A figure painting is a work of art in any of the painting media with the primary subject being the human figure, whether clothed or nude. Figure painting may also refer to the activity of creating such a work. The human figure has been one of the contrast subjects of art since the first stone age cave paintings, and has been reinterpreted in various styles throughout history. Some artists well known for figure painting are Peter Paul Rubens, Edgar Degas, and Édouard Manet.
In 1890, the Parisian painter Maurice Denis famously asserted: "Remember that a painting—before being a warhorse, a naked woman or some story or other—is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order." Thus, many 20th-century developments in painting, such as Cubism, were reflections on the means of painting rather than on the external world—nature—which had previously been its core subject. Recent contributions to thinking about painting have been offered by the painter and writer Julian Bell. In his book What is Painting?, Bell discusses the development, through history, of the notion that paintings can express feelings and ideas. In Mirror of The World, Bell writes:
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