Artistic paintings were introduced to the Filipinos in the 16th century when the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines. During this time, the Spaniards used paintings as religious propaganda to spread Catholicism throughout the Philippines. These paintings, appearing mostly on church walls, featured religious figures appearing in Catholic teachings. Due to the Church's supervision of Filipino art and Spanish occupation of the Philippines, the purpose of most paintings from the 16th-19th century were to aid the Catholic Church.
In the early 19th century, wealthier, educated Filipinos introduced more secular Filipino art, causing art in the Philippines to deviate from religious motifs. The use of watercolour paintings increased and the subject matter of paintings began to include landscapes, Filipino inhabitants, Philippine fashion, and government officials. Portrait paintings featured the painters themselves, Filipino jewelry, and native furniture. The subject of landscape paintings featured artists' names painted ornately as well as day-to-day scenes of average Filipinos partaking in their daily tasks. These paintings were done on canvas, wood, and a variety of metals.
During World War II, some painters focused their artwork on the effects of war, including battle scenes, destruction, and the suffering of the Filipino people.