How to reference a painting in an essay

Referencing is a vital part of academic papers and assignments. It provides context and allows you to use and acknowledge other people’s work without risking plagiarism. But unlike text, not many people are familiar with referencing a museum or online painting in an assignment. If this is you, review writing services offered by custom writing company Edusson for quality essays with unique painting citations. Ordinarily, citing a painting is not common unless you write about art history or a related field. Another reason most people shy from it is that it is not as straightforward as referencing a text or material. Use this guide to learn how to cite an artwork in your research.


Picture 1


Referencing a painting in APA

The APA is one of the most popular referencing styles in social sciences. It follows the author-date in-text citation and promotes concise and powerful scholarly communication. Follow this format for citing a picture in your text:

Cite the author and year

Start by providing the Artist’s last name, followed by a comma and first initial. If available, you can follow it with a middle initial, but it is unnecessary. Write the year of production in a parenthesis and a period after closing it. If you don’t know, skip it and use “Anonymous” as your author’s name. But the greatest painters of all time are easily identifiable by their names and essays in their biographies. Also, if you don’t know the date, write “n.d.” inside the parenthesis.

Write the title and describe the material or medium used

Use sentence case to write your painting’s subject in italics, and only capitalize the first word and proper nouns. Describe the medium of painting in a bracket using a sentence case, and put a period after your bracket. If there is no subject, use “Untitled” to describe it. However, you don’t need to write it in Italics.

Provide the painting’s location

Type the institution where the painting is located followed by a comma, city, and another comma, country, or province the institution is located in and put a period. If there is a website, add a direct web address, but don’t put a period afterward.


APA example:

Leutze, E. (1975). Toddlers crossing railroads [Oil on canvas] Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Web address (if applicable)


Picture 2


Referencing an online painting in MLA

MLA is short for Modern Language Association and is one of the most popular styles for citing sources within humanities and liberal arts. Follow this format for referencing an online painting in MLA:

Cite the author

Enter the author’s last name first and follow it with a comma. Unlike the APA style, which has only first names and initials, type their surname, and include their middle or initials. Then, put a period afterward. If there is no credit, use “Anonymous” if it is credited to “Anonymous.”

Write the title in Italics

Use a start case to write the artwork’s subject. Capitalize all adverbs, verbs, pronouns, and nouns; if there is no official name, use a brief and unitalicized description. Also, use a sentence case to describe the painting and put a period afterward.

Provide the painting date and location

Write the year of creation, followed by a comma. State the institution it is located in and put a period. If there is no official name, put the location alone. Finally, include the web address if you viewed it digitally instead of a physical location, followed by a period.

MLA example:

Leutze, Washington. Toddlers crossing railroads. Oil on canvas. 1975, Metropolitan Institute of Art, New York, NY. (If applicable)

Referencing an artwork in Chicago style (Bibliography entry)

The Chicago Style paper is the most complex of the three. It requires footnotes in texts when citing and a bibliography at the end of your document listing all works. Follow this format to reference an online painting in the Chicago style:

Start your bibliography with the author’s name

Write the artist’s last name, follow it with a comma and first name and put a period afterward. If you don’t know it, leave it out of your entry. However, if it is listed as “anonymous,” use it instead.

Write the title and list the date of creation

Name the artwork in Italics and put a period. If there is no official title, write “untitled.” in plain text. Write the name and year of the artwork. If there is no official completion date, use “n.d.” or skip to the year, and put a period after it.

Include information about medium and dimensions

Use a sentence case to write about materials used to create your artwork and put a period. Use standard abbreviations for units of measurement for writing dimensions and put a period after it. Name the collection house and follow it with a comma. State the city where it is located and put a period after it. If you viewed it online, provide a full direct URL and place a comma after it. Type “accessed.” To show when you last visited the site in day-month-year format.

Chicago style example:

Leutze, Washington. Toddler Crossing Railroads. 1975. Oil on canvas. 30 in. X 40 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.

Or, Leutze, Washington. Toddler Crossing Railroads. 1975. Oil on canvas. 30 in. X 40 in. Metropolitan Institute of Art, New York, NY.

The web address, accessed 16 January 2023.


There are a few variations between all three formatting styles. However, the fundamental ideas are constant. You should know how to reference any physical or online painting using APA, MLA, and Chicago-style formats. We recommend you diligently check your assignment for the correct style before writing.



You don't have permission to register