21 Important Types of Painting Styles Defined and Explained

The beauty of art is it constantly changes based on the artist’s preference, cultural impacts, and technological advances.

Throughout the long history of art, painting has taken many forms. In this article, you can expect 21 of the most influential types of painting styles in history.

An Overview of Painting Styles

A painting style’s definition comes as a result of the way a painter applies paint and portrays their subject matter. 

Certain elements signal particular types of painting styles.

Those characteristics may include, shape, composition, color, painting techniques, subject matter, texture, line, and space. 

The painter’s philosophy also plays a role in their types of painting style. 

When certain types of painting styles become popular, they often contribute to an artistic movement.

During such a movement, many famous artists aim to paint in the same style. 

However, many painters use types of painting styles that may not fit with styles contemporary to the movements of their time.

Certain painting techniques may become popular due to cultural influences or inspiration from other styles. 

Common painting techniques work for oil painting, figure painting, mural painting, portrait painting, life painting, miniature painting, encaustic painting, glass painting, still life painting, panel painting, Plein air painting, perspective painting, and matte painting. 

They may also be reactions to older artistic movements.    

21 Types of Painting

There are plenty of different painting styles that you can see in art throughout the centuries.


Famous Artists: Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Elaine de Kooning, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe 

Significant Works: Full Fathom Five by Jackson Pollock, Composition VII by Wassily Kandinsky, Mountains, and Sea by Helen Frankenthaler, Orange, Red, Yellow by Mark Rothko, Red Canna by Georgia O’Keeffe

While versions of abstract art existed as early as prehistoric times and are prominent in Japanese painting, the big European abstract painting movement took place at the tail end of the 19th century, into the 20th century. 

It remains one of the most popular painting styles in the 21st-century as modern art. 

Unlike many other art styles, abstract art does not always strive to represent a subject. 

This type of painting style of art can range from partially representative to fully removed from reality.

Some artists argue all art is abstract since perspective, bias, and every choice an artist makes abstracts from reality. 

Any medium works for abstract paintings, including acrylic paints, oils, and watercolor painting supplies. In Japanese and Chinese paintings, creative visuals appear in ink-wash paintings. 

While other painting styles consistently portray common themes and subjects, abstract painting is not so restrictive. This type of art can portray any subject or concept an artist chooses. 

Academic Art

Famous Artists: Jean-Antoine Gros, Paul Delaroche, Peter-Paul Rubens, Pierre Puvis de Channes

Significant Works: The Desperate Man by Gustave Courbet, Echo by Alexandre Cabanel, The Sleeping Snow White by Hans Makart, Pollice Verso by Jean-Leon Gerome

While you may think academic art is any art in an academic setting, this style is specific.

Also known as academism, this style was approved by official art academies between the late 1500s and late 19th century. 

 It finds its roots in the French Academie des Beaux-Arts and the Royal Academy.  Academic art is closely related to its contemporary art styles, neoclassicism, and romanticism. The style consisted of certain practices and painting techniques aiming for specific aesthetics. The result of this style is realistic and considered lofty. 

The style is often rooted in particular philosophies, with a big emphasis on symbolism. The types of paintings in this style usually depicted religious or historical scenes. Each piece was the result of careful planning and rationale. Oil paints were the most common medium after preliminary sketches happened.  

Action Painting

Famous Artists: Joan Mitchell, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline

Significant Works: Untitled by Joan Mitchell, Mr. Stella by Kazuo Shiraga

Often considered a form of abstract art, action painting is all about the action of adding paint to the canvas.

Getting there is usually all the fun with this style, instead of thinking about the finished product.

Instead of applying each bit of paint with delicate brush strokes, the artist may dribble or smear the paint. 

This style was at its height during the mid-20th century.

Action painting is closely related to the French tachisme style and abstract expressionism.

Rather than emphasizing the representation of a subject, these paintings often represent the artist’s process and emotions during the creation.

The style is closely related to the interest in psychology so common at the time. 

Art mediums used in action painting can vary widely. Some artists use traditional options, such as acrylic paints, and oil paints, but non-traditional options, such as exterior paint are also popular.

Since the application process is atypical, regular brushes are not always used. Bowls, pouring jars, hands, and feet are options. 


Famous Artists: Francisco de Zurbaran, Artemisia Gentileschi, Giovanna Garzoni, Bartolome Esteban Murillo

Significant Works: Triumph of Bacchus and Adriane by Annibale Carracci, The Night Watch by Rembrandt, Vanitas Still Life by Maria van Ooseterwijck

While the term “Baroque” refers to a style of art and architecture, it also describes a period and associated cultural elements and other arts.

The period lasted throughout Europe from the early 17th century to the mid-18th century. In some areas, it continued through some of the 19th centuries.

This art style is quite grandiose compared to others.

Nestled right between the Renaissance and Rococo eras, the types of paintings during this period had realistic portrayals, deep colors, a lot of detail, maximalist sensibilities, and high contrast in light.

The types of paintings in this style were usually dramatic, expressive, and chaotic. 

Baroque painting subjects vary, with a mix of human and inanimate subjects. Symbolism and allegory were powerful tools in this art.

Oil paints were the most common type of medium used in Baroque painting.  


Famous Artists: Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin West, Albrecht Durer

Significant Works: Florentine Poet by Alexandre Cabanel, The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, Transfiguration by Raphael 

Also known as classicism, this type of art is from the classical antiquity period in Ancient Greek and Rome.

Along with painting, the classical style was an essential part of the culture in architecture, sculpture, music, and literature. 

This style is usually restrained, simple, balanced, calm, and intellectual.

The classical painting would go on to influence several other styles of art. The style also continued to pop up throughout the 15th through 19th centuries.

Often this more staid type of art is a reaction against more emotional types of painting and vice versa. So, there are classical painters even to this day. 

Common subjects for classical art include humans, landscapes, and mythological stories. The usual medium for this style is oil paint. These may end up being ceiling or wall paintings. 


Famous Artists: Pablo Picasso, Georges Brasque, Juan Gris, Fernand Leger, Henri Le Fauconnier

Significant Works: Glass of Beer and Playing Cards by Juan Gris, Man with a Guitar by Georges Braque, The Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso, Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp

Cubism is one of the defining art styles of the 20th century. It relates to literature, music, and architectural movements around the same time.

This style developed from an interest in exploring three dimensions and work by the artist Paul Cezanne. Cubism would go on to influence other art movements throughout Europe.   

Many artists who use the cubism style deconstruct a subject and put it back together abstractly.

Rather than relying on a single perspective, cubist types of paintings present a subject from several perspectives simultaneously. 

While many cubists avoid complete abstraction, a few engage in abstract cubism. 


Famous Artists: Edvard Munch, August Macke, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde 

Significant Works: The Scream by Edvard Munch, The Blue Rider by Wassily Kandinsky, The Large Blue Horses by Franz Marc, Street, Berlin by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner 

Also a type of poetry, expressionism developed in Europe around the early 20th century. 

However, some older painters have been retroactively deemed expressionist painters.

The primary goal of this style is an expression of emotions through the painting instead of aiming for the visual representation of a subject.

Expressionism is seen as a contrasting style to impressionism. 

The style is closely related to philosophies, including that of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Other influences on the style include Vincent van Gogh, the Fauves, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Beyond emotion, there is not one type of subject in expressionist art. 

Subjects include animals, landscapes, and people, including the artists themselves.

Any paint type works for the expressionist style.  


Famous Artists: Henri Matisse, Louis Valtat, Georges Braque, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck

Significant Works: Portrait of Madame Matisse by Henri Matisse, L’Olivier pres de L’Estaque by Georges Brasque, Paysage colore aux oiseaux aquatiques by Jean Metzinger

Fauvism comes from the French term les Fauves or wild beasts. While the Fauvist movement only lasted a few years around 1900, its impact is enduring.

Nestled between impressionism, and abstract movements of the early 20th century, this style utilized bold colors and large, sweeping brush strokes. 

In fauvism, representation is less important than the style of the painting.

Some influences on the fauvists include Gustave Moreau, pointillism, Paul Cezanne, African art, and other non-Western art. The movement would go on to influence expressionism and cubism. 

Fauvist subjects can be anything. However, they are usually humans or landscape paintings.

Any paint can be used for fauvist types of paintings, though the original famous artists primarily used oil paint straight from the tube. Painters of this style often paired complementary colors together.   


Famous Artists: Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas

Significant Works: Impression, solieil levant by Claude Monet, Dejeuner sur l’Herbe by Edouard Manet 

Impressionism is an art style that arose at the tail end of the 19th century. Today, these are some of the most famous paintings and famous artists in the art world. 

In many ways, it was a reaction against the overly realistic types of paintings popular in earlier art movements.

Rather than presenting an objective view of a subject, impressionist art draws attention to the perspective of the artist by emphasizing the viewing angle and movement. 

Most impressionist arts utilized thin brushstrokes that are visible to the naked eye. Effective use of color often took precedence over replicating the exact form.

Subjects for this art form were often landscapes and sometimes people. The outdoors usually provided a setting. Light itself may be considered a subject, due to the emphasis put on it. 


Famous Artists: Pablo Picasso, Anita Malfatti, Georgia O’Keeffe, Piet Mondrian

Significant Works: Kispiox Village by Emily Carr, aLe bonheur de vivre by Henri Matisse, Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue by Georgia O’Keeffe 

The Modernist art movement developed in tandem with a related philosophical movement during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Influences of this movement included cultural and technological changes in society. This style is closely related to abstract art as both prioritized experimenting over realism. 

Depending on the definition, modernism may encompass impressionism, cubism, futurism, expressionism, and abstract expressionism.

This movement was a reaction against traditional forms of art and culture that preceded it.

Influences include romanticism, John Ruskin’s writings, and the pre-raphaelite brotherhood. 

Line, form, and color are the priority for this art form, with geometric shapes playing a major role. Since philosophy and experimentation are the priority of this style, there is no best medium for this art. 

Naive Art

Famous Artists: Henri Rousseau, Alfred Wallis, Gigi Mills, Barbara Olsen, Seraphine Louis

Significant Works: Birds Song for the First Snow by Guido Vedovato, Juego de Domino by Jose Rodriguez Fuster, Tre of Paradise by Seraphine Louis 

The Naive art style refers to a painting done by someone without any formal training in the art.

This style is not informed by the knowledge of anatomy, technique, perspective, art history, and other elements of the majority of the art world. 

Since this art style comes from the individual artist’s preferences, rather than a broad art movement, there are not necessarily qualities common across all works.

However, naive artists tend to be flat with little attention to traditional art elements. Some trained artists may try to emulate this simple painting style. 


Famous Artists: Arnold Bocklin, Angelica Kauffman, Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Charles Gleyre 

Significant Works:  Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes by Marie-Denise Villers, Ariadne Abandoned by Angelica Kauffmann, Self-Portrait with a Harp by Rose-Adelaide Ducreux

Neoclassicism extends beyond painting, involving elements of culture, including theater, literature, music, and other art forms. 

It took place during the 18th and early 19th centuries and originated in Rome. 

Neoclassicism was greatly inspired by classical antiquity as Europeans became interested in Greco-Roman culture after the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum. 

The style was also somewhat a reaction against the maximalist Rococo style.  

The painting style shares elements of classical art, including realism, careful standards, simplicity, virtuousness, and civility. 

Oil paints were the traditional medium used for these types of paintings. Today an artist could try to recreate the style with acrylic paints.   


Famous Artists: Vincent Van Gogh, Renoir, Claude Monet. Pierre Bonnard, Camille Pissaro 

Significant Works: Boulevard Montmarte by Night by Camille Pissarro, The House of the Hanged Man by Paul Cezanne, The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Panterliness is a style defined by visible brushstrokes and a free approach to paint application. 

Unlike some other painting styles on this list, this categorization is not part of a larger movement. 

Instead, being painterly can apply to many individual artists’ painting techniques. 

This term came into use thanks to Heinrich Wolfflin, a Swiss art historian. Painterly works of art may involve using several mediums, including acrylic paints, oils, and watercolor painting supplies.

Pop Art

Famous Artists: Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, Mel Ramos, Yayoi Kusama  

Significant Works: I Know…Brad by Roy Lichtenstein, Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, Pop Shop 1 by Keith Haring, Parmi les peintres by Eduardo Arroyo  

Pop Art was a prominent art style during the mid-20th century in the United States and the United Kingdom. 

After World War 2, advertising and product design changed rapidly to encourage consumerism to strengthen economies.

Fine art started to adopt some elements of advertisements, concept art, comics, and branding to examine culture. The resulting painting technique was pop art. 

In some ways, this painting style is a reaction to abstract expressionism. 

Elements of this style include repurposed images, irony, sharp angles, and unique ways of putting the art together. 

Multimedia and printmaking were quite popular in this style. 


Famous Artists: Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Georges Seurat, Henri-Edmond Cross, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Significant Works: Where Do We Come From? By Paul Gauguin, The Yellow House by Vincent Van Gogh, At the Moulin Rouge by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 

Post-Impressionism started in France at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. 

Sub-styles within post-impressionism include Symbolism, Cloisonnism, Neo-Impressionism, and Synthetism. 

In general, these art styles were a reaction against some Impressionist practices, striving towards less representation. 

However, many styles also utilized some painting techniques of impressionist painting.  

The Post-Impressionism movement prioritized unnatural colors and abstract elements. 

A common practice during this movement was using thicker paints than usual. 

As a result, brushstrokes were often more visible.


Famous Artists: Gustave Courbet, Jean-Francois Millet, Aleksander Gierymski, Ilya Repin, Hubert von Hekomer

Significant Works: Hard Times by Hubert von Herkomer, The Drowned by Vasily Perov, October by Jules Bastien-Lepage

Realism is a broad umbrella term used to describe accurate representation in painting. Several styles pursue Realism, including Classicism.

There was a big movement towards Realism in the mid-19th century as a reaction against fussier styles of art, such as Romanticism. The movement was prominent in France, Russia, and England.  

This particular wave aimed to depict everyday life instead of people of high status or fanciful scenes. Common subjects included laborers and everyday activities portrayed objectively.

There is usually more movement and neutral colors than other styles from around the same time. Oil painting was the most common medium for these types of paintings.   


Famous Artists: Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, François Lemoyne, Jean-Baptiste Pater

Significant Works: Toilette de Venus by Francois Boucher, The Pre-Arranged Flight by Jean-Honore Fragonard, Allegory of the Planets and Continents by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo 

Rococo art is part of a larger cultural movement marked by excess, ornamentation, and asymmetry. 

This period followed the Baroque period and was followed by Romanticism.

The Rococo period existed throughout the 18th century and included developments in architecture, sculpture, music, fashion, and decor. 

Popular wall paintings for the well-to-do, Rococo paintings often depicted nobles in lush natural settings, mythology, and fantastical tableaus. 

Common elements include light, curved lines, pastel colors, ornamentation, exaggeration, and playfulness. 

The brush strokes of the oil paint are delicate in these pastel paintings.  


Famous Artists: Eugene Delacroix, Francisco Goya, George Stubbs, John Henry Fuseli

Significant Works: Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix, The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to be Broken Up by JMW Turner, The Raft of the Medusa by Theodore Gericault

Romanticism was the period following the Rococo period and in many ways, it is a reaction against the earlier period. Paintings, literature, music, politics, and philosophy all came into play during this period. It took place in the early to the mid-19th century. 

Elements of this period include a celebration of nature and a return to traditional ideals over industrialization. Realism followed this period.

Romantic paintings were often focused on landscape painting and battles. As with most art around this period, oil paints were the type of paint used.    


Famous Artists: Audrey Flack, John Salt, Richard Estes, Chuck Close, Tom Blackwell

Significant Works: Still Life With Peppers by Ralph Goings, Queen by Audrey Flack, Rol-A-Top by Charles Bell, Safety is Your Business by Malcolm Morley. 

Photorealism is a painting technique where an artist aims to recreate a photo using paint. This term refers to art mediums beyond painting, including pencil sketching.

This style arose during the late 1960s, partially out of the Pop Art style. Along with that style, Photorealism was a reaction against Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. 

These types of paintings usually depict urban settings, still life paintings, or people. Food is a popular subject for many artists. 

Since these types of paintings aim to recreate photos, the brush strokes are quite small and the overall process uses a different technology and painting techniques than several other styles. 

Digital painting can be useful in these types of painting.    


Famous Artists: Gustave Moreau, Gustav Klimt, Felicien Rops, Frida Khalo, Morris Graves

Significant Works: Allegory of Skulptur by Gustav Klimt, The Swan Princess by Mikhail Vrubel, The Last King by Alfred Kubin, The Two Fridas by Frida Khalo  

Symbolism was an artistic movement in the late 19th century that was largely a reaction against Realism and Naturalism.

While these types of paintings usually depict the subject in a highly representational way like those other painting techniques, the content includes symbolic elements similar to the Romantic period.

Within the Symbolist movement, many artists ranged from fully representational to only partially. 

Common themes included mythology, ambiguous elements, and dreams. Artists used oil paint for Symbolist paintings.  


Famous Artists: Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, Salvador Dali, Andre Breton

Significant Works: The Treachery of Images by Rene Magritte, The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali, The Robing of the Bride by Max Ernst

The Surrealist movement took place during the first half of the 20th century, primarily in France and Belgium. In addition to painting, this movement impacted writing, filmmaking, and theater.

While some types of paintings from this time were the goals of the movement, others were simply considered products of philosophy. 

Surrealism aimed to access the unconscious mind. As a result, elements, such as juxtaposition, psychology, fantasy, and unexpected components were all found in paintings.

These paintings usually include imagery representative of real-life positioned in unpredictable, potentially meaningful ways. 

How Are Painting Styles Developed?

Different painting styles may develop in many ways. Trial and error is an essential component of the development of style. 

So, many artists develop their style by creating a lot of art, experimenting with different existing style elements, and choosing their favorite elements.

It often takes time to form a coherent style of one’s own and most artists continue to develop over their lifetime. 

Over time, artists have developed a range of styles, such as sand painting, encaustic painting, oil painting, panel painting, mural painting, ink wash painting, and other types of paintings.  

What Are the Most Common Painting Styles Today?

Art styles continue to evolve and change over time. By the early 2020s, abstract art, modern, Impressionist, Surrealism, and Fauvism were among the most popular types of painting styles.

These different styles may arise in the zeitgeist as a result of several influences.

Contemporary artists who use these different styles include Jean Arnold, Wayne Ensrud, Dave Pollot, Patti Mollica, and Brea’n Thompson.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions and their answers related to painting techniques. 

What are painting techniques?

Painting techniques are approaches painters take when they create paintings. 

These art techniques can create different effects or work with different supplies. 

As a result of trying different painting techniques, the result may look different than if you use another art technique.

Which is the most influential painting style?

It is difficult to say that one painting style is the most influential compared to others since painting styles are constantly influencing each other.

Renaissance art may be one of the most influential painting styles thanks to its age. Cubism is the most influential style in the 20th century in many ways. 

Do painting styles matter?

Painting styles matter in that they provide an identity to an artist’s work and show how an artist may be inspired by other painters and styles.

Understanding painting styles can help you understand art better in general. One painting style is not more important than the others, objectively. 


Humans have been making visual art since the beginning of time. Art provides a great way to process existence and everything that makes us human. 

Whether that exploration and expression come through cave painting, figure painting, Plein air painting, spray painting, pastel painting, or mixed media painting, people will continue to create art and enjoy it.