9 Major Art Painting Styles: An Overview. Art and humanity have been inseparable since the dawn of civilization. Throughout the ages, we’ve witnessed a kaleidoscope of mesmerizing art movements led by visionary creators. In the 21st century, our appreciation for art, particularly painting, spans a spectrum that traverses both Western and Eastern traditions. Explore this diverse tapestry as we introduce you to some of the significant art painting styles that have shaped history.
Emerging in France during the turbulent 1840s, Realism marked a sharp departure from the dominant Romanticism of the early 19th century. Unlike its predecessors, Realism did not obsessively chase superficial visual appearances. Instead, it championed a deliberate selection and treatment of subject matter, aiming to faithfully depict the subject in all its unadorned glory.
This style rejected artifice, skillfully employing perspective to conjure the illusion of depth and tangible reality. Realist canvases often featured ordinary individuals engaged in quotidian activities, set within unembellished environments. Icons of this movement include Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Jean-François Millet, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
The Painterly movement emerged in late 19th-century Europe during a period of sweeping change. It places a paramount focus on the unique character of brushwork and pigments. Painterly artists eschew the smoothing of textures or the obliteration of brush marks, embracing them as integral components of their artworks. Henri Matisse and Eugenie Baizerman stand as exemplars of this style.
Inadvertently christened by art critic Louis Leroy’s satirical review of Claude Monet’s “Impression, soleil levant” in 1872, Impressionism revolutionized the art world. It celebrated freewheeling brushwork and the supremacy of color over lines and contours. The Impressionists, inspired by the likes of J. M. W. Turner and Eugène Delacroix, ventured outdoors to capture fleeting moments bathed in sunlight.
They forsook intricate details for overall visual effects, employing brisk, unblended brushwork to intensify color vibrations. This groundbreaking approach redefined the boundaries of art.
The term “Fauvism” was coined inadvertently by art critic Louis Vauxcelles when he encountered audaciously bold and vivid paintings at the 1905 Parisian Salon d’Automne. Startled by their vibrancy, he quipped, “Donatello au milieu des fauves!” (Donatello among the wild beasts).
Fauvism, epitomized by Henri Matisse, sought to sever the bonds between color and reality. Artists felt free to employ colors for emotional expression, discarding the constraints of descriptive accuracy. This style ushered in intense, often red, hues and simplified shapes into two-dimensional forms. While Fauvism lacked organization, it left an indelible mark on the art world before fading away in 1908.
Expressionism, akin to Fauvism in its pursuit of emotional expression, diverged by placing less emphasis on color. It channeled a hyperbolic flow of emotions into distorted, pleonastic depictions of people, places, and objects. Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1893) stands as a quintessential example, using hyper-stylized brushwork to convey life’s grotesqueries.
Pioneered in 1907 by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, Cubism drew inspiration from Paul Cézanne. This style disassembled and reassembled objects through abstracted geometric planes, embracing multiple viewpoints over singular perspectives. Traditional subjects like landscapes and nudes were recast as fragmented two-dimensional compositions. As Cézanne famously noted, “everything in nature takes its form from the cylinder, the cone, or the sphere.”
Abstract art transcends a single style, encompassing a variety of approaches that eschew faithful representation. Geometric and lyrical abstraction signify total abstraction, diverging dramatically from figurative art. Abstract Expressionism, notably Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock, emerged post-World War II, characterized by spontaneous mark-making and intense emotional expression.
Flourishing in Europe after World War I and founded by André Breton in 1924, Surrealism aimed to liberate thought and human experience from the constraints of reality and rationalism. Surrealist artists conjured illogical juxtapositions in bewildering scenes, creating bizarre creatures from everyday objects. The unconscious mind and dreams played pivotal roles, echoing Breton’s dictum: “dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason.”
Among the most influential traditions is traditional Chinese painting, which left an indelible mark on Western, Japanese, and Korean art. It encompasses two styles: Gongbi, characterized by meticulous detail and rich colors, and Xieyi, or freehand style, known for its emotional expression, particularly in landscapes.
These nine painting styles, each a unique chapter in the story of human artistic expression, continue to captivate and inspire us in the 21st century. Explore their depths, and you’ll discover the profound, ever-evolving language of art.