Though many talented painters created exquisite works prior to the European Renaissance (c.1400-1600), some of the most seminal painters in the history of fine art emerged during that period -- shaping the landscape of fine art paintings for centuries to come. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, and Botticelli, are probably among the most recognized fine art artists of this period. Subsequent movements/centuries would see the rise of: Caravaggio, Diego Velasquez, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Rubens (Baroque); Fragonard and Boucher (Rococo); David and Ingres (Neoclassicism); Turner, Constable, Gericault, Goya, and Delacroix (Romanticism); Monet, Seurat, Degas, Cezanne (Impressionism); Magritte, Dali, and Ernst (Surrealism); Gorky, Rothko, Pollock (Abstract Expressionism); Warhol, Johns, Hockney, Lichtenstein (Pop Art). Renowned contemporary fine art painters include Peter Doig, Zhang Xiaogang, David Hockney and Gerhard Richter.
People have created painted artwork for millennia, evidenced by the 30,000-year-old cave paintings in the Chauvet Cave in France. However, it wasn’t until the advent of aesthetics (the philosophy of beauty and artistic taste) that people began distinguishing between fine art (art created purely for aesthetic pleasure) and applied art (artistic objects created for a practical purpose). In time, primarily during the Era of Enlightenment, finer distinctions were made--and standards for fine art, or high art, were established. Eventually, however, these lines would again blur when visionary painters including Cezanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh ushered in a new era of fine art by blending classical traditions with techniques considered by some of their contemporaries as “primitive” or even “childlike.”
Contemporary fine art paintings encompass many different styles and genres. The artist’s subject matter and intended overall effect dictate the materials he/she chooses to work with--whether oil, acrylic, watercolor and/or a texturizing medium upon canvas, paper, or wood panels. Though there is absolutely no limit to what contemporary artists can choose to represent, there are five classic fine art painting genres specified by several of the most prestigious and historied art academies including the Royal Academy in London, Accademia dell'Arte del Disegno in Florence, Accademia di San Luca in Rome, and the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. These genres are: Portraits (either individual or group); landscapes; history painting (despite the name, these need not represent a historical event, but rather contain a narrative and underlying message, usually of a moral nature); still life; and genre-painting (scenes from everyday life).