Beginners Guide to Thematic Classification of Art Paintings

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Did you know the widest used classification system of art paintings is based on its theme?

The paintings can be classified depending on whether it depicts landscapes, any object in its actual appearance, still life, religious characters etc.

Let’s take a look at them one by one.

Landscape PaintingsLandscape Paintings – The name says it all.  Landscape paintings are all about depicting natural sceneries.

Nature has always inspired artists and this could have led to the birth of landscape paintings. The tradition of landscape painting began well over a thousand years back, and is believed to be a contribution of Chinese artists.

In almost all the landscape paintings, the presence of sky and weather is inevitable. This presence makes landscape paintings more peppy and zesty. The brush of an artist can reproduce not only cloud, water, land etc, but also intangibles like sunlight and wind. A landscape painting can take the viewer to another world.

In early years, artists used to paint landscapes completely from their imagination. It was around 15th century that artists started to paint real landscapes. Also, the custom of making landscape paintings on-the-spot began at almost the same period. Like landscape paintings, seascape painting, which is the art of depicting sea on the canvas, is getting popular today. Some of the most famous landscape paintings include ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ by Thomas Cole, ‘Mont Sainte-Victoire’ by Paul Cézanne etc.

Mahatma Gandhi PortraitPortrait Paintings – Any painting that illustrate the actual appearance of an object is a portrait. The subject of a portrait painting doesn’t always have to be a person. This could be a complete contradiction to your beliefs or what you know. But this is how portraits are defined. The subject of portrait paintings could be anything from a pet to some intimate object! However, it is true that the word ‘portrait paintings’ bring a large canvas with a beautiful face staring at you to your mind.

A portrait painting is not just about representing the external beauty of a person or object. It is all about bringing out the essence of that person or object onto the canvas. Finding the thoughts of the subject for his painting is the biggest challenge for an artist. Take an example of one of the most popular portrait paintings of all time, ‘Mona Lisa’. People are still trying to figure out the emotions brimming on her face!

Triple portrait of King Charles’ by Anthony van Dyck, self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh, ‘Portrait of Jan Six’ by Rembrandt van Rijn etc are of some other famous portrait paintings.

Still Life PaintingsStill Life Paintings – Again, the name speaks for itself. Still life paintings are those that depict any lifeless subject. It could be flowers, vases, fruits etc. The subject just have to be lifeless. While creating still life paintings, the artist enjoys the freedom of being able to slip in his or her imagination onto the canvas. At a time when still life paintings were starting to get popular among artists, it was mostly some kind of a symbolic representation of objects.

Vincent van Gogh is still considered a master in still life painting. In most of his paintings during his starting years as an artist, still life objects were a prominent presence. He even experimented with the lighting effects and the use of dark colors in still life paintings. ‘Sunflowers’, ‘Ginger jar and onions’, ‘two jar and two pumpkins’, ‘Bird’s nest’ etc are some of his famous works.

Fruit basket’ by Paul Cézanne, ‘Violin’ by William Harnett, ‘Still life with carrots’ by Juan Sánchez Cotán etc are some other famous still life paintings of modern times.

Religious PaintingsReligious Paintings – It is quite easy to find art paintings with religious motif. Almost every art painting made in the early years of Indian art had a religious connection. These religious art paintings can easily uplift the spiritual quotient of anyone. This is actually the sole thinking behind religious paintings. You can even divide religious art into Hindu art, Christian art, Islamic art etc.

Most of the famous religious art paintings are murals or wall paintings. One of the most famous Islamic paintings is at the Mosque of Uqba in Tunisia. When it comes to Christian religious paintings, Madonna from the time of Renaissance, Virgin and Child from the 4th century artists etc are examples. Religious art paintings based on Hindu beliefs can be found in most temples of India. These paintings depict different stories from mythologies. However, interestingly, you cannot trace the painting to any one particular artist.

So, this is another classification of paintings based on the subject; simple enough for anyone to get their heads around. Artists are always looking to do something different on the canvas. This drives them to find new subjects and styles for their paintings. Luckily, for art lovers, none of these subjects has been disappointing. Before we end this article, here is a question for you. Which is your favorite style of painting? And why? Share your views with us via comments.

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About Harikrishnan G

Harikrishnan is the Chief Content Writer at He loves to hang out on the internet and make friends on Facebook. You can connect with him on Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn.

4 Responses to “Beginners Guide to Thematic Classification of Art Paintings”

  1. Add a comment…very very beautiful

  2. wow these paintings are really great! I like the that arts, really cool
    Thanks for the information.

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