Q&A: Are there any 21st century painters whose art style is similar to that of classical paintings from past centuries?

Yes, I’m assuming you mean “classical paintings from past centuries” as in before modernism (1850–1950). Will Cotton is one such artist. He openly chases after a traditionalist passion for detail while operating within a “classical” definition of beauty. Soft planes and geometric lines.

Frosting Flowers, 2013, oil on linen, 34 x 24 inches

Another artist that paints and draws inspiration from the past is Kehinde Wiley. He is most known for Barak Obama’s presidential portrait. His work usually has close to identical posing to earlier paintings and is done with a great degree of attention to detail. He detours in who is placed in the composition and many times the background, but it is both stylistically and compositionally evidently historical.

The reasoning there are so few of artists like this, is because of the breakdown of the establishment of the fine art industry. This occurred at the later half of the 19th century where fine art used to be as respected as a lawyer is today. Due to a cultural shift in interest to the daily and industrial life of “non-elite,” international salons we’re losing popularity because of their strict requirements and club-like demeanor. These requirements included rigorous artistic training and attention to detail since replication of any object in canvas required immense skill. But the most innovative artists of this time we’re concerned for matters greater than achieving structural success. They wanted to evoke emotions. Due to the invention of photography by Joseph Nicephore Niepce, replication was beginning to become less appealing. This interest in emotion over replication came to be known as “modernism” because of the content usually encircled around ideas of the modern world of industry, individual vigor, and the new middle class. Here is where we have impressionism, expressionism, and minimalism. Concepts we are very used to (and highly opinionated about).

Kehinde Wiley’s Napoleon Leading The Army Over The Alps, 2005.

In short, we departed from the “classical style” because it was formulaic and elitist. But the real question now is has this journey away from those concepts brought us to just another elitist system? Art galleries today attract a very well known cliche of over thinkers and an absence of evident value. Many works today require an immense art historical knowledge which can be considered elitist because not too many people have or care to have such knowledge.

I see an interest in this style of art happening due to an interest in wanting to connect with it no matter who you are.

© Davy Mellado, 2022. All rights reserved.