Figure painting

For the hobby of painting miniature figures, figurative paintings and model figures, see Figure painting (hobby).
The Golden Apple of Discord at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, Jacob Jordaens, 1633, 181 cm × 288 cm (71 in × 113 in), oil on canvas

A figure painting is a work of fine art in any of the painting media with the primary subject being the human figure, whether clothed or nude. Figure painting may also refer to the activity of creating such a work. The human figure has been one of the constant subjects of art since the first stone age cave paintings, and has been reinterpreted in various styles throughout history.

Depicting figures

Unlike figure drawings which are usually nudes, figure paintings are often historical, mythological, allegorical or imaginary depictions that may have figures in appropriate costumes. A portrait painting is a figure painting that focuses on the creation of a likeness of a particular individual or group.

The nude has been a theme in Western art since classical antiquity[1] and again in the Renaissance, after being largely absent during the Middle Ages.[2] Oil paint historically has been the ideal media for depicting the figure. By blending and layering paint, the surface can become more like skin. "Its slow drying time and various degrees of viscosity enable the artist to achieve rich and subtle blends of color and texture, which can suggest transformations from one human substance to another."[3] Although working from live models is preferred, the length of time needed to complete a painting has led most modern painters to use photographs as references at least part of the time if not for the entire work.

Figure painting is not synonymous with figurative art, which may depict real objects of any kind (including humans and animals).

History and styles

Thebes ca 1400 BCE 
5th-century mural painting from the Ajanta Caves, India 
Winged genius, fragment. Second-style mural painting, Roman artwork, late 1st century BC. 
Reclining Nymph by Lucas Cranach the Elder 
Adam and Eve (1507) by Albrecht Dürer 
Venus and the Lute Player (1565-1570) by Titian 
The Wave (1896) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau 
Winged Figure (1889) by Abbot Handerson Thayer 
Sitzender weiblicher Akt mit aufgestützen Ellbogen (1914) by Egon Schiele 
Red Nude (1917) by Amedeo Modigliani 


  1. Sorabella, Jean (January 2008). "The Nude in Western Art and its Beginnings in Antiquity, In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History". New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  2. Sorabella, Jean (January 2008). "The Nude in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History". New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 25 October 2012.
  3. Scala, p.1

See also




Contemporary artists

Museum exhibits

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