The oil painting has been a staple in the art world for centuries, and yet it continues to captivate contemporary artists and art enthusiasts alike. From its origins in the Renaissance era to the modern techniques of today, oil painting has undergone a continuous evolution that has produced a rich and varied array of styles. In this article, we will take a journey through the history of oil painting, exploring its evolution and the techniques that have emerged along the way. We will also delve into the intricacies of contemporary oil painting styles, examining the works of some of the most notable artists of our time and the essential tools and techniques they use to create their stunning masterpieces.


The allure of contemporary oil painting lies in its ability to capture the essence of the human experience through a range of styles and techniques. Whether it's the expressive brushstrokes of abstract expressionism or the precision and detail of photorealism, contemporary oil painting offers an unparalleled level of depth and complexity. Through our exploration of the fascinating world of popular contemporary oil painting styles, we will delve into the different ways in which artists use color, texture, and composition to convey their unique perspectives on the world. From the bold and vibrant to the subtle and subdued, contemporary oil painting continues to push the boundaries of what is possible with this timeless medium.

What Makes Contemporary Oil Painting So Captivating?

What makes contemporary oil painting so captivating is its versatility and ability to evoke emotions and convey meaning through its intricate textures and vivid colors. Unlike other forms of painting, oil painting allows for an incredible amount of detail and depth, resulting in richness and complexity that can truly captivate the viewer. Whether it's the expressive and bold brushstrokes of Willem de Kooning's abstract expressionism or the intricate and lifelike portraits of Jenny Saville, contemporary oil painting offers an unparalleled level of nuance and depth that can leave a lasting impression on the viewer.


Furthermore, the fact that oil paintings are often created over some time, with layers of paint added gradually, gives them a sense of history and narrative that further enhances their appeal. It's no wonder that contemporary oil painting continues to be a beloved and influential art form, captivating viewers and inspiring artists around the world.

A Journey through the Evolution of Oil Painting

The oil painting has a rich history that spans centuries, with each era marked by its own unique styles and techniques. In the 15th century, Flemish painters like Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling revolutionized oil painting by developing new methods for layering and blending colors, resulting in works with greater depth and realism. This technique was exemplified in the Ghent Altarpiece, created by van Eyck, which used glazes to create a stunning sense of luminosity.


In the Baroque era of the 17th century, artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt used chiaroscuro to create dramatic contrasts between light and dark, resulting in works with an intense emotional impact. Rembrandt's famous self-portraits are a prime example of this technique, as the artist used the contrast between light and shadow to create a sense of depth and texture.


In the 19th century, Impressionists, such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, sought to capture the fleeting effects of light and color in their works. This was exemplified in Monet's Water Lilies series, which depicted the play of light on the water's surface with a stunning array of colors and brushstrokes.


Post-Impressionists, such as Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, experimented with bold and expressive brushstrokes and vivid colors, paving the way for Expressionism and Fauvism in the early 20th century. Later, Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko used unconventional techniques, such as dripping and pouring paint, to create works that were bold, emotional, and highly abstract.


Through these distinct eras, we can see how oil painting has evolved and adapted to the changing artistic landscape, while still retaining its fundamental beauty and appeal. From the realism of the Flemish masters to the abstraction of the 20th century, oil painting continues to captivate and inspire artists and art lovers alike.

Exploring the Fascinating World of Popular Contemporary Oil Painting Styles

Exploring the fascinating world of popular contemporary oil painting styles is an adventure in itself. From the realism of figurative paintings to the expressive strokes of abstract expressionism, contemporary oil painting styles offer a diverse range of techniques and aesthetics that capture the imagination of both artists and art enthusiasts alike. 

One popular style is photorealism, which involves creating highly realistic images that resemble photographs. This style is exemplified in the works of Chuck Close and Richard Estes. Another popular style is Pop Art, which incorporates images from popular culture and advertising. The works of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are prime examples of this style. Impressionism, which captures the fleeting effects of light and color, is another popular style that emerged in the late 19th century. The works of Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir have celebrated examples of impressionist paintings. Whether you're an artist or an art lover, exploring contemporary oil painting styles is a captivating journey into the ever-evolving world of art.

Essential Techniques and Tools of Contemporary Oil Painting

Oil painting is a traditional art form that has been around for centuries and has continued to evolve with contemporary techniques and tools. Today, artists have a wide range of materials at their disposal to create stunning oil paintings that captivate and inspire.  Here are the essential techniques and tools of contemporary oil painting:




Priming is the process of applying a primer to the canvas to prepare it for painting. The primer helps to create a smooth surface for the paint to adhere to and prevents the oil in the paint from seeping into the canvas.




Underpainting is a base layer of paint that establishes the overall color and tone of the painting. This layer is typically applied in a thin, transparent wash, and is used as a guide for subsequent layers of paint.



Layering involves building up layers of paint to create depth and texture in the painting. This technique is achieved by applying subsequent layers of paint over previous layers that have already dried.




Blending involves mixing colors on the canvas to create subtle transitions and gradients. This is typically done with a brush or using a palette knife to mix the colors on the canvas.



Glazing involves applying thin, translucent layers of paint over dry layers to create a luminous effect. This technique is often used to create a sense of depth and atmosphere in a painting.


Alla prima


Alla prima is a painting technique where the painting is completed in one sitting. This technique is often used in plein-air painting, where the artist works quickly to capture the fleeting effects of light and color.




Wet-on-wet is a technique where paint is applied to the wet paint to create a smooth, blended effect. This technique is often used to create soft edges and transitions between colors.




Drybrush is a technique where a dry brush is used to create texture and detail on the canvas. This technique is achieved by using a brush that has very little paint on it, which creates a broken, textured effect.


Palette knives


Palette knives are used to mix paint and create thick, impasto textures. This technique is achieved by applying paint in thick, chunky layers, which creates a three-dimensional effect on the canvas.




A variety of brushes are used in contemporary oil painting to apply paint to the canvas and create different effects. Flat brushes are used for broad strokes, while round brushes are used for detail work.




Solvents are used to thin or clean oil paint, such as turpentine or mineral spirits. These solvents can also be used to create a range of effects in the painting, such as creating a smooth, blended effect.




Mediums are added to the paint to alter its consistency or drying time, such as linseed oil or liquid. These mediums can also be used to create a range of effects, such as increasing the transparency of the paint or creating a glossy finish.


These techniques and tools are essential for contemporary oil painters to achieve the desired effects and create stunning works of art. From the foundational techniques of priming and underpainting to the more advanced techniques of glazing and dry brushing, each tool and technique has its unique role to play in the creation of a masterpiece.

Notable Contemporary Oil Painters and Their Inspiring Work

The world of contemporary oil painting is filled with countless talented artists who continue to push the boundaries of the medium. Some notable contemporary oil painters and their inspiring work include:


Gerhard Richter


A German painter is known for his abstract and photorealistic paintings. His 1986 painting, "Abstraktes Bild," sold for a record-breaking $44.52 million in 2015.


Jenny Saville


A British painter is known for her large-scale figurative paintings. Her work explores themes of beauty, gender, and the body. Her painting, "Propped," sold for $12.4 million in 2018.


Cecily Brown


A British painter is known for her vibrant, abstract paintings that often reference art history. Her painting, "Untitled (Blood Thicker Than Water)," sold for $5.5 million in 2018.


Peter Doig


A Scottish painter known for his dreamlike, atmospheric landscapes. His painting, "The Architect's Home in the Ravine," sold for $20 million in 2019.


Amy Sherald


An American painter is known for her portraits that challenge traditional notions of identity and beauty. She gained national attention for her portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama, which was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in 2018.


These artists, and many others like them, continue to inspire and captivate audiences with their skillful and innovative use of the medium. Through their work, they push the boundaries of what is possible with oil painting and create powerful, thought-provoking pieces that continue to resonate with viewers long after they leave the gallery.

Our Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, contemporary oil painting is a fascinating and captivating art form that continues to inspire and challenge artists and viewers alike. From its humble beginnings in ancient times to its evolution through the Renaissance and beyond, oil painting has proven to be a versatile and adaptable medium that has continued to evolve and flourish in the modern era. Its ability to capture the richness and depth of color, texture, and emotion has made it a favorite medium of artists throughout the ages.


Through exploring the fascinating world of popular contemporary oil painting styles, we can gain a deeper appreciation for how artists continue to innovate and push the boundaries of the medium. From the bold and expressive strokes of Abstract Expressionism to the intricate and hyper-realistic techniques of Hyperrealism, contemporary oil painting offers an endless array of possibilities for artists and viewers alike. By understanding the essential techniques and tools of contemporary oil painting and exploring the works of notable contemporary oil painters, we can gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the beauty and complexity of the medium.


Discovering the intricacies of contemporary oil painting styles is an exciting journey that offers a wealth of opportunities for artistic exploration and discovery. Whether you are a seasoned collector or a newcomer to the world of art, there has never been a better time to explore the magic and wonder of contemporary oil painting and all the incredible possibilities it has to offer. So, grab your brushes and paints, and let your creativity take flight as you explore this fascinating and captivating world of art.


Source: Eden Gallery | Oil Painting Guide | Teresa Bernard Art | Ken Bromley Art Supplies | Contemporary Art Issue

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