What are the most frequent themes in figurative painting?


This article is about figurative painting and the identification of its typologies. It is necessary, however, to reflect previously on what is figurative painting and figurative art in general.

what is figurative painting

The great distinction between figurative art and non-figurative art consists in recognition.

“Figurative”  is used to designate the artistic manifestations that represent the human form or the elements of the nature and the objects.

Monet pintando no seu barco, Claude Manet

Édouard Manet, Claude Monet peignant dans son atelier, 1874 , Musée d’Orsay

However the concept must not be confused with realism or even with likeness.

Those art works that seek an approximate identity of the real in terms of shapes and colors are considered as a work of figurative art.

We also consider as a work of figurative art those that represent stylized or diluted forms.

For example most of the works of the Impressionist, Post Impressionist and Expressionist movements.

We hope to have contributed to a reflection about figurative painting but, like all concepts, this one consists in a way of “arrangement” to better develop the exercises of analysis of works of art.

Let’s identify the most frequent themes in figurative painting.

Contains an explanatory video.

You can know about this and many other indispensable aspects for reading and interpreting works of art in the online course Analysing Art.

What are the different types of figurative painting ?


figurative painting Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, de Thomas Gainsborough (século XVIII)

Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Thomas Gainsborough (18th century)

The function of a portrait is to represent an individual or group of individuals, so that they are recognized by a specific audience.

Through posture, gestures, clothing, scenery, attributes or secondary figures, usually reveals the identity of the portrayed and the ideal that the artist wants to reveal of his person.

It does not necessarily seek full fidelity to features.

It may be full-body, mid-body or bust, and the subject may be in a frontal, lateral or three-quarters position.

Read the detailed analysis of this painting

Figurative scene

which may be:

  1. mythological;
  2. historical;
  3. religious;
  4. allegorical;
  5. genre (also called petit genre; scenes of everyday life and folk customs);
  6. literary;
The figurative scene tells a story
figurative painting Giotto Fuga para o Egito Pintura figurativa

Giotto,  flight into Egyp, Capela dos Scrovegni , Padua, circa 1305


The figurative painting tells a story through the gestures, postures, facial expressions, attributes or other contents of the portrayed.

It seeks inspiration from various sources such as mythology, religion, society, literature, local customs, etc.


Figurative painting Pintura figurativa Paul Gauguin Parahi Te Marae

he Sacred Mountain (Parahi Te Marae). 1892, Philaelphia Museum of Art

The subject is the landscape.

It is interesting to identify seasons of the year, to observe temporal indications and human activity, to point out the architectural elements present.

The artist can choose to represent the landscape with quicker and summary strokes or to look for detail, with more concentrated or diffused motifs.

The general character of the scene may have an identifiable temperament, symbolic or not: intimate, turbulent, inviting, …


In figurative painting of landscape this can be real or idealized.

Light, space elements, color scheme, etc. – can contribute to the expressiveness of the landscape.

To better identify a figurative work of art watch the explanatory video


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