Top 10 Best Genre Painters
World's Greatest Artists of Genre Scene Painting.

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Barge Haulers on the Volga (1873)
(detail) Ilya Efimovich Repin

For more information, see:
History of Art

World's Best Genre Painters

Introduction to Genre-Painting

The term "genre painting" refers specifically to works portraying scenes of everyday life: encompassing scenes of ordinary people at work or leisure. This is a relatively modern type of art, which flourished initially in Northern Europe thanks to the Dutch Realist School of genre painting in the 17th century. It is usually composed in a highly realistic style. This realism focuses attention on the observed behaviour of, or interaction between, the figures depicted. That said, the difference between landscape and genre-pictures is not always clear: as illustrated by some of Millet's paintings (such as, The Gleaners (1857) Musee d'Orsay, Paris) which could be classified as either type, depending on one's opinion as to whether the figures have primary or secondary significance.

Blue Dancers (1898) Edgar Degas

For more about the different types,
styles and values of traditional and
contemporary visual art, see:
Definition of Art.


Historically, genre-art blossomed in Holland during the early 17th century, due in part to the new bourgeois demand for domestic decorative artworks - notably "interiors" - to reflect the new-found prosperity of the buyer. Other popular forms of genre-painting included scenes of peasant life or merrymaking in taverns, as well as market scenes, domestic settings, parties, and street scenes. Such genre-works may be realistic, imaginary, or romanticized by the painter.

Genre-painting was ranked number 3 in the hierarchy of the genres (types of picture) by the great European academies of fine art. The other genres (in order of importance) were History, Portrait, Landscape, and Still Life. The ranking reflected the genre's relatively modest "narrative" content (that is, moral message). In an attempt to overcome this, genre-painters tried to infuse their compositions with a degree of moral or social comment. (See also: Famous Paintings Analyzed.)

For more information about the
17th Century genre painting
which flourished in Holland, see:
Adriaen Brouwer (1605-38)
Noted for his tavern genre-pictures.
Adriaen van Ostade (1610-85)
Peasant scene artist, from Haarlem.
David Teniers the Younger (1610-90)
Peasant, guardroom scenes.
Pieter de Hooch (1629-83)
Famous Delft school genre-painter.
Gabriel Metsu (1629-67)
Intimate small-scale genre scenes.

For a list of the greatest exponents
of painting and sculpture, see:
Old Masters (1300-1830)
Great European painters.
Famous Painters (1830-present)
Greatest painters of modern era.
Top Contemporary Artists
World's best postmodernists.

See: Greatest Paintings Ever.

The Top 10 Genre Painters

This list of famous genre-artists has been compiled by our Editor Neil Collins MA LLB. It represents his personal view of the ten best exponents of genre-painting. Like any such compilation it reveals more about the personal tastes of the compiler than the genre painters being ranked. (See also our articles: Art Evaluation: How to Appreciate Art and How to Appreciate Paintings.)

No 10. Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

One of the leading French Impressionists, along with Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas and Alfred Sisley, Pierre Auguste Renoir painted portraits, landscapes and genre-paintings, although he is probably best known for his genre works such as the "Boating Party" and "Bal Au Moulin de la Galette". However, it is probably true to say that Renoir was less interested in the subjects of his paintings than he was in the painterly methods involved in their production. Thus, while not a "purist" of plein-airism, like Monet, Renoir was still fascinated above all by the depiction of light. Even so, one feels that a painter of his extraordinary talents must be included in this category.

Famous genre-paintings by Renoir
- Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876) Musee d'Orsay, Paris
- The Swing (La Balançoire) (1876) Musee d'Orsay, Paris
- The Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881) Phillips Collection, Washington DC
- The Umbrellas (1881-6) National Gallery, London

For a list of the most important
genre painters, during the
eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, (1700-1900) see:
Best English Painters.

See our compilations of the top
creative practitioners in history:
Best Artists of All Time
The greatest painters & sculptors
Best History Painters
Top 10 exponents of allegorical,
mythological, narrative art.
Best Portrait Artists
Top 10 portraitists ever.
Best Landscape Artists
Top 10 view painters and
plein-air specialists.
Best Still Life Painters
Top 10 exponents of still life

For information about the world's
most highly priced works of art
and record auction prices, see:
Top 10 Most Expensive Paintings
Top 20 Most Expensive Paintings

For details about the development
of Western painting and sculpture
see: History of Art Timeline.

For a list of the greatest
genre-works in Ireland, see:
Best Irish Genre Painters.

No 9. Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten (1627-78)

Samuel van Hoogstraten was a Dutch Realist painter and etcher, as well as a noted poet and art theorist. Although initially a portraitist and a pupil of Rembrandt, he is best known for his outstanding genre-painting, notably his stylish interiors, whose "depth" exemplifies his lifelong concern with linear perspective. Like all Dutch genre-painters, van Hoogstraten employed a variety of symbols and clues in his works to create interest and convey subtle moral messages. He was also famous for his peep-show boxes, which show the painted interior of a Dutch house when viewed through peepholes. As an art theorist, his major work was, Introduction to the Art of Painting (Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst, Rotterdam, 1678), covering topics like pictorial illusionism, as well as a rare contemporary appraisal of Rembrandt.

Famous genre-paintings by Samuel van Hoogstraten
- The Slippers (1654) oil on canvas, Louvre
- A View Down a Corridor (1662) oil on panel, Dyrham Park, Glos, UK


No 8. Gerard Terborch (1617-81)

One of the greatest of 17th century Dutch Realist genre-painters, Terborch is noted for his early guardroom scenes, but more famous for his small-scale, genteel, genre-scenes and interiors, in which the mundane is converted into high art. His meticulous eye for detail, and his ability to draw the viewer into his world, is underpinned with a perfect feel for colour, including harmonies of brown, gold and yellow, as well as combinations of silver and grey blue. His depiction of materials and textiles (eg. silk and satin) is exquisite, and while symbolism is a constant feature, it is lightly used.

Famous genre-paintings by Gerard Terborch
- Family of the Stone-Whetter (1654) oil on canvas, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin
- Girl Peeling an Apple (1660) oil on canvas, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
- The Flea-Catcher (1665), oil on canvas, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

No 7. Jan Steen (1626-79)

One of the best Dutch Realist genre-painters - a sort of Netherlandish William Hogarth - the tavern-owning Jan Steen pictorialized (often satirically) the everyday lives of the peasantry in a variety of styles, like those of Adriaen Brouwer, Gerard Dou and Adriaen van Ostade. They include lively crowded taverns, feasts and households, filled with moral content. Among his finest works are the untypical pictures The Menagerie and The Bedroom. In the first, a seated little girl, offers a bowl of milk to a lamb, while a bald-headed workman and a dwarf beam upon their little queen with pride and affection. The platforms above and below the girl are animated by domestic fowl of every decorative sort. Every corner is filled and carefully planned, yet one is afraid to look at it too intently lest it vanish or become something else. In The Bedroom, one looks through an arched doorway, to a room shimmering with straw-yellow and pale-blue stuffs, where on a bed a pretty young woman, sits with crossed bare legs. Again there is a sense of surprise and revelation, as if one had the good fortune to walk past this door and happen on this intimate scene.


Famous genre-paintings by Jan Steen
- The Lovesick Woman (1662) oil on canvas, Alte Pinakothek, Munich
- Card Players Quarrelling (1665) oil on canvas, Gemaldegalerie, SMPK, Berlin

No 6. Ilya Efimovich Repin (1844-1930)

Trained at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, Ilya Repin was the most famous Russian painter of the latter half of the 19th century. A talented portraitist, and leader of the Wanderers Landscape movement, he also produced numerous masterpieces of genre-painting, as exemplified by his 1873 work Barge Haulers on the Volga. His genre subjects taken from his extensive travels across the Russian interior, included everyday scenes of rural or city life, as well as domestic situations. In 1877, he began his series of paintings of religious processions (krestny khod) - such as "Krestny Khod in Kursk Gubernia", which depicts hundreds of people - revealing much of the participants' social and ethnic status. Repin's brushwork and palette (look out for his earthy browns and gleaming spots of white) faithfully conveys the intense Russian-ness of his interiors and exteriors, without the slightest drama or overstatement. In 1894, Repin joined the staff of the St Petersburg Academy of Arts, becoming a revered teacher. Cut off from his native country in 1917 when his family's estate was deemed part of independent Finland, he never returned. See works by Repin at the Tretyakov Gallery Moscow.

Famous genre-paintings by Ilya Repin
- Barge Haulers on the Volga (1873) oil/canvas, Russian Museum, Petersburg
- On a Turf Bench (1876) oil/canvas, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
- Arresting a Propagandist (1892) oil/canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
- Unexpected Return (1884) oil/canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
- Refusal of the Confession (1879-1885) oil/canvas, Tretyakov Gallery
- Krestny Khod in Kursk Gubernia (1883) oil/canvas, Tretyakov Gallery

For another superb genre painter of the 19th century, albeit more miniaturist and precise than Repin, see: Ernest Meissonier (1815-91).

No 5. Jean-Francois Millet (1814-75)

One of the founding members of the Barbizon landscape school in France, Jean-Francois Millet is particularly renowned for his plein-air genre-painting which captures the back-breaking rural routines of the French peasantry. His masterpieces include The Winnower, The Gleaners, The Sower, Man With a Hoe, and The Angelus, most of which were highly controversial owing to the brutishness of the figures and the inherent message of the compositions. Accused of being a socialist, the deeply Christian Millet shrugged his shoulders. In him there was no message of protest. Brought up on the Bible he simply depicted the incessant struggle of man with the soil, whose significance was neither social, nor political, but essentially religious. Eventually, after a lifetime of struggle he finally received the recognition due to him. In 1875, he married his partner Catherine, and died 17 days later. He had a huge influence on other younger artists including Eugene Boudin, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso.

Famous genre-paintings by Jean-Francois Millet
- The Winnower (1848) oil on canvas, National Gallery, London
- The Sower (1850) oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- The Gleaners (1857) oil on canvas, Musee d'Orsay, Paris
- The Angelus (1859) oil on canvas, Musee d'Orsay, Paris
- Man with a Hoe (1862) oil on canvas, Getty Museum, Los Angeles

No 4. Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

Intending initially to be a history painter on account of his classical academic training, Degas switched to contemporary subjects in his early 30s, and became associated with the French Impressionism movement. However, he remained a classical-style Impressionist, preferring to focus on figurative genre-paintings, mostly of ballet classes and dancers, along with racecourse scenes, and more mundane scenes of everyday life, featuring women captured in a "through the keyhole" manner of observation. His realism, (influenced by Adolph Menzel) combined with his unique skills in figure-drawing, makes Degas one of the greatest genre artists of the 19th century.

Famous genre-paintings by Edgar Degas
- Absinthe (1876) oil on canvas, Musee d'Orsay, Paris
- The Tub (1886) pastel on card, Musee d'Orsay, Paris
- The Ballet Class (1871-4), Musee d'Orsay, Paris
- Prima Ballerina (1877) pastel on paper, Musee d'Orsay, Paris
- Blue Dancers (1898) pastel on paper, Puskin Museum, Moscow

No 3. Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

The New York-born painter Edward Hopper is America's greatest genre-painter who spent much of his life depicting ordinary people trying to make the best of life. Typically, whether set in a hotel, automat, diner or gas station, his pictures are always on the verge of telling a story, but ultimately let the viewer decide what is happening. A meticulous worker, Hopper made copious preparatory drawings - detailing facial expressions, figurative positions and relationships, as well as sources and directions of light - before starting to paint. His genius lay in his ability to squeeze the maximum impact out of relatively few pictorial elements, notably by the clever employment of light and shadow to heighten the dramatic effect. Compare Winslow Homer.

Famous genre-paintings by Edward Hopper
- The Automat (1927) oil on canvas, Des Moines Art Centre
- Gas (1940) oil on canvas, Museum of Modern Art
- Nighthawks (1942) oil on canvas, Art Institute of Chicago

No 2. Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1569)

The greatest figure in Flemish painting of the 16th century, his unique contribution to the art of genre-painting is mostly based on works created during the last dozen or so years of his life. These pictures - of peasant and village life - executed in a satirical manner - portray drunkenness, gluttony and other vices, as well as other contemporary social issues, but never stoop to condescension. (He was nicknamed "Peasant" Bruegel, due to the subject matter of his pictures.) Pieter Bruegel was also renowned for a number of genre-landscape masterpieces like Hunters in the Snow.

Famous genre-paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
- The Fight Between Carnival and Lent (1559) Kunsthistorisches Museum
- Netherlandish Proverbs (1559) Gemaldegalerie, SMPK, Berlin
- Children's Games (1560) K.M., Vienna
- Hunters in the Snow (1565) K.M., Vienna
- The Massacre of the Innocents (c.1565-7) K.M., Vienna
- Peasant Wedding Feast (1568) K.M., Vienna.
- Parable of the Blind (1568) Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples.

No 1. Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)

Unquestionably the greatest ever genre-painter, Jan Vermeer languished in relative obscurity until his "rediscovery" in the mid-19th century. His short life and the rarity of his works makes him one of the world's most valuable artists. On his death, he left behind a widow and 11 children plus huge debts, having failed to achieve any financial success during his lifetime. His unique reputation - as the greatest exponent of Dutch realism - rests on a series of some 35 mostly genre-paintings, nearly all masterpieces, characterized by tantalising suggestions of something about to happen (or having happened), a unique colour palette of cool blues and sensuous yellows and whites, and great sensitivity in the expressions, poses and arrangement of his subjects. No drawings by Vermeer, or indeed any evidence of his painting methods, have survived, leading Thore - a key figure in the artist's "rediscovery" to dub him "the sphinx of Delft", in a series of articles written for the Gazette des Beaux-Arts Gazette in 1866.

Famous genre-paintings by Jan Vermeer

Vermeer's pictures rank among the greatest genre paintings in the world. Here is a selection of his works.

- Girl Asleep at a Table (c.1657) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
- Girl Reading Letter at an Open Window (c.1657) Alte Meister, Dresden.
- The Little Street (c.1657) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
- Soldier and a Laughing Girl (c.1658) Frick Collection, New York.
- The Milkmaid (c.1658) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
- Man and Woman with a Wine Glass (c.1658) Gemaldegalerie, Berlin.
- A Woman and Two Men (c.1660) Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick.
- Woman with a Pearl Necklace (c.1664) Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
- Woman Holding a Balance (1662-3) National Gallery, Washington DC.
- Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (c.1664) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
- Woman Playing a Lute near a Window (c.1664) Metropolitan Museum, NY.
- The Music Lesson (1665) British Royal Collection.
- Young Woman with a Water Jug/Pitcher (c.1662) Metropolitan Museum, NY.
- The Concert (c.1665) Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.
- Girl with a Pearl Earring (c.1665) Mauritshuis, the Hague.
- Lady Writing a Letter (c.1665) National Gallery, Washington DC.
- The Art of Painting: An Allegory (c.1666) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
- Girl with a Red Hat (c.1666) National Gallery, Washington DC.
- Girl with a Flute (c.1666) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
- The Lacemaker (c.1669) Louvre, Paris.
- The Love Letter (c.1669) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
- Lady Writing Letter with Her Maid (1670) National Gallery of Ireland.
- The Guitar Player (c.1672) Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, UK.
- Lady Standing at a Virginal (c.1673) National Gallery, London.
- Lady Seated at a Virginal (c.1673) National Gallery, London.


• For a list of the top painters/sculptors, see: Visual Artists: Greatest.
• For more about the greatest genre-painters, see: Homepage.

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