The Complete Guide to Buying a Modern Painting

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The Complete Guide to Buying a Modern Painting

Painting is among the oldest of media in art, and many different materials and tools have been used throughout its history, including wood, rock, sponges and knives. More recent works often use canvas or paper, and can feature a variety of different subject matters and artistic styles.

Modern paintings are a broad category, covering any paintings made throughout much of the Twentieth Century, and many such paintings can be found on eBay. This guide offers advice on purchasing a modern painting, by looking at specific eras/ periods, materials used in the painting and what subject areas are painted.

Painting Classification by Time Period

Paintings are often classified into different time periods, and the period a painting belongs into depends mainly on when that work was created.

· Antique paintings are widely considered to be those painted before the beginning of the Twentieth Century, though the specific dates can often be subject to debate. Antique paintings are often more expensive and harder to obtain than more recent works, due to their age. Many antique paintings will feature a realist style.

· Modern paintings are widely considered to be those painted throughout much of the Twentieth Century. These paintings can be easier to obtain and less expensive than older works, though this often largely depends on the popularity of the artist. Realism remained popular during the modern period, though a variety of more abstract styles began to rise to prominence, and these have remained popular into the contemporary period.

· Contemporary paintings are those painted in the last few decades of the Twentieth Century up to the modern day, and can feature a all kinds of different artistic styles and materials.

Painting Materials

There are a wide variety of materials used in painting, and the type of paint used can have a significant impact on the appearance of a completed work. Many painters, and collectors, have a preferred painting material.

Oil Paints

Oil paint is one of the oldest types of paint used, and has remained popular for many years. Oil paints were among the most commonly used type of paint during the antique period, and remained so throughout the modern era. Oil paints are made with the pigment suspended in a ‘drying oil’. Oils used can include poppy oil, walnut oil and linseed oil, and different oils can give paintings different characteristics and different finishes. Some oils, for example, provide protection against the paint yellowing from age.


Watercolours are another popular type of painting. Watercolours have a very long history of use in China and Africa, becoming widespread in Europe later on. Watercolours have remained a popular choice, due to the unique, transparent appearance and bright colours the paint can produce.

More recent works often use watercolour paper, specially designed for use with this kind of paint. Watercolours suspend the pigment in a soluble vehicle, and are often used on more absorbent surfaces. Thicker types of watercolour, such as gouache, are also popular and can offer different properties to thinner watercolours.

Acrylic Paints

Acrylic paints did not emerge until much later than watercolours and oil paints, only becoming widely available in the 1950’s. Due to this, acrylic paints will often only be used in more recent modern works, though the earliest examples of acrylic paintings can stretch back earlier into the Twentieth Century. Acrylic paint is diluted with water before use, and can be modified through the use of gels and other media.

Surface Materials

Many different surface materials have been used by artists throughout the history of the medium. The most commonly used surface for modern paintings is canvas. Made of linen, cotton, or similar materials these surfaces were stretched out over wooden frames and used as the base of a painting.

Canvases would often absorb paint, making them a popular choice for watercolours. Boards made of wood or other solid material are also sometimes used, to provide a sturdy and rigid surface.  Paper has also sometimes been used, with heavier paper often being needed for use with paint.  Many more unusual surfaces have also been used for paintings, including leather and glass.

Artistic Styles

There are a number of major artistic movements that modern paintings can be considered a part of. These can range from more traditional realist works to the experimental abstract styles which rapidly became popular during this era.

Abstract Paintings

Abstract paintings are a widely popular type of modern painting, and began to emerge in the 1920s. Abstract painters do not take visual references from the real world, and their work can appear as a chaotic, anarchic combination of form, colour, and line. Abstract paintings have remained popular, and are widely available.

Surrealist Paintings

Surrealist works can sometimes be seen as similar to abstract work, though they are distinct and separate styles. Surrealist work emphasise surprising and unusual contrasts and juxtapositions, often placing ordinary objects into highly unusual situations. Surrealist paintings emerged in the 1920’s, and have continued to be a popular style.

Expressionist Paintings

Expressionist paintings are another widely popular type of modern painting. Closely linked to the abstract movement, expressionist works attempt to interpret the world in a purely subjective way. These paintings attempt to significantly distort reality in order to express emotional meaning and experiences.

Impressionist Paintings

Impressionism became popular during the modern period Impressionism developed into one of the most influential artistic movements of the century, and impressionist works remain popular today. A key tenet of impressionism was the idea that the human eye sees light, rather than the objects themselves. Impressionist paintings often use sweeps of colour, with a focus on the accurate depiction of light. Impressionist paintings often feature thin but visible brush strokes.

Realist Paintings

Realism has long been a popular style of painting, remaining a major style throughout the history of the medium. Artists painting in this style strive to represent physical reality as accurately as possible in their work. Portraits and landscapes are popular subjects for this type of work.

Modern Painting Subject Matters

There are a number of popular subject matters often featured in modern paintings.

  • Figure paintings are a popular type of subject matter. These works can be realist or abstract, and place focus on the human form. Figure paintings are among the oldest type of subject matter, and are popular throughout the different periods.
  • Still life is a popular subject matter, and involves the painting of inanimate objects. Popular subjects include fruit and flowers. Many of these paintings are more realist in style, though some abstract still life works are also available.
  • Landscapes are another old and popular type of subject matter. These can feature rural and village scenes, as well as cityscapes and nautical seascapes.
  • Portraits are another popular type of painting. Subjects of portraits are often significant figures in history, and some early abstract works experimented with this form. Self-portraits are also a popular genre, particularly those of particularly popular artists.
  • Animals are another popular subject matter for paintings, and can feature domestic animals, wildlife and birds. These paintings are often more realist in nature, though abstract works focusing on animalistic elements such as characteristics and movement are also available.
  • The subject matter of abstract pieces can often be difficult to discern, due to the fact that abstract artists do not take visual cues from physical reality. The subject matter of an abstract piece can often be abstract, non-physical concepts such as emotions and movement.

How to Buy a Modern Painting on eBay

eBay offers a wide range of artistic pieces, including paintings from the modern period featuring a wide variety of materials, subjects and styles. The full range of available paintings can be found in the Collectables & Antiques section. Modern Paintings can be found in the Paintings category, under Art. Items can be arranged by categories such as price, condition and distance to seller, as well as by style, subject and period. The buying options Auction and Buy it Now are also available, allowing flexibility in how a modern painting can be purchased. Key information about an item is often displayed prominently in the item listing, making it easy to quickly establish if an item meets any specific requirements. Further information about an item can be accessed on the item’s page, which also offers information about the seller such as item reviews and feedback ratings. This helps to ensure that a purchase can be made with confidence. It is also possible here to ask the seller a question about the item. If a specific modern painting is required, it may be easier and more effective to make use of the search function available at the top of every page. Searches can be made to return results from within a specified category, or to cover all items on the site. For more information on how to get the most out of the search function, visit the Search Tips page.


A variety of modern paintings are available, from older portraits to more recent abstract works. These can feature a multitude of different subject matters, materials and artistic styles. A wide range of modern paintings can be found on eBay.

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