The earliest-known animal paintings date as far back as the Paleolithic era when humans depicted horses, bison, hyenas, and other wild animals upon cave walls. Since then, animals have continued to inspire and intrigue artists by their beauty, amazing physical feats, and mysterious mental lives. If you’re an animal lover, or are looking for a one-of-a-kind gift for someone who is, we invite you to explore the many original animal paintings for sale on Saatchi Art by talented emerging artists from around the world. You’ll find animal artwork in a variety of styles, from pet portraits to humorous scenes of anthropomorphized animals to abstracted works. Explore today!
Many artist throughout history have devoted all or a large part of their careers creating animal paintings. Frans Snyder, a Flemish Baroque painter, was a well-known ‘animalier’ praised for his realistic and anatomically correct renditions of birds, dogs, fish, and wild boars, among many other animals. In fact, Snyder was frequently employed by Peter Paul Rubens to assist in painting animals in Rubens’ works. Other artists known for animal artwork include: the aforementioned horse portraitist George Stubbs; French Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix whose famous paintings include: “A Young Tiger Playing with its Mother” (1830) and Lion Hunt (1861); early 20th century German painter Friedrich Wilhelm Kuhnert; and celebrated bird painter John James Audubon.
Animals were the most commonly-depicted subject in prehistoric art, which is unsurprising given the dependence of early humans on wild game for food, clothing, and tools. In many early civilizations, certain animals were deified or became symbolic representations of both desirable and undesirable human traits. In Ancient Egypt, for example, the worship of animals such as bulls and cats was common, with many sacred Egyptian animal paintings still in existence today. Animals motifs (especially fish and birds) were common in both ancient Chinese and Japanese ink brush paintings, and remain popular subjects in traditional Asian artwork to this day. In Medieval Europe, animal imagery was often used as symbols in sacred Christian works. For instance, the dove often represented the Holy Spirit; the fish, lamb, ram, and lion were symbols for Christ; and the serpent and owl were representations of Satan. During the Baroque Era in Europe, animal painting enjoyed a surge in popularity, allowing some artists to become specialists in the field. In France, such artists were known as ‘animaliers.’
Before the advent of photography, many animal painters had to rely on taxidermy, imported fur, illustrations, similar-looking animals, and memory when painting rare and exotic species--which was a highly-prized artistic subject in Europe for centuries. For example, it’s reported that to create his famous work “Hippopotamus and Crocodile Hunt” (1616), Peter Paul Rubens visited two rare stuffed hippopotamus specimens in Italy. It’s believed that the stuffed animals’ mouths were well-preserved while the body musculature had been distorted during the taxidermy process, so Rubens’ painting strategically showcases the animal’s fierce mouth while its body is mostly hidden. Sometimes, specific individual animals (rather than a general species, as in wildlife paintings) are celebrated in artwork, as in the case of portraiture. Domesticated companion animals like dogs, cats, horses, etc. were often included in portraits of their doting owners, or the animals themselves were the actual portrait sitters (i.e. animal portraits). Artists well-known for creating portraits of or including domestic animal breeds include George Stubbs, Edouard Manet, Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, Frida Kahlo, and David Hockney.