Figurative art is not to be confused with figure painting or figural art- that mostly captures the essence of human expressions or form, while on the other hand, figurative art is associated with Realism. It is the depiction of real-life imagery. It is recreating the images from real life, portraying the likeness or similarity with the object under observation. Figurative art is described as “sharing likeness” of shapes, objects or forms rather than “creating a likeness”, and the subject can be recognizable from the real world. To understand Figurative art, it is important to understand that this form of art can depict true life forms to less realistic forms. That may share the tinge of likeness to the object in real life. 

Figurative art in the 1400 and 1500s was inspired by the great thinkers and philosophers who believed that “the man is the measure of all things” this group of thinkers usually referred to as “sophists” and included the most influential thinks of all times, including Aristotle, Plato, Socrates. It is believed that figurative art was inspired by the cultures and philosophies of these thinkers. Basic life forms and their expressions put forth the basis of an art form that truly honours the culture and beliefs (Figurative Art — Commemorating the Human Experience | Sybaris Collection, 2022). 

Influential Figurative artists

For ages, artists have tried to portray the real world on canvases or through sculptors. The artwork of artists associated with the movement differs greatly. Some take on the style that indicates the figuration; clearly, some use a hyper-realistic approach, considering every minute detail, and some illustrate through the abstraction that can create an illusionary effect, yet still, be recognized as figurative art. To better understand the work of figurative artists, it is important to understand that figurative artwork can be subcategorized into Baroque, Realism, surrealism, and many more. According to Mark Rothko and Joan Miro – abstract expressionists– contested that: “any residual presence of the figure, no matter how abstracted, can be constituted as figuration”. 

Even the famous Painter Picasso provides the most influential figurative art. Among his most famous figurative pieces are the weeping women, the old guitarist, and his self-portraits. However, it has been argued that his portrait or the abstraction of his work is the opposite of figurative art and is considered a non-recognizable form of nature. But the truth is both these art forms are deeply interconnected; even the abstract forms portray figurative aspects and can be associated with the objects in real life. His paintings represent reality through the shapes of figures to understand the subject matter (Understanding Figurative Art and its Most Influential Artists, 2022).

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If we go back to earlier periods of the Renaissance, Artists like Giotto and Masaccio, Were the first painters to bridge the gap between medieval (two- dimensional) art and Realism (three-dimensionality), which was never seen in paintings before. They were referred to as “mimesis” or imitation, as they portrayed the details into facial expressions and human forms. His masterpiece “Lamentation of the Death of Christ (1305) was the first step into figurative art. 

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“The Lamentation of Christ”- MADELEINE F. STEBBINS_©CERC

Leonardo Da Vinci and his famous painting “Mona Lisa” portray the realism in his work

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Portrait of Mona Lisa del Giocondo (c. 1503-1506) by Leonardo da Vinci_©Wikimedia Commons

Not to Forget Michealangelo, he depicted his figures with minute details that almost every expression and form could be depicted. Some of the best figurative artworks are carved marble sculpture “David and pieta”  (Figurative Art – A Look at the World of Figurative Abstract Art, 2021).

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David_©Michelangelo gallery
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Pieta_©Michelangelo gallery

Fall of the Movement 

The early 20th marked the decline in the movement when artists, painters, and sculptors rebelled against the culture and beliefs. The fall in the movement was due to the impressionists- they rebelled against the classical subject matter, rather embraced modern creativity and expressed their urges through experimental art. In addition, the invention of the camera and photography associated with realistic expression of the figures and the rise in its recognition led to a decline in a figurative art form (Thakur, 2022). 

Rebirth of Figurative art

As the modern world started experiencing more and more social and political challenges, the abstraction in art became less descriptive and unwary to immortalize and express the challenges being faced and experienced in the real world; thus, the rebirth of figurative art was to exhibit the fierce devastation being experienced. The decline in abstract expressionism led to the incline in figurative paintings; many known artists, such as Phillip Guston, resurrected back to figuration. Revival of neo- figurative painting in the early twenties led artists once again to retain their focus on the fundamentals of nature.

The contemporary form of figurative art has been strongly influenced by abstraction and surrealism and the complete freedom in its representation. In recent times figurative art has been combined with the expression of freedom of speech, and the concept of the artist has become more important than the portrayal of his technical skills.

Self-Portrait – 2018 by Norris Yim_©the artling

Moreover, the growth in digital art, cartoons, and caricatures has influenced the growth of figurative art, and its acceptance all over the world  (Figurative Art — Commemorating the Human Experience | Sybaris Collection, 2022)


  1. Sybaris Collection. 2022. Figurative Art — Commemorating the Human Experience | Sybaris Collection. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2022].
  2. 2021. Figurative Art – A Look at the World of Figurative Abstract Art. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2022].
  3. Thakur, P., 2022. Tracing the Rise and Fall of Figurative Paintings. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2022].
  4. HancockGallery. 2022. Understanding Figurative Art and its Most Influential Artists. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 January 2022].

Romaisa Tahir ( a student of architecture at the Institute for arts and culture, from Pakistan) enjoys writing and expresses her concerns via poetry and narrative writing. She believes that the passion for writing and admiration for the art of building can be blended; allowing the silence of buildings to speak through words and add meaning to their existence.