters are not mere artisans but thinkers as well. With the development of easel painting in the Renaissance, painting gained independence from architecture. Following centuries dominated by religious imagery, secular subject matter slowly returned to Western painting. Artists included visions of the world around them, or the products of their own imaginations in their paintings. Those who could afford the expense could become patrons and commission portraits of themselves or their family.

In the sixteenth century, movable pictures came into popular demand, which could be hung easily on walls and moved around at will, rather than paintings being made on permanent structures, such as altars and other solid structures.

The High Renaissance gave rise to a stylized art known as Mannerism. In place of the balanced compositions and rational approach to perspective that characterized art at the dawn of the sixteenth century, the Mannerists sought instability, artifice, and doubt. The unperturbed faces and gestures of Piero della Francesca and the calm Virgins of Raphael are replaced by the troubled expressions of Pontormo and the emotional intensity of El Greco.

Baroque and Rococo

During the period beginning around 1600 and continuing throughout the 17th century, painting is characterized as Baroque. Among the greatest painters of the Baroque are Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens, Velazquez, Poussin, and Vermeer. Caravaggio is an heir of the humanist painting of the High Renaissance. His realistic approach to the human figure, painted directly from life and dramatically spotlit against a dark background, shocked his contemporaries and opened a new chapter in the history of painting. Baroque painting often dramatizes scenes using light effects; this can be seen in works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Le Nain and La Tour.

During the 18th century, Rococo followed as a decadent sub-genre of Baroque, lighter, often frivolous and erotic. The French masters Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard represent the style, as do Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Thomas Gainsborough. Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin was considered by some as the best French painter of the 18th century - the Anti-Rococo.

19th century: Neo-classicism, Romanticism, Impressionism

After the decadence of Rococo there arose in the late 18th century an ascetic neo-classicism, best represented by such artists as David and his heir Ingres. Ingres' work already contains much of the sensuality, but none of the spontaneity, that was to characterize Romanticism. This movement turned its attention toward landscape and nature as well as the human figure and the supremacy of natural order above mankind's will. There is a pantheist philosophy (see Spinoza and Hegel) within this conception that opposes Enlightenment ideals by seeing mankind's destiny in a more tragic or pessimistic light. The idea that human beings are not above the forces of Nature is in contradiction to Ancient Greek and Renaissance ideals where mankind was above all things and owned his fate. This thinking led romantic artists to depict the sublime, ruined churches, shipwrecks, massacres and madness.

Romantic painters turned landscape painting into a major genre, considered until then as a minor genre or as a decorative background for figure compositions. Some of the major painters of this period are Eugene Delacroix, Théodore Géricault, J. M. W. Turner, Caspar David Friedrich and John Constable. Francisco de Goya's late work demonstrates the Romantic interest in the irrational, while the work of Arnold Böcklin evokes mystery. In the United States the Romantic tradition of landscape painting was known as the Hudson River School. Important painters of that school include Thomas Cole, Frederick Church, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, and John Frederick Kensett among others. Luminism was another important movement in American landscape painting related to the Hudson River School.

The leading Barbizon School painter Camille Corot painted sometimes as a romantic, sometimes as a Realist who looks ahead to Impressionism. A major force in the turn towards Realism at mid-century was Gustave Courbet. In the latter third of the century Impressionists like Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, and Edgar Degas and the slightly younger post-Impressionists like Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Paul Cezanne lead art up to the edge of modernism.

20th century Modern and Contemporary

The heritage of painters like Van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Seurat was essential for the development of modern art. At the beginning of the 20th century Henri Matisse and several other young artists revolutionized the Paris art world with "wild," multi-colored, expressive, landscapes and figure paintings that the critics called Fauvism. Pablo Picasso made his first cubist paintings based on Cézanne's idea that all depiction of nature can be reduced to three solids: cube, sphere and cone.

After cubism several movements emerged; Futurism ( Balla), Abstract ( Kandinsky, Der Blaue Reiter), Bauhaus ( Klee), De Stijl ( Mondrian), Suprematism ( Malevich), Constructivism ( Tatlin), Dadaism ( Duchamp, Arp) and Surrealism ( De Chirico, Miró, Magritte, Dalí, Ernst). Modern painting influenced all visual arts, from architecture to design and became an experimental laboratory in which artists stretched the limits of this medium to his extreme. Additionally, Van Gogh's painting had great influence in Expressionism which can be seen in Die Brücke, a group lead by German painter Ernst Kirchner and in Edvard Munch or Egon Schiele's work.

In the USA during the period between World War I and World War II painters tended to go to Europe for recognition. Artists like Marsden Hartley, Patrick Henry Bruce, Gerald Murphy and Stuart Davis, created reputations abroad. In New York City, Albert Pinkham Ryder and Ralph Blakelock were influential and important figures in advanced American painting between 1900 and 1920. During the 1920s photographer Alfred Stieglitz exhibited Georgia O'Keefe, Arthur Dove, Alfred Henry Maurer, Charles Demuth, John Marin and other artists including European Masters Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Henri Rousseau, Paul Cezanne, and Pablo Picasso, at his gallery the 291.

During the 1930s and the Great Depression, Surrealism, late Cubism, the Bauhaus, De Stijl, Dada, and colorist painters like Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard characterized the European art scene. While in America the Social Realism movement that contained both political and social commentary dominated the art world. Artists like Ben Shahn, Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, George Tooker, John Steuart Curry, Reginald Marsh, and others became prominent. In Latin America the muralist movement with Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, José Orozco, Pedro Nel Gómez and Santiago Martinez Delgado and the paintings by Frida Kahlo was a renaissance of the arts for the region, with a use of colour and historic, and political messages.

Post- Second World War American painting called Abstract expressionism included artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, Clyfford Still, Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell, and Franz Kline, among others. In Europe there was the continuation of Surrealism, Cubism, Dada and the works of Matisse. Also in Europe, Tachisme (the European equivalent to Abstract expressionism) took hold of the newest generation. Serge Poliakoff, Nicolas de Staël, Georges Mathieu, Vieira da Silva, Jean Dubuffet, Yves Klein and Pierre Soulages among others are considered important figures in post-war European painting.

Abstract painting in America evolved into movements such as Neo-Dada, colour field painting, Post painterly abstraction, Op Art, hard-edge painting, Minimal art, shaped canvas painting, Lyrical Abstraction, Neo-expressionism and the continuation of Abstract expressionism. As a response to the tendency toward abstraction imagery emerged through various new movements.

Pop-Art is exemplified by artists: Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Jim Dine, Tom Wesselmann and Roy Lichtenstein among others. Pop art merges popular and mass culture with fine art, while injecting humor, irony, and recognizable imagery and content into the mix. While throughout the 20th century many painters continued to practice landscape and figurative painting with contemporary subjects and solid technique, like Fairfield Porter, Edward Hopper, Balthus, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Philip Pearlstein, David Hockney, Chuck Close, Susan Rothenberg, Eric Fischl, Vija Celmins and Alex Katz.

During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a reaction against painting. Critics like Douglas Crimp viewed the work of artists like Ad Reinhardt, and declared the 'death of painting'. Artists began to practice new ways of making art. New movements gained prominence some of which are: Postminimalism, Earth art, Video art, Installation art, arte povera, performance art, body art, fluxus, mail art, the situationists and conceptual art among others.

However during the 1960s and 1970s abstract painting continued to develop in America through varied styles. Neo-Dada, Colour field painting, Lyrical Abstraction, Op art, hard-edge painting, Abstract Illusionism, minimal painting, and the continuation of Abstract expressionism as well as other new movements. Artists as powerful and influential as Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, Phillip Guston, Lee Krasner, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, Agnes Martin, Al Held, Sam Francis, Ellsworth Kelly, Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, Gene Davis, Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, Joan Mitchell, Friedel Dzubas, and younger artists like Brice Marden, Sam Gilliam, Sean Scully, Elizabeth Murray, Larry Poons, Walter Darby Bannard, Robert Mangold, Larry Zox, Ronnie Landfield, Ronald Davis, Dan Christensen, Joan Snyder, Ross Bleckner, Archie Rand, Susan Crile, and dozens of others produced vital and influential paintings.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was also a return to painting that occurred almost simultaneously in Italy, Germany, France and Britain. These movements were called Transavantguardia, Neue Wilde, Figuration Libre, Neo-expressionism and the School of London respectively. These painting were characterized by large formats, free expressive mark making, figuration, myth and imagination. All work in this genre came to be labeled neo-expressionism. Critical reaction was divided. Some critics regarded it as driven by profit motivations by large commercial galleries. This type of art largely disappeared after the art crash of the late 1980s.

Painting still holds a respected position in contemporary art. Art is an open field no longer divided by the objective versus non-objective dichotomy. Artists can achieve critical success whether their images are representational or abstract. What has currency is content, exploring the boundaries of the medium, and a refusal to recapitulate the works of the past as an end goal.

Contemporary painting in the 21st Century

  • to be continued

At the beginning of the 21st century Contemporary painting and Contemporary art in general continues in several contigious modes, characterized by the idea of pluralism. The " crisis" in painting and current art and current art criticism today is brought about by pluralism. There is no consensus as to a representative style of the age. There is an anything goes attitude that prevails; an "everything going on," and consequently "nothing going on" syndrome; except for an aesthetic traffic jam, with no firm and clear direction, with every lane on the artistic superhighway filled to capacity. Consequently magnificent and important works of art continue to be made albeit in a wide variety of styles.

Hard-edge painting, Geometric abstraction, Hyperrealism, Photorealism, Expressionism, Minimalism, Lyrical Abstraction, Pop Art, Op Art, Abstract Expressionism, Colour Field painting, Monochrome painting, Neo-expressionism, Collage, Intermedia painting, Assemblage painting, Computer art painting, Conceptual art painting, Postmodern painting, Neo-Dada painting, Shaped canvas painting, environmental mural painting, traditional figure painting, Landscape painting, Portrait painting, are a few continuing and current directions in painting at the beginning of the 21st century.

Islamic painting

The depiction of humans, animals or any another figurative subjects is forbidden within Islam to prevent believers from idolatry so there is no religiously motivated painting (or sculpture) tradition within Muslim culture. Pictorial activity was reduced to Arabesque, mainly abstract, with geometrical configuration or floral and plant-like patterns. Strongly connected to architecture and calligraphy, it can be widely seen as used for the painting of tiles in mosques or in illuminations around the text of the holy Koran and other books. In fact abstract art is not an invention of modern art but it is present in pre-classical, barbarian and non-western cultures many centuries before it and is essentially a decorative or applied art. Notable illustrator M.C. Escher was influenced by this geometrical and pattern based art. Art Nouveau ( Aubrey Beardsley and the architect Antonio Gaudi) re-introduced abstract floral patterns into western art.

Note that despite the taboo of figurative visualization, some muslim countries did cultivate a rich tradition in painting, though not in its own right, but as a companion to the written word. Iranian or Persian art, widely known as Persian miniature, concentrates on the illustration of epic or romantic works of literature. Persian illustrators deliberately avoided the use of shading and perspective, though familiar with it in their pre-islamic history, in order to abide by the rule of not creating any life-like illusion of the real world. Their aim was not to depict the world as it is, but to create images of an ideal world of timeless beauty and perfect order.

In present days, painting by art students or professional artists in arab and non-arab muslim countries follow the same tendencies of Western culture art.


Oriental historian Basil Gray believes "Iran has offered a particularly unique [sic] art to the world which is excellent in its kind".

Caves in Iran's Lorestan province exhibit painted imagery of animals and hunting scenes. Some such as those in Fars Province and Sialk are at least 5,000 years old.

Painting in Iran is thought to have reached a climax during the Tamerlane era when outstanding masters such as Kamaleddin Behzad gave birth to a new style of painting.

Paintings of the Qajar period, are a combination of European influences and Safavid miniature schools of painting such as those introduced by Reza Abbasi. Masters such as Kamal-ol-molk, further pushed forward the European influence in Iran. It was during the Qajar era when "Coffee House painting" emerged. Subjects of this style were often religious in nature depicting scenes from Shia epics and the like.


African traditional culture and tribes do not seem to had great interest in two-dimensional representations in favour of sculpture. However, decorative painting in African culture is often abstract and geometrical. Another pictorial manifestation is body painting, present for example in Maasai culture in their ceremony rituals. Note that Pablo Picasso and other modern artists were influenced by African sculpture in their styles. Contemporary African artists follow western art movements and their paintings have little difference from occidental art works.

Outline of painting history

Prehistoric painting

  • Pre-historic art
  • Cave painting

Ancient painting

  • Art of Ancient Egypt
  • Knossos
  • Mycenaean Greece
  • Pottery of ancient Greece
  • Roman art
  • Pompeian Styles
  • Fayum mummy portraits

Western painting

Medieval painting

  • Byzantine art
  • Insular art
  • Carolingian art
  • Ottonian art
  • Romanesque art
  • Gothic art
  • Early Netherlandish painting
  • Illuminated manuscript
  • Panel painting

The Renaissance

  • Early Renaissance painting
  • Renaissance Classicism
  • Italian Renaissance painting
  • Northern European Renaissance painting
  • High Renaissance painting
  • Mannerism


  • Early Baroque
  • High Baroque

18th Century

19th Century

  • Romanticism
  • Academic art
  • Realism
  • Naturalism (art)
  • Hudson River School
  • Luminism
  • Impressionism
  • Pre-Raphaelites
  • Symbolism
  • Post-Impressionism
  • Neo-Impressionism
  • Pointillism
  • Divisionism
  • Art Nouveau

20th century

This list is in random order. Date given is for the start of the style or movement.

  • Fauvism (Les Fauves) 1905
  • Cubism 1907
  • Jack of Diamonds 1910
  • Orphism
  • Dada
  • Surrealism
  • Corealism
  • Rayonnism
  • Neoplasticism
  • Expressionism
  • Abstract art
  • Abstract Expressionism 1946
  • Post-painterly abstraction 1964
  • Neo-expressionism
  • Art Deco
  • Futurism 1909
  • Op art
  • Pop art
  • Minimalism
  • Art Brut / Folk Art / Naïve Art / Outsider Art
  • Suprematism 1913
  • Vorticism 1914
  • Tachism
  • Constructivism
  • Russian avant-garde
  • De Stijl
  • Neue Sachlichkeit
  • American realism
  • Social Realism
  • Socialist realism
  • Action painting
  • Informal art
  • Lyrical Abstraction 1967
  • Monochrome painting
  • Russian Non-Conformist
  • Signal painting
  • Photorealism
  • Concept art
  • Neue Wilde
  • Figuration Libre
  • Graffiti
  • Rectoversion
  • Stuckism 1999

Retrieved from " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_painting"