“There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.” – Georges Braque
From murals to oil painting, the world of art has changed a lot over time. With movements like classicism, romanticism, symbolism, Flemish painting, pop art, etc., the world of art both nationally and internationally has changed a huge about since “The Raft of the Medusa”, “Guernica”, and “The Mona Lisa”.
Art galleries are some of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions. You can now discover or rediscover British artists, Italian renaissance painters, or cubist canvases. You can visit the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Modern, etc.
In this article, we’re going to look at painting throughout history: prehistoric painting in caves, painting during the Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo, Neo-classicism and Realism, and modern and contemporary art.
Painting is a lot older than you’d think. Cavemen started painting during the Magdalenian period between 17,000 and 10,000 BCE. Generally, people painted with three colours, charcoal black, red ochre, and yellow ochre. These colours came from manganese and iron.
The first examples of paintings were on cave walls. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
At the time, you wouldn’t get portraits or still lifes. In fact, prehistoric man generally painted animals like horses, bison, and mammoths. In order to give their work depth, they’d use the bumps and hollows of the walls they painted on.
Whether it was ritual or artistic expression, these painters are still the object of a lot of archaeological research. Most cave paintings have been found in France and Spain with the Lascaux caves in France among the most popular for people to visit.
Painting has evolved over time but the fundamentals remain. During the antiquity, the Greeks painted the walls of their villas and other architectural works. They generally painted images of humans, animals, or religious pieces detailing rituals and sacrifices.
Greek painting is also famous for appearing on ceramics. Red and black were commonly used to paint pictures of everyday Greek life.
This style would influence Roman painting, too. In Italy, painters would decorate their villas with landscapes, creating some of the earliest optical illusions.
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Painting in the Middle Ages was very uncommon in everyday life. Generally, it was only used to illustrate manuscripts like the Book of Hours, the devotional Christian book detailing when and how followers should pray.
Illuminated manuscripts were among the most common examples of Medieval art.
A bit later, artists started painting on wooden planks. Parchment was still used but the wooden panels would be used as a canvas. Artists were attempting to deal with perspective in their works. Giotto di Bondone and Cimabue are among the most famous Medieval painters.
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The Renaissance period was a painting revolution. Painters started to move away from a single religious image and started painting the world around them and portraits.
Fra Angelico is one of the greatest Renaissance painters. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Leonardo da Vinci brought science into art. Da Vinci used science to help him study the human anatomy and paint people more realistically.
Canvas changed the way that painting was done. While wooden supports were still used, more and more artists were moving towards canvases. This is also the beginning of painting with an easel.
Perspective started to appear in painting. Fra Angelico, Andrea Mantegna, Le Tintoret, Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, the most famous artists of the time were Italian. However, the Dutch school also made a name for itself. In northern Europe, there were painters such as Lucas Cranach the Elder and Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
The High Renaissance took place between 1500 and 1530 and is thought to be the pinnacle of painting. Leonardo da Vinci moved to France under the order of Francis I of France and created the sfumato that allowed him to soften the transition between colours. Artists moved towards mannerism. This marked the beginning of the Baroque period.
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At the beginning of the 17th century, painters started moving away from renaissance painting, giving rise to Baroque painting.
Fragonard was one of the great Rococo painters. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Some of the biggest renaissance painters include:
Caravaggio’s work is very representative of Baroque painting. Unlike Renaissance pieces, Baroque painting portrays sombre and tragic scenes. The artists regularly played with light and shadow in order to evoke emotion in the piece.
Art historians note that the chiaroscuro technique gave the impression that the subjects were lit by candlelight. There’s a strong use of contrast.
Later on, the Rococo style invaded Europe. This was a lighter style that was sometimes erotic. This decorative style was used for furniture and Rococo style was regularly found in royal courts and the nobility. Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard in France were the standard-bearers for the style.
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The 19th century was a turbulent time for artistic movements. Styles and movements came thick and fast and this century was one of the most important in terms of art history.
Towards the end of the 18th century, a lot of painters yearned for a return to simplicity. The frivolity of the Rococo style and the darkness of the Baroque period had painters wanting to return to classical painting. In the Age of Enlightenment, the Neo-classical movement appeared when the ruins of Pompeii were discovered. The ancient style acted as a model for artists wanting to return to their roots.
This movement paved the way for Romanticism.
The Romantic movement was one of the most important artistic movements in art history. Great painters such as Eugène Delacroix, Théodore Géricault, and Francisco de Goya were part of a movement that evoked strong emotions and melancholy. The canvases often represented events of natural disasters. The movement reflected the will to show that nature is stronger than humanity. There are canvases of massacres, shipwrecks, etc.
Acting as a stand-in for photography, the Realist movement tended to portray real events. Far from the imagination and aesthetics of the Romantic movement, Realist painters in the 19th century wanted to show humans in the centre of their works. Social change, everyday life, the arrival of machines, etc. The Realist painters showed life with the same fidelity as photography (before it was even invented).
Courbet painted the social events of the time. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Once photography arrived at the end of the 19th century, artists no longer needed to paint realistically. Bit by bit, painting became a tool for expression.
In 1872, Claude Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise” was shown in the Salon de Refusés. Far from the accepted academic styles of the time, it was ruthlessly mocked and ridiculed by critics. A painting that shows an everyday event rather than the profound events that were regularly shown in paintings throughout history.
The impressionist movement was born. In fact, impressionism took its name from the painting by Monet, “Impression, Sunrise”.
What followed was numerous artists painting with a different mindset. Cézanne, Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh continued to paint landscapes and still lifes of all kind. Fauvism and the Pont-Aven School reinforced the idea that modern art was here to stay.
A few years later, contemporary painting would appear along with the famous Pablo Picasso. With his painting “The Demoiselles d’Avignon”, Picasso made his mark on the art world with a deconstructed piece that lacked perspective or accurate human proportions. Thus, the artist laid the foundations for Cubism.
Along with his friend Georges Braque, he pushed art to its limits. Then came the Abstract art of Kandinsky, Dadaism with Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, and Dali and Magritte with surrealism. Movements that would forever change artistic the landscape of the 20th century and influence artists today.
Whatever kind of artworks you want to study or create, consider getting a private tutor to help you learn more about a specific painter, prints, sculpture, acrylic, abstract painting, fine art, still life, landscape painting, how to do a self-portrait, etc. Additionally, you can also see paintings by different artists in a museum of art.
There are three types of tutorials you can get on Superprof: face-to-face tutorials online tutorials, and group tutorials.
Face-to-face tutorials tend to be the most expensive but they’re also the most cost-effective.
Online tutorials are cheaper because the tutor doesn’t need to pay for transport costs. However, they can lack the personal touch due to being over a webcam.
Finally, group tutorials the cheapest since all the students share the cost of a tutorial.
It’s up to you to choose the one that works for you.