Neoclassical Paintings: 8+ Revival Art of Rome and Greece

Neoclassical Painting cover image

Drawing is the honesty of art. To draw does not mean simply to reproduce contours: drawing does not consist merely of line. Drawing is also expression, the inner form, the plane and modeling.”

This quote by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres best explains the essence of neoclassical paintings! 

Artworks from this era have always enthralled art admirers—the credit goes to its grace and intricate expression. 

But how much do you know about neoclassical art? 

To put it in simple terms, Neoclassical art was the attempt to bring a new era of paintings, and revive Greek and Roman art! 

This rediscovery paved the way to producing a variety of neoclassical paintings that made a compelling influence in the art world. 

Want to see some of these breathtaking paintings and learn more about neoclassicism?

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Below, I have curated a listicle of neoclassical paintings and shared a brief history of their origin. 

But before we get into the artworks, let me give you a brief understanding of the Neoclassicism movement and how the period unfolded!  

What is Neoclassicism?

example of a neoclassical painting portraying a nude woman with her female attenders.
Image: Britannica

To understand neoclassical art, you need to first understand the Neoclassicism movement and what it stands for.

Let us break down the term “neoclassical”, shall we?

“Neo” is derived from a Greek word; “neos” which means new, young, or fresh. 

Whereas, “classical” is derived from a Latin word, “classicus” which translates to highest rank or highest class. 

Here “classical” indicates the era where the Roman and Greek flourished in their way of life— that included art too! 

But then, why Neoclassicism?

The Neoclassical era came with new discoveries, grandeur; a new style bringing unity in art

But they were also a movement that came to dismiss the luxuriousness the Baroque and Rococo movements brought! 

This new era came and developed a new perspective–the revival of Roman and Greek art and architecture. 

The time frame of Neoclassicism was from around the middle of the 18th century to all through the 19th century. 

The focus of all neoclassical paintings is on how the class of the painting is handled.

Be it the hues used, the brush stroke style, small details, or other painting techniques— they all together made sure the painting delivered had grandeur and grace! 

Now that we have an idea of what Neoclassicism stands for, let us dive into the list of paintings from the era.

Suggested Read: Famous Baroque Paintings 

1. Parnassus (1761)

Parnassus by Anton Raphael Mengs
Image: Wikipedia

Parnassus is a neoclassical painting made by  Anton Raphael Mengs. 

The literal meaning of “Parnassus” is “the world of poetry or poets collectively”, which is beautifully depicted  by the artist! 

Breaking away from the Baroque traditions, neoclassical style and technique have been incorporated into art . 

This particular painting was done with oil paint on canvas, but it was inspired by the fresco version of Parnassus, by the artist himself. 

The painting depicts the Greek God Apollo at the center and around him the other figures are his muses. 

Meng’s neoclassical artwork influenced many across Italy and made neoclassicism famous at the time!

Name of the paintingParnassus
Year completed1761
Artist’s NameAnton Raphael Mengs
MediumOil on panel
Where it is currently housed State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

2. The Death of General Wolfe (1770)

The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West
Image: Fine Art America

The artist of this neoclassical painting is Benjamin West, who was famous for painting historical events. 

The Death of General Wolfe is one such painting that portrays the scene from the Battle of Quebec

If you notice closely, this painting makes a stellar example for neoclassical art because of the way the faces are painted. 

The pale faces here have a certain glow,  almost brightened like Christ’s face. 

West brilliantly depicts the drama that happens on the battlefield, while  showing the respectful spirit of martyrdom with General Wolfe’s death! 

West showed characters in   uniforms which were contemporary then, which raised many eyebrows, leading it to become a controversial painting!

But this also unlocked a new path for contemporary historical paintings, thanks to West! 

Name of the paintingThe Death of General Wolfe
Year completed1770
Artist’s NameBenjamin West
MediumOil on canvas
Where it is currently housed National Gallery of Canada

Suggested Read: The Death Of Socrates

3. Oath of the Horatii (1784)

Jacques Louis David's painting Oath of the Horatii
Image: Britannica

Neoclassical artist Jacques Louis David is one of the pioneers of the Neoclassicism movement.

This particular neoclassical painting, Oath of Horatii, depicts a Roman legend.

The legend demonstrates a story of two cities at war— Rome and Alba Longa. 

According to the legend, each city sends three warriors for a fight instead of the whole army going for war. 

The figures we see in the painting are the Roman Horatii family!

They stand with their hands extended as a symbol of respect. 

Now the brilliance of the artist is shown in how the painting is balanced by keeping the  converging point of the swords in the center!

Also, the neoclassical artist is trying to convey vital qualities of a true warrior— duty, loyalty, patriotism, and solidarity! 

It is impossible to overlook the women and children in the background.

They are shown in grief because they are often the victims of war.

While the soldiers display courage and patriotism, the figures in the background display despair and helplessness! 

Name of the paintingOath of Horatii
Year completed1784
Artist’s NameJacques-Louis David
MediumOil on canvas
Where it is currently housed Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

4. Cornelia. Mother of the Gracchi, Pointing to her Children as Her Treasures (1785)

Cornelia, Mother of Gracchi, Pointing to her Children as Her Treasure by Angelica Kauffman
Image: Wikipedia

This neoclassical painting by Angelica Kauffman, has the magic of motherhood written all over it! 

Kauffman depicts the principles of Neoclassicism in the way she clothed the subjects in her painting. 

Both women are draped in ancient Roman clothing, with flowing fabric and vibrant, bright colors! 

Even Cornelia’s children are clothed in the same manner, even wearing leather sandals, indicating the classic Roman period. 

This neoclassical art’s meaning is in fact explained by a story, where the woman in red shows off her exquisite jewels.

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Meanwhile, Cornelia points at her children and states that the greatest treasures of her life are her children! 

What I personally admire about Kauffman’s artwork is that a lot of times women are central in her paintings!

Because she made sure her artworks are around women, as it was an era where every painter would show men in most heroic acts.

Name of the paintingCornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, Pointing to her Children as Her Treasure
Year completed1785
Artist’s NameAngelica Kauffman
MediumOil on canvas
Where it is currently housed Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, United States

5. Virgil Writing His Epitaph at Brundisi (1785)

Angelica Kauffman's painting Virgil Writing His Epitaph at Brundisi.
Image: Wikimedia

We have yet another neoclassical painting by Angelica Kauffman, titled Virgil Writing His Epitaph at Brundisi.

Kauffman was undoubtedly one of the most famous female artists of her times, and her neoclassical artworks were highly influential! 

In addition, the neoclassical art characteristics stand out in this painting as the artist skillfully moves away from the Rococo style. 

Instead, the subject portrayed is painted in more somber colors, with a strain of melancholy looming over the painting! 

Name of the paintingVirgil Writing His Epitaph 
Year completed1807
Artist’s NameAngelica Kauffman
MediumOil on canvas
Where it is currently housed Carnegie Museum of Art

6. King Lear Weeping Over the Dead Body of Cordelia (1788)

 King Lear Over the Body of Cordelia by Irish painter, James Barry.
Image: Tate

This neoclassical painting is part of Alderman Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery collection. 

This art piece is in fact a sad painting showing King Lear holding the corpse of his daughter Cordelia, and mourning her death! 

The agony and despair of losing his daughter is a heart wrenching sight that the artist Barry has depicted so well! 

For the painting, Barry followed the neoclassical art styles, especially the Greek style, in which the colors and contours are precisely used. 

Name of the paintingKing Lear Weeping over the Dead Body of Cordelia
Year completed1788
Artist’s NameJames Barry
MediumOil on canvas
Where it is currently housed Tate, London, United Kingdom

7. Self-Portrait With Her Daughter (1789)

Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun's Self portrait with her daughter.
Image: Smarthistory

Self-Portrait With Her Daughter is one of Le Brun’s best works from the neoclassical art period. 

Although this painting seems to exhibit some of the Rococo style, it still showcases many elements of neoclassical art characteristics! 

Especially in the ways the artist played with shadows, and how both their bodies in embrace form a triangular pyramid silhouette.

Even if you look at their faces, the expressions are natural and loveable showcasing an intimate moment shared between the daughter and mother! 

The artist has kept the background of this painting empty to point out something particularly- the subjects!

Because the focus here is on the subjects in the painting, who are dressed in ancient Greek clothing.

The painting is rather a heartwarming piece, with the artist’s daughter lovingly clinging onto her mother’s neck! 

Name of the paintingSelf-Portrait with Her Daughter
Year completed1789
Artist’s NameElisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
MediumOil on wood
Where it is currently housed Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

8. The Death of Marat (1793)

The Death of Marat by Jacques Louis David
Image: The History of Art

The Death of Marat is a neoclassical painting by Jacques Louis David, which was painted during the French Revolution. 

Jean-Paul Marat was a French Revolutionary leader, who was murdered, and the painting shows a rather painful sight. 

To emphasize, his bloodied body is seen lying lifeless over his bath.

We can also see his hands still clutching onto a letter and a quill! 

Uniquely the painting shows neoclassical characteristics but also depicts accuracy with historical event and elements of realism

The hues used in the painting balance off the melancholy of the scene, specifically showing the martyrs of the Revolution. 

Name of the paintingThe Death of Marat
Year completed1793
Artist’s NameJacques-Louis David
MediumOil on canvas
Where it is currently housed Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

9. The Turkish Bath (1862) 

The Turkish Bath by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. 
Image: Wikipedia

This famous neoclassical painting was created by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. 

The Turkish Bath is a nude painting depicting several women taking a bath in their harem, standing and sitting in different poses.

Sources say that Igres had used several motifs and inspirations while creating this masterpiece. 

This included the women in the painting too, as they were inspired by his previous works and not by live models. 

The positioning of each woman is done so thoughtfully, as they just seem to fall into place, forming a circle, which was Ingres’s intention!

Name of the paintingJacques-Louis David
Year completed1862
Artist’s NameJean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
MediumOil on canvas
Where it is currently housed Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

10. The Birth of Venus (1879)

The Birth of Venus by William Adolphe Bouguereau
Image: Wikipedia

The Birth of Venus is one of the most famous neoclassical paintings by William-Adolphe Bouguereau! 

The painting shows a scene from Roman Mythology, depicting the story of Venus. 

As a matter of fact, this painting screams neoclassical style from the way it’s drawn, to the colors used to paint to completion! 

At the center of the artwork, you can see Venus, a naked, mature woman, standing in a shell that has in fact come from the ocean. 

This, in fact, is not the first time someone has painted The Birth of Venus. 

If you trace back to the Renaissance period, you will find another version of the same painting by Sandro Botticelli’s, which was used as  inspiration! 

Name of the paintingThe Birth of Venus 
Year completed1879
Artist’s NameWilliam-Adolphe Bouguereau
MediumOil on canvas
Where it is currently housed Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

Suggested Read: Renaissance Facts

11. Mischief and Repose (1895) 

Mischief and Repose painting by John William Godward.
Wikipedia: Wikipedia

John William Godward’s Mischief and Repose is yet another great example of a neoclassical painting! 

Depicting an interior scene from Ancient Greece or Rome, this neoclassical artwork is also bringing back all the characteristics of the classical period! 

In fact, the two women shown in this painting depict the two words in the title! 

The woman lying down on the tiger’s skin depicts “repose”, while the woman reaching out to her while sitting on another black rug is “mischief”.

The colors used in the painting showcases neoclassical art styles, and their pale, glass skin texture makes them look like beautiful statues! 

Name of the paintingMischief and Repose
Year completed1895
Artist’s NameJohn William Godward
MediumOil on canvas
Where it is currently housed J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, United States

To Conclude

To wrap it all up, I invite you to indulge in neoclassical art and the movement to better understand the paintings from the era.

These paintings were a refreshing addition to the art world in the period.

In fact, they gave us a chance to appreciate ancient Roman and Greek art more than ever before!

If you have the liberty to visit these paintings in person, I would suggest to do that and get mesmerized with some neoclassical paintings!

Author’s Note

Hey hey! 

Found yourself all dreamy over these neoclassical paintings? I wouldn’t be surprised! 

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With that level of elegance, poise and grandeur with a hint of melancholy looming over it all, it is bound to lure anyone! 

I hope you enjoyed reading this piece and of course I would love to hear your thoughts on them. 

Feel free to reach out to us in the comment section. 

Until the next one

Cheers xx 

Frequently Asked Questions

Which was the most famous neoclassical painting?

The Death of Marat, The Birth of Venus and The Death of General Wolfe are some of the most famous neoclassical paintings.

What did the neoclassical art period stand for?

The Neoclassicism movement came as a revival of Greek and Roman art and architecture. This art movement’s principles lie in universality, idealism, harmony and clarity!

Who are the most famous neoclassical artists?

Anton Raphael Mengs, Angelica Kauffman, and Pompeo Batoni are some of the most famous artists from the neoclassical period.

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