Fantasy paintings form part of a vast genre of art. It incorporates Greek mythology artworks, nineteenth-century movements such as romanticism and symbolism, and any art with supernatural themes.
Fantasy artists create paintings of extreme beauty and mystery with an intensely realistic style.
To explore this fascinating genre, we look at the roots of fantasy art and some of its most famous proponents.
Fantasy artworks depict supernatural, mythological, or magical themes.
It’s a loosely defined genre not linked to any specific group of artists. Instead, the subject matter is essential for fantasy paintings. These topics could include mythological or folkloric subjects, mystical spiritualism, or entirely fictional creations.
Even so, fantasy art is usually figurative. “Figurative art” represents people and places (in contrast with abstract art).
Fantasy is an essential element of artistic production. Indeed, some of the oldest cave paintings refer to mythical beasts and animals. Greek mythology artworks also focused on ancient gods and heroes.
Greek and Roman mythology particularly inspired painters from the Renaissance onwards. In addition, it significantly influenced styles such as mannerism, romanticism, symbolism, and surrealism.
Fantasy art can fall under the French title of Le Fantastique. In addition, it’s sometimes called “grotesque art” or “visionary art,” often inspired by fantasy literature and ancient texts.
Despite this, some fantasy art takes inspiration from personal fantasies, notably hallucinations and dreams. Indeed, reflecting on the links between imagination and madness, Salvador Dali once said the only difference between him and a madman was that “I am not mad.”
In the modern day, fantasy art often applies to more recent creations (from the mid-twentieth century onwards), specifically illustrating fantasy literature.
Fantasy wall art can apply to many different genres of painting.
Victorian artists (often working in symbolist and pre-raphaelite styles) mainly focused on inner emotions and mythological scenes. For instance, Edvard Munch’s famed The Scream shows his fantastical imaginings and inner turmoil.
The central character’s anguished face appears against a blood-red sky, reflecting a “scream of nature.” For Munch, these feelings pervaded modern existence.
In an entirely different manner, the pre raphaelites artists produced “fantasy” creations inspired by Greek and English mythology. These inspirations included legends of King Arthur, romantic chivalry, and Greek and Roman tales.
Similarly, paintings focusing on classical mythology have a long history in Western art. These influences appear in early Renaissance works such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, created between 1485 and 1486.
Religious art is also linked to fantasy, as it represents supernatural subjects in a naturalistic manner. Nonetheless, scholars don’t usually describe religious painting as fantasy art. Instead, art historians define this as a separate genre.
Given the broad nature of fantasy art, there are no styles artists must use in their paintings.
Nonetheless, most fantasy art uses realistic techniques. Realism involves painting subjects and scenes in a naturalistic manner. As such, intense attention to detail is typical, with meticulous brushstrokes and gradual blending.
As a result, fantasy artwork often has a very smooth surface. In the case of pre-raphaelite paintings, artists used finishes that neared photographic realism. John Everett Millais’s paintings (for instance, The Lady of Shalott) demonstrate this approach perfectly.
While fantasy art has roots in Greek and Roman mythology, it started in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Early fantastical artists include the Italian Giuseppe Arcimboldo (famed for his imaginative portraiture) and William Blake, known for his emotionally charged visionary paintings.
Indeed, Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Summer (1573) is one of the most unusual portraits ever created. It features a man’s face profile made from fruit and vegetables.
Artists such as Hieronymus Bosch (from the Netherlandish school of art) also created religious and fantasy art. His nightmarish depictions of punishment and hell are particularly memorable.
Moving into the nineteenth century, French artists such as William-Adolphe Bouguereau took great inspiration from mythology in art. The German romantic artist Caspar David Friedrich also created fantastical and allegorical scenes.
Despite this, the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya produced some of the most famous fantasy art. His career culminated with his Black Paintings of 1819 to 1823, depicting intensely haunting themes of insanity and pessimism.
Here are three examples of fantasy paintings dealing with supernatural and mythological themes:
1. Luis Ricardo Falero, The Witches Sabbath (1880)
Falero was a Spanish painter who specialized in female nudes. Like The Witches Sabbath, these nudes often appeared in mythological and fantastical settings. Falero also loved astronomy, and many artworks feature highly detailed night skies.
Despite his popularity in the late nineteenth century, most Falero paintings remain in private collections. However, one artwork, Twin Stars, hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
2. Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, Souls on the Banks of the Acheron (1898)
In Souls on the Banks of the Acheron, dead people throng on the banks of a black river. These waters carry dead souls before they reach their final destination in the underworld.
With this artwork, Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl creates a nightmarish scene where everyone dreads their passage from the upper to the lower realms. From women to young children and older men, none escape
3. John Duncan, Heptu Bidding Farewell to The City of Obb (1909)
John Duncan was a Scottish symbolist painter who often focused on Celtic folklore and Arthurian legends. In this unusual scene, a naked girl with alabaster white skin rides across the skies on a fantastical beast.
The girl’s crown and jewels suggest she was a Princess of Obb. Her palace sits precariously on the rocky mountains below, with land cast in shadow. Despite these details, information about the painting is scarce. It remains a genuinely enigmatic and mysterious fantasy oil painting on canvas.
Explore our extensive collection of Fantasy wall art if you adore the otherworldly beauty of fantasy oil painting.
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