What Are The Major Periods In Western Art History?

The Major Periods of Western Art

When I look at the major periods of Western Art History, the one thing that stands out to me is that artists have been creating art for a long time. Western Artists have been creating art for literally thousands and thousands of years.

The major Western art history periods are defined as Prehistoric Art, Ancient Art, Medieval Art, the Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Art Nouveau, Impressionism, Post – Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Op Art, Pop Art, Arte Povera, Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Contemporary Art.

There are 24 basic western art history period timelines. Each one covers a different type of art and a specific timeline or era.

Below is a chart to show the Western Art history periods and the years each of them covers.

Art History PeriodYears
Prehistoric Art -40,000 – 4,000 B.C.
Ancient Art 30,000 B.C. – A.D. 400
Medieval Art A.D. 500 – A.D. 1400
Renaissance 1400 – 1600
Mannerism 1527 – 1580
Baroque 1600 – 1750
Rococo 1699- 1780
Neoclassicism 1750 – 1850
Romanticism 1780 – 1850
Realism 1848 – 1900
Art Nouveau 1890 – 1910
Impressionism 1865-1885
Post – Impressionism 1885-1910
Fauvism 1904-1908
Expressionism 1905- 1920
Cubism 1907 – 1914
Surrealism 1916-1950
Abstract Expressionism 1940s – 1960s
Op Art1950s – 1960s
Pop Art 1950s – 1960s
Arte Povera 1960s – 1970s
Minimalism 1960s – 1970s
Conceptual Art 1960s – 1970s
Contemporary Art 1970 – present
Western Periods of Art – Timelines

Art History Period and Western Art Movements

Each of these Western Art History periods is a bit different from the other. Below is a summary of each of these Western Art History timelines and periods.

Prehistoric Art

Prehistoric art covers the period from-40,000 – 4,000 B.C. This period is so long that it covers all art forms until a defined culture or civilization. Many do not consider this as western art, but we include it here as cavemen drawings were also found in Europe.

Prehistoric art also includes art forms such as writing, recordkeeping, or art found on cave walls. The cavemen drawings is an art form that dates back to prehistoric art and is found worldwide.

The Porch of The Caryatids on The Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
The Porch of The Caryatids on The Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Ancient Art

Like the prehistoric art, the Ancient Arts also cover a large span of time from 30,000 B.C – A.D. 400. Again, ancient art is found in many parts of the world.

Some of the more famous Western Classical Arts are the Ancient Western Classical Art of the Minoans, Greeks, and Romans civilizations. You can discover more about this art period by reading our blog What Are The Ancient Western Classical Arts? A Quick Guide by clicking here.

Medieval Art

Medieval Art covers the period of art from A.D. 500 – A.D. 1400; western medieval art covers about 1,000 years of art throughout Europe. This art time frame covers a vast array of art.

Like many other art timelines, medieval art has been broken down to other art timelines such as Early Christian art, Migration Period art, Byzantine art, Insular art, Pre-Romanesque, Romanesque, and Gothic art. There is also Anglo-Saxon art and Viking Art, which fit into the Western Medieval art realm.

Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci (1506)
Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci (1506)

Renaissance Art

Renaissance Art is the painting, sculpture, and decorative arts of European history from about 1400 – 1600. Also parallel to the artistic movement was the advancement in philosophy, literature, music, science, and technology.

Renaissance art took the foundation of its art from classical antiquity but transformed the art by applying current knowledge of the day. The period of Renaissance art is significant as it marks Europe’s transition from medieval art to the early modern art age.

The Disrobing of Christ by El Greco (1577)
The Disrobing of Christ by El Greco (1577)

Mannerism (Late Renaissance)

The Mannerism art movement took place from 1527 – 1580. This period of art is also known as the late Renaissance.

Mannerism art exaggerated the qualities of proportion, balance, and ideal beauty. For example, an artist may make a neck longer than what it originally was. Thus, the mannerism art period is known for its intellectual sophistication and some of its artificial qualities.

Baroque

The Baroque period of art is from 1600 – 1750. The Baroque style includes architecture, music, dancing, painting, sculpture, and other arts. Baroque art flourished in Europe. It began in Rome but then rapidly spread into France, northern Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Europe.

The baroque style used contrast, movements, exuberant details, deep colors, grandeur, and surprise for the viewer to have a sense of awe. It is also known for its excessive use of ornamentation.

The Triumph of Venus, By Francois Boucher (1740)
The Triumph of Venus, By Francois Boucher (1740)

Rococo (Late Baroque)

The Rococo period of art is from 1699- 1780. It is also known as the Late Baroque period of art.

The Rococo or Late Baroque art movement is an exceptionally ornamental and theatrical style of architecture, art, and decoration. This art movement combines asymmetry, scrolling curves, and gliding along with pastel colors— sculpture molding and trompe l’oeil frescoes.

Like the Baroque art movement, the element of surprise was important, along with motion and drama. This is why many consider Rococo as the final expression of the baroque movement of art.

Neoclassicism

Neoclassicism was for about a 100 year period from 1750 – 1850. It was a movement that started in Rome and spread around Europe.

The Neoclassicism movement coincided with the 18th Century Age of Enlightenment. Neoclassicism took a lot of its inspiration from the ancient arts of Rome and Greece. For example, Neoclassicism architecture was based on simplicity and symmetry.

Marianito Goya by Francisco Goya (1810)
Marianito Goya by Francisco Goya (1810)

Romanticism

The Romanticism art movement was from 1780 – 1850. It ran parallel together with the Neoclassicism art movement. It is also known as the Romantic Era.

The Romanticism art movement was an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe. An emphasis on emotion and individualism characterized it. It took its inspiration from the Medieval period of art and not classical art. The art was a reaction to the industrial revolution and the social aspects of its day.

Beach in Normandy by Gustave Courbet (1875)
Beach in Normandy by Gustave Courbet (1875)

Realism (Naturalism)

Realism art was from 1848 – 1900. It is sometimes also referred to as naturalism.

Realism art is about representing the subject matter truthfully and without any artificiality. The artist was to avoid speculative fiction or any supernatural elements. Basically, it is about painting what you see and as real as possible.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau was from 1890 – 1910. Art Nouveau was an art form that caught on throughout Europe.

Art Nouveau’s major objective was to break down the traditional distinction between fine art and applied arts. Because of this, Art Nouveau was most widely used in interior design, graphic arts, furniture, glass art, textiles, ceramics, jewelry, and metalwork.

La Barque a Giverny by Claude Monet (1887)
La Barque a Giverny by Claude Monet (1887)

Impressionism

Impressionism was from 1865-1885. The impressionist art movement started in France but then began to spread to other places. The impressionist artists faced harsh criticism from the established art community in France.

Impressionism was characterized by relatively small thin visible brushstrokes with an open composition. The impressionist emphasized the depiction of light and its changing qualities, i.e., how light would change with time.

To discover more about the Impressionism art movement, you can read our blog Why Was Impressionism Art at First Rejected? by clicking here.

Post – Impressionism

The Post- Impressionism art movement was from 1885-1910. It was a predominantly French art movement.

Post- Impressionism was a reaction against the impressionist concern for the naturalistic depiction of light and color. Post-impressionism extended impressionism while at the same time rejecting many of the limitations of impressionism. They continued using vivid colors, thick application of paints, and real-life subject matters. They also used geometric forms or distorted forms for an added effect and used unnatural or arbitrary colors.

The Dance, by Andre Derain (1906)
The Dance, by Andre Derain (1906)

Fauvism

Fauvism was an art movement from 1904-1908. Fauvism is also known as les Fauves, which is French for “wild beasts.” It was a short-lived movement as it only had three exhibitions.

The Fauvism painters used wild brushstrokes and strident colors. At the same time, their subject matter had a high degree of simplification or abstraction.

Expressionism

The expressionism art movement was from 1905- 1920. This movement started in Germany.

The Expressionism art movement encompassed both poetry and painting. The Expressionist sought to represent the world from a subjective perspective. In their view, they distorted the world for an emotional effect; their goal was to evoke feelings, ideas, and moods. Expressionists sought to express an emotional experience rather than physical reality.

Pablo Picasso
The Girl With The Mandolin, Fanny Tellier by Pablo Picasso (1910)

Cubism

The Cubism art movement was from 1907 – 1914. It was an avant-garde movement that was considered revolutionary for its time.

In the Cubism art movement, the objects were broken up, then reassembled in an abstract form. Instead of depicting an object from a single viewpoint, they would show the object from multiple perspectives.

To learn more about the Cubism art movement, you can read our blog on The Cubism Art Movement, What You Need to Know by clicking here.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali (1931)
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali (1931)

Surrealism

The Surrealism art movement was from 1916-1950. Surrealism was a cultural movement that started in Europe in the aftermath of World War I.

Surrealism is about the contradiction between dreams and reality – a kind of super-reality of surreality. Artists would paint unnerving scenes with photographic precision while they created strange creatures from everyday objects. They believed this allowed the unconscious to express itself.

To discover more about Surrealism, you can read our blog Was the Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) A Surrealism Artist? by clicking here.

Abstract Expressionism

The Abstract Expressionism art movement is from the 1940s to – 1960s. Abstract Expressionism was a post World War II method of painting that started in New York City.

Abstract Expressionism was the term that was applied to a new form of abstract art. Gestural brushstrokes and very spontaneous movements often characterize Abstract Expressionism art. There were two main groups in Abstract Expressionism 1) the action painters who worked in a spontaneous improvised manner on the canvas and 2) the color field painters who painted simple compositions that had one color that filed a large part of the canvas.

One of the developers of the Abstract Expressionism art movement was Jackson Pollock. You can learn more about him by reading our blog Who is the American artist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)? by clicking here.

Capella 4b by Victor Vasarely (1965)
Capella 4b by Victor Vasarely (1965)

Op Art (Optical Art)

Op Art which is short for optical art had its major era in the 11950s to 1960s. The Time Magazine coined the term Op Art in 1964.

Many of the Op Art pieces are created in black and white; sometimes, they have a bit of color. The Op Art gives the viewers the impression of movement, hidden images, flashing, vibrant patterns, swelling, or the canvas’s warping.

Learn more about Op Art by reading our blog What Are The Key Characteristics of Op Art? by clicking here.

No Title, By Andy Warhol (1972)
No Title, By Andy Warhol (1972)

Pop Art

Pop Art is an art movement that emerged in the United States and United Kingdom in the 1950s and 1960s.

Pop Art would use images from popular and mass culture. One of the purposes of Pop Art was to use these images in an ironic or kitschy way. Many of the Pop Art images were imitated from popular imagines used in advertising.

To discover more about Pop Art you can read our blog What Is Pop Art In Simple Terms? by clicking here.

Arte Povera

The Arte Povera art movement took place in the 1960s and 1970s. It started in major cities throughout Italy, with Turin, Italy being a major location.

The words Arte Povera means “poor art.’ This was about the artists using a wide range of materials besides traditional painting methods with oils on canvas. The art movement was considered a radical movement as artists would explore the unconventional processes and non-traditional ways to use everyday materials. The artist would use everyday objects for their art as soil, rags, and twigs considered throw-away items.

Gray Scramble by Frank Stellar (1969)
Gray Scramble by Frank Stellar (1969)

Minimalism

The Minimalism art movement was in the 1960s and 1970s. The minimalism art was also referred to as minimal art, literalist art and ABC art.

This Minimalism art movement is most strongly associated with the visual arts in America. The Minimalism art scene encompassed art and design, visual art, and music. Some of the Minimalism artwork was composed of simple geographic shapes that were usually based upon the square and rectangle. Minimalist artists felt that art should have its own reality and not be an imitation of something else.

Conceptual Art (Conceptualism)

The Conceptual art movement took place in the 1960s and 1970s. Conceptual art is also known as Conceptualism.

Conceptual art believes that the concept behind the artwork is more important than the finished artwork or object. A Conceptual artist will look at an idea and then use the most appropriate material to get his idea across. This could be anything from photography- to performance – to a written description. Some conceptual artists would use “found” objects to express their ideas. For the Conceptual artist, there is no single form, style, or material for the artwork.

Hong Kong Garden No 7 by David Hodgson (2020)
Hong Kong Garden No 7 by David Hodgson (2020)

Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art is started in the 1970s; it is s broad term given to today’s art.

Contemporary artwork is the art that reflects upon our globally-connected, culturally diverse world that is rich with technology. While at the same time, Contemporary art usually reflects upon the artist’s personal, culture, family, community, and nationality. Contemporary art uses a dynamic combination of materials, concepts, methods, and subjects. Contemporary Art continues to change and evolve as the world also continues to change and evolve.

Substitute By Ulla Maria Johanson (2018)
Substitute By Ulla Maria Johanson (2018)

When you look at this art timeline, one thing that stands out is that art and artists have been making the world a more beautiful and interesting place for a very, very long time. In fact, art has been around since the beginning of time. For any artist looking to explore a form of art, know that you’re not alone. There have been many who have come before you.

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Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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The Major Periods of Western Art