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  • Writer's pictureUshrayinee

Understanding Figurative Art and some of its Most Influential Artists

“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.”

- Edvard Munch


Figurative art, or figuratism, is artwork that’s derived from real-life subjects, and so is representational in nature. This term contrasts with that of abstract art, which is art that seeks to represent less concrete subjects.

While figurative art is not necessarily the same as figure painting, human or animal figures tend to populate this subject. It’s a tried-and-true subject matter, with the first reclining nude being painted in 1510 by Giorgione, and the oldest known figurative art painting being over 40,000 years old – an unknown animal painted in the caves of Borneo.

TERAVARNA’s figurative art competition is fast approaching, so let’s take a look at the various forms figurative art has taken throughout history, in hopes that one or more will inspire you:



1. Artemisia Gentileschi’s dark dramatic realism

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656) was an Italian Baroque painter, working primarily in the style of Caravaggio. Her paintings, like that of many Baroque paintings, depict scenes from the Bible and mythologies, as well as portraiture. The dramatic realism of her style, which is based on that of Caravaggio’s style, makes for some paintings that are illuminated darkly with very stark and high contrast. Almost like entering a dark room, it takes a second for the viewer’s eye to become accustomed to the dark scene in the painting before details start to pop out.



2. William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s fantastical mythological themes

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) was a French academic painter. His art focuses on the female human figure and depicted women from various mythologies and stories. He brought to life vivid scenes from both history and fantasy, integrating a sense of realism into his paintings. His modern interpretations of classical subjects awed many at the time and continue to impress modern viewers. Bouguereau’s lighting is memorable, almost always fantastical, and ethereal in nature.



3. Edgar Degas’ dynamic dancers

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was a French Impressionist painter, sculptor, and printmaker who was widely celebrated for his images of Parisian life. His paintings depicting dancers capture quiet scenes of women preparing for the stage or rehearsing amongst themselves. His art that depicts women bathing can almost be likened to that of an animal grooming itself, focused on nothing but the task at hand, a private moment shared with none that seeks to please no one. While he is considered one of the founders of Impressionism he rejected the term, preferring the word realist, to describe himself. The bold lines of his work almost sculpturally chisel out the shapes of the figures he depicts, dancing or at rest.


4. Mary Cassatt’s touching domestic scenes

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was an American painter and printmaker. Her paintings mostly consisted of images of the social and private lives of women, particularly exploring the bonds between mothers and children. Like Degas, who was a contemporary to her, her paintings often focus on movement, light, and design. Cassatt’s pieces are quiet, subdued, and most of all intimate, capturing household moments that no outsiders would usually be privy to. Her realistic approach to scenes such as this has inspired many.


Overall, figurative art takes many shapes and forms, evoking a multitude of moods and feelings, as seen by this varied array of artists through time. Hopefully, their works are inspiring, and we trust these examples will help you come up with a submission or two for this upcoming figurative art competition.

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