An Insight into the World of Figurative Paintings

By on November 18, 2017

“No longer shall I paint interiors with men reading and women knitting. I will paint living people who breathe and feel and suffer and love.”

The above-mentioned quote is said by Edvard Munch when the trend of Figurative art painting was in. Prior to 20th century, owning such paintings of a famous painter was considered as a matter of pride in the eyes of all. Gradually, the charm of representational art came to an end with the advent of the camera which was able to deliver top quality images.

Hence, this blog is written in an attempt to take you all through this bumpy ride of an extremely beautiful genre of art making, that is, Figurative Painting Style.


Figurative paintings are meant for dealing with the realistic illustration of human figures and the real world. Thus, ever since the arrival of abstract art, the term has been used to refer to the works of artists who have taken inspiration from the real world subjects. Figurative art is the kind of art which is based on real-world objects, people or scenes and is highly recognizable. It is completely conflicting to the abstract art form.

Moreover, there have been many artists making figurative paintings like Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud etc.

Prior to Twentieth Century

The primitive origins of figurative art can be traced back to the time of rock carving which was made in the Paleolithic period. They were a result of the efforts that men during that time made to demonstrate the world around them through their eyes.

Notable Instances

Apart from sculptures, the oldest known painting based on figurative art is the painting of a roman woman standing on her balcony. The painting is still at the Getty Villa Museum in pacific palisades of California. However, the artwork has no name and hence who made that illustrious figurative painting not known to any.

Another popular example is Christina’s World which was painted by an American painter Andrew Wyeth in the year 1948. The painting illustrates a woman standing in a field and gazing at a house afar. You can see this painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Figurative Art in the Early Twentieth Century

During early 20th century, the demand for this art form dropped drastically. Apparently, the arrival and instant popularity of camera were blamed for the decline in the widespread popularity of the figurative paintings.

Moreover, the relevance of human figures in the paintings kept decreasing. The art lovers needed something new to fall in love with art again and that is when impressionism came in. The Impressionism movement in art was more experimental, sensitive and eccentric.

Though the human figures have not been incorporated in their raw and real form, they have still played a prime role in Social Realism and Expressionism. The former used human figures to depict the life around and the latter deployed the humans in the form of emotions and concerns of human yearnings.

Figurative Art in late 20th and 21st Century

Photography has always been considered as the main reason for the fall of Figurative painting genre of art. People started preferring the camera more than the artists as the time and money that gets spent was way too less. Moreover, photographs illustrated the human figures and landscapes more precisely.

However, the reason for the drop in the demand for paintings of this genre was something else. The real reason was that people wanted something more than what they were able to see and capture on their own. The art enthusiast wanted not just their space to resonate with the painting but something more, they wanted a painting which can understand and amplify their emotions, the one with which not just their spaces but they too can resonate.

Hence, everyone saw a revolution in the world of art with the ingression of Futurists, Dadaists, Constructivists, Cubists, Minimalists and the abstract artists due to which ultimately figurative painting was pushed aside and paved the way to all non-recognizable things. Whatsoever, the reason may be art lovers fell in love with these paintings that surpasses the world of the ordinary. The abstractions have the potential of taking the onlookers to a different world of imagination rather the mere human figures.

Nonetheless, more or less figurative painting genre still hold a special place in the heart of its admirers. The demand for this painting can never come to an end as people still prefer getting their portraits done.

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