Before we look at the origin of painting or read about some interesting information on background of painting, let us look at what painting actually is. It is the practice of applying colour to some sort of surface, be it paper, canvas, glass or even wood and lacquer. But, in artistic sense, the word painting means something which combines drawing, composition and various other elements which ultimately transforms to a soothing concept or an image.
Painting can be traced back to the prehistoric age when Neanderthal man created some form of art, but sadly there have been no traces found as yet. But after modern man arrived in the scene or to be specific, the Homo Sapiens arrived, image or painting became clear to the civilization. It might seem like a pretty new phenomenon but the history of painting dates back to some artifacts that were found, belonging to very ancient times.
The early sections of the 20th century mainly show representational, religious and classical paintings. The abstract and conceptual style of painting gathered favor after these. However, the oldest paintings that are found are at the Grottle Chauvet in the country of France. These paintings are claimed to be more than 32,000 years old. These were painted in red ochre and black pigment and shows clear depictions of horses, rhinocerous, lions, buffaloes, mammoth or even humans hunting these animals.
Cave paintings can actually be found worldwide. Models depicting various cultures and traditions have been found in France, Portugal, Spain, China, Australia, India, etc. When it came to art, it is a well known fact that African art, Islamic art, Indian art, Chinese art and Japanese art had some influence on Western art and vice versa. The various developments which took place in Eastern paintings go hand in hand with those found in Western paintings.
The oldest paintings, which were probably made by the prehistoric men, depict various animals. It was widely believed that these paintings were made to 'catch' the souls of these animals into these paintings. Since human beings haven't learned how to speak like we do now, these paintings could also have been a way to express their innate feelings to other humans. On the other hand these paintings might also have been used to transmit some sort of practical information.
The paintings that have been found, which belong to the Paleolithic era mostly depict the structure of animals. There are hardly any paintings of human beings that are found. This was mainly because animals were used as a food and animals like rhinocerous, lions, etc represented strength. Some of the human inscriptions that have been found on the caves basically depict handprints or half human/ animal figures.
While the Chauvet Cave paintings present in the Ardeche Department of France contains the oldest painting which was painted around the 31,000 B.C, the Altamira cave paintings in Spain were done between 14,000 and 12,000 B.C. One of the best known painting which is called the hall of bulls in Lascaux, Dordogne, France dates back between 15,000 and 10,000 B.C. Whether these paintings meant anything or not, is still to be discovered. To this day, it is a mystery what these paintings actually mean.
The various caves in which these animal inscriptions and various other paintings have been found were not inhabited by humans, so, perhaps these were used as seasonal rituals. Along with the animal paintings, various other signs have also been found which most probably depicted some sort of magic. But these are all mere speculations as nothing is concrete. However, there is one important painting of the Mesolithic period that was found which depicts marching warriors on a rock, which dates back between 7,000 and 4,000 B.C. The technique used to paint it was basically spitting or blowing the pigments onto the rock. The paintings that have been found are quite stylized but natural. Some of the figures in these paintings seem to overlap each other but they are not quite three-dimensional images.
The history of Indian painting, however, revolves primarily around the various religious kings and deities. The term Indian art which is used to depict Indian paintings is used for several different schools of art that existed in the whole of Indian subcontinent. There are many famous paintings that have been found in India, from the beautifully etched designs at Ellora to the intricately designed Mughal miniature paintings.
The earliest Indian painting dates back to the prehistoric time, the petroglyphs as found in places like the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka and some of them are as old as 5,500 B.C. Ajanta paintings date back to about 7th century. On the other hand, the Mughal painting developed during the 16th and 17th century.
If we look at the Muslim paintings, we cannot find any kind of paintings which depict humans, animals or any other such figure. This is because figurative subjects are strictly forbidden within the Islam religion. However, all there was found were some Arabesque, which was mainly some sort of abstract paintings depicting some sort of geometrical configurations.
Later, at the start of the 20th century, African art inspired many of the famous painters like Picasso, Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Modigliani. These artists found a sort of perfection and sophistication in the African art form which, according to them expresses the sheer power of the form.