Genre painting typically illustrates scenes of everyday life, with ordinary people engaged in routine activities. They can be intensely realistic, entirely imagined, or heavily romanticized by the artist.
Because of their "every day" subject matter, Genre paintings exploded in popularity with the upper-middle classes during the 17th century. While this trend appeared in the Netherlands, its influence soon spread throughout Europe.
This brief introduction explores famous Genre paintings and the movement's pioneering artists.
Paintings that include commonplace subjects and everyday scenes are "genre paintings." These settings might be domestic households, urban streets, or rural locations.
The style first appeared in Holland in 17th century art when it was common to show peasants at work or having fun (typically while drinking in bars). William Hogarth popularized the style in Britain with several narrative artworks. A Rake's Progress is one of the most famous Hogarth series.
Genre painting also saw a resurgence in the Victorian era. Charles West Cope's and Harold Knight's emotional works (often featuring sentimental, family settings) particularly represent this period. In Italy, Angiolo Tommasi painted beautifully colorful paintings of peasant life and moving scenes of emigration and poverty.
This later generation of Genre painters tried to capture the energy and transience of modern industrial life in Europe's main cities. Gradually, this developed into Impressionist oil paintings and Post-Impressionist styles. Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edouard Manet's sparkling street scenes and café interiors exemplify these trends.
It is important to remember that the term "genre" can also apply to various hierarchies of painting. Examples of "genres" of art include history paintings, portraits, landscapes, and still life oil paintings.
Genre is a French word that means "variety" or "kind". From the late eighteenth century onwards, French writers described artworks depicting everyday life as "genre painting".
This style differed from History painting, which also featured rural scenes and working environments. While History paintings always included some narrative or moralizing elements, Genre paintings showed simple everyday scenes without necessarily having an additional moral message.
The four "highest" genres of painting are:
Art Historians have debated the relative significance of these categories for centuries. Many people would also include "Still Life" as a fifth genre. Indeed, the art theorist Andre Felibien (Secretary to the French Academy) officially named these five genres in 1669.
This method of "ranking" artworks according to subject matter first appeared during the Italian Renaissance. It borrowed from Greek and Roman hierarchies of art.
The great art academies of Europe (such as the Academie Julian in Paris and the Royal Academy in London) also furthered this hierarchy. These hierarchies remain influential today, with landscapes and portraiture works often fetching the highest prices at auction.
While Genre paintings appeared all over Europe, Dutch Genre paintings are the most famous and earliest examples.
Here are three examples of Genre painting, showing its fascinating development throughout the centuries:
Hunters in the snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder is one of the earliest examples of Dutch Genre painting. As an oil-on-wood artwork, it shows hunters and their dogs returning after an unsuccessful winter hunt.
A fox corpse is the hunters' only prize. An escaped rabbit's (or hare's) footprints are visible in the snow.
While this painting also represents the European "Labors of the Months" tradition, it perfectly exemplifies Genre-based depictions of rural activities throughout the year.
Johannes Vermeer's Girl Asleep at a Table depicts a domestic servant sleeping next to a half-drunk glass of wine.
Vermeer explores painterly themes of color, texture, and light with this simple subject matter. However, unlike many Dutch artists, he doesn't present a moralizing lesson. Instead, Vermeer shows an everyday domestic scene with intense realism.
Curiously, X-radiographs (from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) revealed how Vermeer removed a man painted in the open doorway. This erasure only heightens the painting's mystery and intrigue.
While Genre painting emerged from the Netherlands, Spanish artists soon adopted the style. Indeed, Flemish art was popular in Spain, partly due to Spain's earlier rule over the Netherlands.
The Spanish Golden Age started in the seventeenth century. Artists such as Diego Velazquez painted city life and kitchen scenes during this time. Later, artists like Francisco Goya experimented with Genre painting to comment on the human experience.
Two Men Eating Soup is one of Goya's fourteen "Black Paintings" produced during his final years. By this point, Goya became deeply disillusioned with humanity and the world. This image depicts two hunchbacked figures painted in grays, blacks, and yellows.
While the man on the left smiles ominously (clutching his soup spoon), the character on the right barely seems alive.
In addition to these three examples of Genre painting, the English artist William Stott and the French painter Auguste Toulmouche are also worthy of mention.
With works such as The Ferryman (1881), Stott showed the intense creative collaboration between English and French artists at the time. Reflecting a ferry crossing at Grez-sur-Loing (in North-Central France), it's a beautifully calm representation of quiet, country life. Today, the work hangs in Tate Britain.
Auguste Toulmouche created many images of middle and upper-class Parisian women representing a more luxurious approach to Genre paintings. Popular with the French Academy, these artworks all featured women in domestic scenes engaged in everyday activities. Reading Lesson and The Reluctant Bride are just two examples of his sumptuous settings and their beautiful inhabitants.
We proudly display thousands of fine art reproductions. With some of the most famous examples of Dutch Genre painting, you'll discover stunning masterpieces to adorn your walls.
Explore our extensive collection of replica art from Renaissance oil paintings to Old Masters Paintings. In addition, we offer wall art for the most discerning art lover.
Log in with your gallery ID here
Type your order number here