The Bestselling Subjects for Paintings

Painter at Piazza Navona, Rome
Izzet Keribar / Getty Images

What are the kinds of paintings that sell the best? There are a few broad subjects for paintings that tend to appeal to a mass audience. While there are never any guarantees that a given painting will sell, if you stick to these specific areas, you'll probably increase your chances of earning a little income from your work.

Whether the subjects most popular with the masses are the subjects you want to paint is a question only you as an individual artist can answer. But if your primary motivation for painting is selling the finished products, it's advisable to choose subjects that are tried and true. Here are a few types of paintings that fit that description.

Traditional Landscape Paintings and Local Views

Landscape painting has been popular for a long time and continues to be popular today. Some contemporary landscape painters prefer to work outside (en plein air), like the great Impressionist master Claude Monet. Others prefer to do their paintings in the studio using photographs and study sketches from the location they've chosen to paint.

While landscape paintings have historically featured grand vistas, contemporary landscape paintings include more intimate scenes of rivers, woods, meadows, and cityscapes. Recreating a vista that has sentimental or nostalgic value may increase the chances that your painting will sell. 

Seascapes and Abstract Landscapes

The landscape category includes seascape, harbor, and beach scenes, which are a popular subcategory that sells well, especially in seaside cities and towns which attract a lot of tourists. 

Modern and semi-abstract landscapes that offer a different interpretation of a familiar view are also a popular choice for painting sales. 

Abstract Paintings

Since most abstract artwork doesn't have a recognizable subject or relate to anything external, individual viewers can interpret an abstract painting for themselves. So it makes sense that abstract paintings are always top sellers.

Within abstract artwork, there are distinct subject areas such as the geometric work of Piet Mondrian and the more fluid, seemingly spontaneous paintings of Wassily Kandinsky or Jackson Pollock. 

Imitating one of these highly popular artists may attract some attention to your paintings, but unlike landscapes, it's probably going to be more difficult to predict which types of abstract artwork may resonate with your intended audience. 

Figure Studies and Nude Paintings

The connection between the viewer of a figure or nude painting and its subject can be powerful, so it's no wonder that this type of artwork resonates with art buyers. While most painters will study figures and nudes as part of any introductory art education program, painting figures outside the classroom setting present unique challenges. 

For instance, if you're using a live model (as opposed to a photograph) as your painting's subject, bear in mind that the model needs to be able to focus and remain still during the process. Posing can be tiring and isn't for everyone. But well-done figure paintings, especially those with nude subjects, are among the most popular sellers in galleries and other places that offer paintings for sale. 

Best-Selling Media for Paintings

For the most part, prints of paintings sell better than original works, since they tend to be less expensive. Limited-edition prints (where a specific number of prints are made, and each one is numbered) are most popular since the buyer knows he or she is getting something that is not mass-produced, but which has some unique qualities. 

Whatever genre you choose as your subject matter, don't set unrealistic expectations. Unless you have a specific client for whom you're painting custom pieces, there are no guarantees that your work will sell. As with any creative field, painting is not an exact science, and even if you follow all the "rules," audiences can be fickle and difficult to please.