The 20 Most Famous Paintings of All Time

While we are inundated with art all day and every day, there are some recognizable pieces that have transcended time and culture, marking their place in art history and will never be forgotten.

The 20 most famous paintings of all time:

1. Leonardo Da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1503–19

Where to see the painting:  Louvre Museum (Paris)

Period : Renaissance

The Mona Lisa is an oil painting by the Italian artist, inventor, and writer Leonardo da Vinci. Probably completed in 1506, the piece features a portrait of a seated woman in front of an imaginary landscape. Rendered similar to Renaissance depictions of the Virgin Mary, the piece features a female figure, believed by most to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of silk and cloth merchant Francesco Giocondo, from the waist up. She is shown sitting in a loggia or in a room with at least one side open. Behind her is a hazy and seemingly isolated landscape imagined by the artist and painted with sfumato, a technique that results in shapes “without lines or edges, like smoke or beyond the plane of focus.” Her look is another fascinating part of the composition. Many believe that her eyes follow you across the room, making her an active participant when seen, rather than remaining an object to look at. In addition to its mysterious appearance, its expression has resonated most strongly with art historians for its potential symbolism, as many believe it to be a clever “visual representation of the idea of ​​happiness suggested by the Italian word ‘gioconda’”.

One of the most popular reasons for the Mona Lisa’s worldwide appeal is her smile. Da Vinci used optical illusion to create a unique smile through perspective and shadow work. Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa in such a way that the Mona Lisa’s eyes fall directly into the focus of the viewer, while the lips fall just below the periphery of vision. The facial expression gives the image an unnerving quality and makes that the viewer wonders what the model thought, who he was and why he seems happy and sad to some.

Mona Lisa, c.1503 - c.1519 - Leonardo da Vinci -

2. Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1484–1486

Where to see the painting:  The Uffizi Galleries (Florence, Italy)

Known as the “Birth of Venus”, the composition shows the goddess of love and beauty coming to earth, to the island of Cyprus, born from the foam of the sea and carried there by the winds, Zephyr and, perhaps, Aura. . The goddess stands on a giant scallop shell, as pure and perfect as a pearl. She is greeted by a young woman, sometimes referred to as one of the Graces or the Hour of Spring, who hands her a flower-covered cloak. Even the roses, blown by the wind, are a reminder of spring. The theme of the painting, which celebrates Venus as a symbol of love and beauty, was perhaps suggested by the poet Agnolo Poliziano.

The Birth of Venus, 1483 - 1485 - Sandro Botticelli

3. Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889

Where to see the painting:  Museum of Modern Art (New York City)

Period : Post-Impressionism, Modern art

Vincent van Gogh painted The Starry Night in 1889 while staying at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum, near Saint-Remy-de-Provence. Van Gogh lived well in the hospital; he was granted more liberties than any of the other patients. If he is treated, he could leave the hospital grounds; he was allowed to paint, read, and retire to his own room. They even gave him a study. Although he suffered from an occasional relapse into paranoia and seizures, having been officially diagnosed with epileptic seizures, it seemed that his mental health was on the mend.

Unfortunately, it has relapsed. She began to hallucinate and have suicidal thoughts as she sank into depression. Consequently, there was a tonal shift in her work. She brought back the darker colors from the beginning of her career and Starry Night is a wonderful example of that change. Blue dominates the painting, mixing hills with the sky. The small town is at the base of the painting in browns, grays and blues. Although each building is clearly outlined in black, the yellow and white of the stars and moon stand out against the sky, drawing eyes skyward. They are the great attention grabber of the painting.

4. Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665

Where to see the painting:  Mauritshuis (The Hague, Netherlands)

The painting is considered a tronie, a subcategory of portraiture that was popular in Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque art. Thrones are studies of facial features, stereotyped characters, or exaggerated expressions. Vermeer captures a fleeting moment, the girl turns her head with her lips slightly parted as she looks directly at the viewer. The girl is wearing a headscarf inspired by a Turkish turban and a huge pearl earring. These exotic elements add to the drama of the painting and give the artist the opportunity to show artistic effect in his treatment of light and texture. Another Vermeer tronie, Study of a Young Woman (ca. 1665-1667) is often seen as a variant or counterpart to The Girl with a Pearl Earring. In both paintings, the figures are placed on a black background, they wear the pearl earring and a scarf over the shoulder. While The Girl with the Pearl Earring is an idealized beauty, the Study of a Young Woman shows simple, imperfect facial features.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring, c.1665 - Johannes Vermeer

5. Pablo Picasso, The Ladies of Avignon, 1907

Where to see the painting:  Museum of Modern Art (New York City)

Period : Cubism

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon marks a radical break with traditional composition and perspective in painting. It depicts five nude women composed of splintered flat planes whose faces are inspired by Iberian sculpture and African masks. The compressed space they inhabit seems to project forward in jagged fragments, while a slice of melon in the still life at the bottom of the composition balances on an overturned table. Picasso unveiled the monumental painting in his Paris studio after months of review. The Avignon of the title of the work is a reference to a street in Barcelona famous for its brothels.

Pablo Picasso.  The Ladies of Avignon.  Paris, June-July 1907 |  MoMA

6. Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Where to see the painting: National Museum (Oslo, Norway — opening in 2020) and Munch Museum (Oslo — through May 2020)

Period : Proto-Expressionism

Second only to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Edvard Munch’s The Scream may be the most iconic human figure in Western art history. His androgynous skull-shaped head, elongated hands, wide eyes, flaring nostrils, and ovoid mouth have been etched into our collective cultural consciousness; the swirling blue landscape and especially the fiery orange and yellow sky have spawned numerous theories about the scene being depicted.

Figure on cliffside walkway holding head with hands

7.Leonardo Da Vinci, The Last Supper, 1495 to 1498

Where to see the painting:  Santa Maria delle Grazie (Milan, Italy)

Period : Renaissance, Italian Renaissance, High Renaissance

The Last Supper is Leonardo’s visual interpretation of an event narrated in the four Gospels (books of the Christian New Testament). The night before Christ was betrayed by one of his disciples, he gathered them together to eat, tell them that he knew what was coming, and wash their feet (a gesture symbolizing that they were all equal in the eyes of the Lord). As they ate and drank together, Christ gave the disciples explicit instructions on how to eat and drink in the future, in memory of him. It was the first celebration of the Eucharist, a ritual that is still performed today. Specifically, The Last Supper describes the next few seconds in this story after Christ dropped the bombshell that a disciple would betray him before dawn, with all twelve reacting to the news with varying degrees of horror, anger, and shock.

Mary McConville (@maris1600) | Twitter

8. Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red Blue and Yellow, 1930

Where to see the painting: National Museum, Belgrade, Serbia

Composition II with Red, Blue, and Yellow is a 1930 painting by Piet Mondrian. A well-known work of art, Mondrian contributes greatly to the abstract visual language despite using a relatively small canvas. A thick, black brushstroke defines the edges of the different geometric figures. The black brushwork on the canvas is minimal by comparison, but masterfully applied to become one of the defining features of the work.

Piet Mondriaan, 1930 - Mondrian Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow.jpg

9. Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937

Where to see the painting:  Reina Sofia Museum (Madrid)

Period : Cubism, Surrealism

Probably Picasso’s most famous work, Guernica is arguably his most powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazis’ devastating practice of casual bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts on people, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, a pacifist symbol, and an embodiment of peace. Upon completion, Guernica was shown around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and acclaimed. This tour helped bring the world’s attention to the Spanish Civil War.

This work is seen as an amalgamation of pastoral and epic styles. The discarding of color intensifies the drama, producing a reportage quality as in a photographic record. Guernica is blue, white and black, 11 feet (3.5 meters) tall and 25.6 feet (7.8 meters) wide, a mural-sized canvas painted in oils. This painting can be seen in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.

Guernica, 1937 - image via jkrwebcom

10. Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Where to see the painting:  Louvre Museum (Paris)

Period : Romanticism

Liberty Leading the People (French: La Liberte guidant le peuple) is a painting by Eugene Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830, which overthrew King Charles X of France. A village woman in a Phrygian cap embodying the concept of Liberty leads a motley group of people forward over a barricade and the bodies of the fallen, holding the flag of the French Revolution, the tricolor, which again became the national flag of France after these. she events – in one hand and brandishing a bayoneted musket with the other. The figure of Liberty is also considered a symbol of France and the French Republic known as Marianne. The painting is often confused with a depiction of the French Revolution.

Eugene Delacroix - July 28.  Liberty leading the people.jpg

11. Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise, 1874

Where to see the painting : Marmottan Monet Museum (Paris)

Period : Impressionism

This famous painting, Impression, Dawn, was created from a scene in the port of Le Havre. Monet depicts a mist, which provides a misty background to the piece set in the French port. The orange and yellow tones contrast brilliantly with the dark glasses, where little to no detail is immediately visible to the public. It is striking and candid work showing the smaller boats in the foreground almost propelled by the movement of the water. This, once again, has been achieved by separate brush strokes which also show various ‘scintillating’ colors in the sea.

Impression, sunrise, 1872 - Claude Monet

12. Theodore Gericault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1818–1819

Where to see the painting:  Louvre Museum (Paris)

Period : Romanticism

The subject matter depicted is the artist’s dramatic interpretation of the events that began on July 2, 1816, when a frigate of the French navy crashed on its way to the colonies in West Africa. The colony’s governor-designate and the group’s high-ranking officers set off in the ship’s six lifeboats, leaving the remaining 147 passengers to crowd onto a hastily made raft. When the raft proved too cumbersome, in a horrible act of cowardice and fear, the leader of the boat cut the ropes of the raft. Left to fend for themselves for 13 days, the passengers eventually resorted to cannibalism. When he was rescued by a passing British ship, only 15 men were left alive, of whom 5 died before they could reach land.

JEAN LOUIS THEODORE GERICAULT - The Raft of the Medusa (Museo del Louvre, 1818-19).jpg

13. Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907 to 1908

Where to see the painting:  Upper Belvedere museum (Vienna, Austria)

The Kiss is probably Gustav Klimt’s most famous work. It is also the high point of the artist’s Golden Period, which was characterized by the use of gold leaf in his work. This painting is one in which Klimt deviated from his portrayal of the dominant woman in the form of a femme fatale. Instead, it is the representation of love and art, a couple locked in an embrace filled with flowers and golden specks. Klimt was a man with an unbridled sexual appetite, since he had at least 14 illegitimate children. Klimt and his longtime companion, Emile Floge, who is also said to be his lover, are rumored to have been the models for the painting, which was selected to be printed on the Austrian 100-euro coin, minted in 2003.

14. Michelangelo, Creation of Adam, 1508 to 1512

Where to see the painting:  Sistine Chapel (Vatican City)

The Creation of Adam (Italian: Creazione di Adamo) is a fresco painting by the Italian artist Michelangelo, which forms part of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, painted c. 1508-1512. It illustrates the biblical narrative of creation from the book of Genesis in which God gives life to Adam, the first man. The fresco is part of a complex iconographic scheme and chronologically it is the fourth in the series of panels depicting episodes from Genesis.

Michelangelo - Creation of Adam (cropped).jpg

15. Dali, The Persistence of Memory, 1931

Where to see the painting : Museum of Modern Art (New York City)

Period : Surrealism

Hard objects become inexplicably limp in this bleak and endless dreamscape, while metal attracts ants like rotten meat. Mastering what he called “the usual paralyzing tricks of tricking the eyes,” Dali painted with “the most imperialistic fury of precision,” he said, but only “to systematize the confusion and thus help to discredit the world of reality altogether.” . It’s classic surreal ambition, but a literal reality is also included: the distant golden cliffs are the coast of Catalonia, Dali’s home.

Those limp watches are as soft as overripe cheese; in fact, they represent “the camembert of time”, in Dali’s phrase. Here time must lose all meaning. Permanence goes with it: ants, a common theme in Dali’s work, represent decay, particularly when attacking a gold watch, and appear grotesquely organic. The monstrous fleshy creature that covers the center of the painting is both strange and familiar: an approximation of Dali’s own face in profile, its long lashes eerily appearing insect-like or even sexual, like what may or may not be a tongue oozing from his nose like a fat snail.

The Persistence of Memory, 1931 - Salvador Dali -

16. James McNeill Whistler, Whistler’s Mother, 1871

Where to see the painting : Musee d’Orsay (since 2019), Louvre Abu Dhabi (until 2019)

Period:  Realism

The subject of the painting is Whistler’s mother, Anna McNeill Whistler. It is held by the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, having been purchased by the French state in 1891. It is one of the most famous works by an American artist outside the United States.

Whistlers Mother high res.jpg

17. Claude Monet, Water Lilies, between 1840 and 1926

Where to see the painting:  Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

Period : Impressionism

During the last two decades of his career, Monet devoted himself resolutely to painting the celebrated water lily pond that he had designed and cultivated at his home in rural Giverny. In one extraordinary canvas after another, he captured the ever-changing relationships between water, reflections, atmosphere, and light that transformed the surface of the pond with each passing moment. While these now iconic paintings affirmed Monet’s belief in the primacy of vision and experience, they did so in a pictorial language that was entirely new and transformative even by new century standards. The more delicate, ethereal, and understated early paintings in the series met with immediate acclaim when Monet exhibited them in 1909. The Nympheas canvases from 1914 onwards, by contrast, were larger, more daring and much more personal: the very antithesis of the “call to order” that seized the avant-garde during and after the First World War. They emerged as authoritative and visionary only two decades after Monet’s death, when American Abstract Expressionism triumphed on the international art scene.

The Water-Lily Pond 1899 Claude Monet Metropolitan.jpg

18. Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930

Where to see the painting: Royal Academy of Arts (2017–2017), School of the Art Institute of Chicago (since 1930)

Period : Modernism

Grant Wood’s American Gothic, the double portrait of a farmer with a pitchfork and a woman commonly presumed to be his wife, is perhaps the most recognizable painting of 20th-century American art, an indelible icon of American culture, and yet Undoubtedly Wood’s most famous work of art.

Wood sought pictorially to shape a world of harmony and prosperity that would respond to America’s need for tranquility at a time of economic and social upheaval caused by the Depression. Beneath his bucolic exterior, however, his art reflects the anxieties of being an artist and a deeply repressed homosexual in the Midwest in the 1930s. Representing his subconscious anxieties through populist images of rural America, Wood he produced images that speak to both American identity and the estrangement and isolation of modern life.

A painting of a man and woman with stern expessions standing side-by-side in front of a white house. The man holds a pitch fork.

19. Vincent Van Gogh, Cafe Terrace at Night, 1888

Where to see the painting: Kroller-Muller Museum (Otterlo, Netherlands)

Periodo: Post-Impressionism, Cloisonnism

This painting of a colorful view outdoors is a picturesque work, the vision of a relaxed viewer enjoying the charm of his surroundings without any moral concerns. Remember Van Gogh’s mood when he wrote that “the night is more alive and with more colors than the day”. The color is more profuse and the eye wanders to the steep or dovetailed edges of the neighboring areas: irregular shapes nested together like the pattern of a puzzle. Dividing this space for a long time into a large object and background subjects is hard on the eyes; the distant and nearer parts are equally distinct. The yellow of the cafe plays with the blackish blue of the remote street and the violet blue of the door in the foreground, and, through a paradox of composition that helps unify the work, at the strongest point of contrast the closest blunt corner of the awning. we touch the distant blue sky. Foreshortened lines that push into depth, like the door lintel, are strictly parallel to lines like the slope of the yellow awning and the roof of the house above, which lie in planes perpendicular to the first. For this wandering and uncompromising vision, the upward dimension is no less important and expressive than depth.

10 Secrets of Cafe Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh

20. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Bal du Moulin de la Galette , 1876

Where to see the painting : Musee d’Orsay (Paris)

Period : Impressionism, Modern art

This painting is undoubtedly Renoir’s most important work of the mid-1870s and was shown at the 1877 Impressionist exhibition. Although some of his friends appear in the picture, Renoir’s main aim was to convey the lively and joyful atmosphere from this popular dance garden on the Butte Montmartre. The study of the moving crowd, bathed in natural and artificial light, is handled with vibrant brushstrokes and bright colors. The somewhat blurred impression of the scene caused negative reactions from contemporary critics.

This representation of Parisian popular life, with its innovative style and imposing format, a sign of Renoir’s artistic ambition, is one of the masterpieces of early impressionism.

Auguste Renoir - Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette - Musee d'Orsay RF 2739 (derivative work - AutoContrast edit in LCH space).jpg