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Over the last few centuries, countless artists have painted millions of artworks. Even the artists who are well-known and established today have created a multitude of works – of which only very few became famous paintings. This article will explore some of the most famous paintings from the different art periods in time.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Most Famous Paintings From All Art Periods
- 2 Leonardo Da Vinci – Mona Lisa
- 3 Michelangelo Buonarroti – The Creation of Adam
- 4 Vincent Van Gogh – Starry night
- 5 Edvard Munch – The Scream
- 6 Leonardo Da Vinci – Salvator Mundi
- 7 Paul Cézanne – The Card Players
- 8 Diego Velázquez – Las Meninas
- 9 Rembrandt van Rijn – The Night Watch
- 10 Pierre-Auguste Renoir – Breakfast of the Rowers
- 11 Jan Vermeer – The Girl With the Pearl Earring
- 12 Caspar David Friedrich – The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog
- 13 Jean-Étienne Liotard – The Chocolate Girl
- 14 Gustav Klimt – Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I
- 15 Claude Monet – Water Lillies
- 16 Paul Gauguin – When Will You Marry?
- 17 Leonardo Da Vinci – The Last Supper
- 18 Albrecht Dürer – Young Hare
- 19 Vincent van Gogh – Twelve Sunflowers
- 20 Carl Spitzweg – The Poor Poet
- 21 Katsushika Hokusai – The Great Wave off Kanagawa
- 22 Hieronymus Bosch – The Garden of Earthly Delights
- 23 Franz Marc – The Tower of Blue Horses
- 24 Sandro Botticelli – The Birth of Venus
- 25 Albrecht Dürer – Great Piece of Turf
- 26 Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino – The School of Athens
- 27 Pablo Picasso – Guernica
The Most Famous Paintings From All Art Periods
We have compiled a selection of famous paintings from all of the different art eras. The list is of course not exhaustive, and completely subjective. However, you will probably find that you have heard the names of many of these famous paintings before. Below we will give you some background information on each painting, and list some interesting facts about them.
Leonardo Da Vinci – Mona Lisa
In our compilation of the most famous paintings, Leonardo Da Vinci’s work “Mona Lisa” cannot be missing. It is probably the most famous painting in the whole world and from all art movements. Da Vinci painted the “Mona Lisa” between 1503 and 1506 in Florence. It belongs to the Italian Renaissance and was painted with oil colors.
The fame of this work is also due to the fact that it was stolen from the Louvre in Paris in 1911 and was consequently became a popular topic. From 1913 it went back to its usual place – where it can still be found today. Another fascinating point of this painting is the eyes of the “Mona Lisa” – they always seem to look at the observer, no matter where he stands.
Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain]
Michelangelo Buonarroti – The Creation of Adam
The ceiling fresco by the famous painter Michelangelo Buonarroti cannot be missing in any list of famous art. “The Creation of Adam” shows how God brings Adam to life with his outstretched index finger. This is to symbolize that Adam is descended from God and is a part of him. It belongs to a whole series of nine frescoes.
The ceiling fresco “The Creation of Adam” was completed by Buonarroti in 1512. The size is an impressive 2.8m x 5.7m and shows the incredible artistic skills of Michaelangelo Buonarroti. The attention to detail and anatomy were groundbreaking for this period.
Michelangelo [Public domain]
Vincent Van Gogh – Starry night
Vincent Van Gogh should be a household name to anyone interested in art. His work “Starry Night” is one of the most famous paintings of all time. Van Gogh painted this artwork in 1889 in the style of early expressionism with oil paint.
Little is known about the history of its creation, only that it was created at a time when Van Gogh had psychological problems and was in a mental hospital. This painting can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Vincent van Gogh [Public domain]
Edvard Munch – The Scream
There may be many famous artworks out there, but you have probably heard of this masterpiece before. As with the “Mona Lisa“, its fame is also due to the fact that the painting has already been stolen twice. Once in 1994, when it was stolen, the cheeky thieves left a note thanking the owner for the poor security. In 2004 it was stolen again but reappeared again in 2006 under mysterious circumstances.
“The Scream” consists of a composition of four paintings and was painted by Edvard Munch with oil colors, tempera, and pastel on cardboard. All four paintings show a human figure, who is praising her hands against her head and has a fearful expression. The origin of this scene was to be found in an anxiety attack of Edvard Munch, which attacked him during a walk in the evening.
Edvard Munch [Public domain]
Leonardo Da Vinci – Salvator Mundi
Another painting by Leonardo Da Vinci? This well-known work of art should not be missing here, simply because of the incredible selling price.
The title “Salvator Mundi” is Latin and stands for “Saviour of the world“. The painting depicts Christ and was probably painted around 1500 by Da Vinci. Originally in private ownership until 2000, it was sold in 2017 on the well-known auction platform Christie’s for an incredible 450 million US dollars – making it the most expensive painting ever sold. A pretty impressive amount for a piece of painted wood, isn’t it?
The work measures approx. 65cm x 45cm and was painted with oil paints. Da Vinci chose a walnut wood panel as the painting surface. It belongs to a series of 14 other prominent paintings by Da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain]
Paul Cézanne – The Card Players
Paul Cézanne was a French painter and left a great footprint in art. Famous names like Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque were inspired by him.
Cézanne painted his work “The Card Players” in five different variations. They differ both in size and in the number of people depicted. Four out of five of these paintings are in possession of well-known museums. The fifth painting in this series, however, is privately owned and was sold for about 250 million US dollars.
Apart from the purchase price, Cézanne’s card player series is considered one of his most important ones. They also perfectly depict how Cézanne turned more and more to cubism.
Paul Cézanne [Public domain]
Diego Velázquez – Las Meninas
Diego Velázquez was a famous Spanish Baroque painter, who was especially appreciated for his portraits. He was a painter at the court of the Spanish king and painted portraits of many members of the Spanish royal court. Probably his most famous painting is “Las Meninas“, which depicts the Spanish royal family.
In the middle is the king’s daughter, surrounded by two small children, a guard, court ladies, and a dog. The special thing about this painting is that Velázquez has immortalized himself. He can be seen diagonally left behind the king’s daughter with an easel in his hand. In the mirror on the wall, one can see the mirror images of the queen and the king. A rather unconventional painting for that time.
Accordingly, this artwork has been discussed many times. So what is it – a self-portrait, a group portrait, a family portrait of the court, or something completely different? We will probably never know what Velázquez’s approach was, but it has inspired generations of painters.
Diego Velázquez [Public domain]
Rembrandt van Rijn – The Night Watch
One of the best known, if not the most famous work of art by Rembrandt von Rijn is his work “The Night Watch“. The painting shows Captain Frans Banning Cocq with his vigilante. It has already been through a lot: it was damaged during a parade and later became the victim of vandalism several times:
- An unemployed cook, who had previously worked in the Navy, stabbed the painting with a knife to take revenge on the state for his unemployment
- And again an unemployed person: an unemployed teacher cut the canvas of this well-known work. The following restoration made the painting presentable again, but you can still see slight traces of the cut
- A psychologically troubled person poured sulphuric acid on the canvas. However, the museum guards were able to save the painting by pouring water over the painting, which was able to wash off the sulphuric acid
We can only hope that this masterpiece by Rembrandt will be spared from further damage in the future!
Rembrandt [Public domain]
Pierre-Auguste Renoir – Breakfast of the Rowers
The French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir has created a total of around 6000 works of art. Some of his classic paintings are worth a lot nowadays. One of them is the painting “The Breakfast of the Rowers“, which was created around 1880. The oil painting has a size of about 130cm x 170cm.
It shows a group of rowers enjoying their breakfast. In the background, you can see the Seine. The work falls within impressionism and is one of the most important works by Renoir. The light conditions were always the focus of his works. The play of contrasts between light and dark was his hobby.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir [Public domain]
Jan Vermeer – The Girl With the Pearl Earring
Jan Vermeer’s famous painting “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” is painted with oil colors on canvas, and was painted in the baroque style. The composition of the painting is relatively simple: apart from the portrait itself, no background or anything from the surroundings can be discerned.
Vermeer completed The Girl With the Pearl Earring around 1665, and it became the center of attention in 2003 when an Oscar-winning film of the same name was shown in cinemas.
Johannes Vermeer [Public domain]
Caspar David Friedrich – The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog
“The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” is one of the classic paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, painted around 1818. It was painted with oil colors on canvas and has a stately size of about 75cm x 95cm. It is one of the most famous artworks from the romantic period.
Caspar David Friedrich was a German painter and had a great influence on early Romanticism. With the work presented here, he placed the backward face of a figure in the center of a painting – something which was very unusual for those times. The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog can be seen in the Hamburger Kunsthalle.
Caspar David Friedrich [Public domain]
Jean-Étienne Liotard – The Chocolate Girl
Jean-Étienne Liotard was an important pastel painter who created arguably his most famous work “The Chocolate Girl” with pastel on parchment around 1745. It is the portrait of a maid, probably at the imperial court in Vienna.
Liotard was in Vienna at the invitation of the Empress when this work of art was created. It is probably one of the most detailed pastel paintings ever done.
Jean-Étienne Liotard [Public domain]
Gustav Klimt – Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I
“The Lady in Gold” as the artwork is also called, is one of the most famous art paintings by the artist Gustav Klimt. It was done in an art nouveau style and painted with oil colors. In addition, Klimt also applied gold and silver leaf, creating an unmistakable elegance.
The painting was commissioned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. The commissioned work was to show Bloch-Bauer’s wife. Klimt then produced many drawings and studies until he created the actual artwork. This painting sold for the astronomical price of 135 million US dollars.
Gustav Klimt [Public domain]
Claude Monet – Water Lillies
Claude Monet has created a large number of paintings in his series “Water Lilies“. He was inspired by water lilies in his garden. Most of the paintings in this series are owned by museums. The work “Le Bassin aux Nymphéas”, however, was auctioned at Christie’s for a whopping 41 million British pounds. This was the highest amount ever paid for a Monet.
Claude Monet [Public domain]
Paul Gauguin – When Will You Marry?
The post-impressionist Paul Gauguin painted this famous work in 1892 as an oil painting. Originally exhibited at the Kunst-Museum Basel and later at the Fondation Beyeler, it was sold in 2015 for 210 million US dollars to an extremely wealthy Russian billionaire.
The painting was created during a trip by Gauguin to Tahiti, where he hoped to find an outlet for his creative streak. What he encountered, however, did not correspond to his plan. Due to colonization in the 18th century, he encountered a drastically decimated indigenous population. The majority of the natives were killed by diseases introduced by Europeans.
Even though Tahiti did not meet his expectations, he painted a large number of famous art paintings there, mainly of local women. Sometimes they were naked, sometimes dressed in traditional or European clothes.
Paul Gauguin [Public domain]
Leonardo Da Vinci – The Last Supper
Another of the famous artists painting by the historic Leonardo Da Vinci which just cannot be missing: The Last Supper. This is probably the most famous mural painting in the world. The fresco-secco technique was used for its creation, and the mural was completed by Da Vinci in 1497.
The dimensions of this impressive painting are 4m x 9m and can be classified stylistically into the Renaissance period. The perspective of the scene was particularly groundbreaking for that time. Less groundbreaking was Da Vinci’s technique of not painting on fresh lime plaster.
Although the colors became brighter as a result, the paint increasingly started to flake off over time. Afterward, there were some attempts to restore the fresco. The continued decay was stopped, and further protective measures such as a dust lock should ensure that this remains so. A limited number of visitors can view this unique work daily in the Dominican monastery “Santa Maria delle Grazie” in Milan.
Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain]
Albrecht Dürer – Young Hare
“Young Hare” is a watercolor by Albrecht Dürer, which at first glance appears somewhat unimpressive. In the center is a field hare, painted in perspective at an angle, with a neutral background.
The nature study by Dürer was created around 1502. At that time, such photorealistic depictions were revolutionary and this work became the most famous artist painting by Albrecht Dürer’s.
Albrecht Dürer [Public domain]
Vincent van Gogh – Twelve Sunflowers
Another well-known work by van Gogh is the painting “Twelve Sunflowers” from 1888, for which van Gogh created a whole series of paintings. However, the number of sunflowers changes from painting to painting. The sunflowers appear quite brown by today’s standards. This was because the UV light in combination with the color used became more and more brownish.
The background of this series was that van Gogh was inspired by the visit of two of his colleagues: Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin. He hoped that he could establish a joint studio with them.
Vincent van Gogh [Public domain]
Carl Spitzweg – The Poor Poet
Carl Spitzweg was a German painter. Probably his most famous painting is “The Poor Poet“, painted in oil. It shows a writer lying in bed in a small attic room, writing new work.
Spitzweg had to accept a lot of rejection for “The Poor Poet“, and never saw success for this painting. The painting was perceived as a mockery of the poetry guild and poetry in general. Spitzweg did not live to see the appreciation for this painting. It became such a success that there was even a special German stamp made for his work. The oil sketch was auctioned in 2012 for about 54000 US dollars.
Carl Spitzweg [Public domain]
Katsushika Hokusai – The Great Wave off Kanagawa
Katsushika Hokusai was a well-known Japanese painter, who was especially famous for his landscape paintings. The woodblock print “The Big Wave off Kanagawa” is part of a series of 46 paintings in which Hokusai depicted the landscape around Mount Fuji.
The series of artworks were created between 1829 and 1833 and gained considerable popularity over the years. “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” has been repainted or interpreted several times, interestingly enough especially in Europe. This is one of the most famous Japanese paintings of all time, which is why it should not be missing in our list of the most famous paintings.
Katsushika Hokusai [Public domain]
Hieronymus Bosch – The Garden of Earthly Delights
The Dutch painter Bosch created a unique work around 1500. It is a triptych, which consists of three parts and shows the third day of the creation of the world. The left outer wing depicts the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, while the center shows the Garden of Earthly Delights. On the right outer wing, hell is depicted. The triptych has impressive dimensions of about 220cm x 390cm.
When the triptych is folded up, the front and the back of the two outer wings show the earth’s disc inside a transparent sphere. “The Garden of Earthly Delights” is exhibited in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
Hieronymus Bosch [Public domain]
Franz Marc – The Tower of Blue Horses
Franz Marc was a German painter, draughtsman, and a pioneer of Expressionism and Post-Impressionism. In his later creative phases, he also used stylistic elements of Fauvism, Cubism, and Orphism. However, his artistic work was abruptly interrupted by his entry into the country during the First World War. As a result, Franz Marc was killed in the war.
His works with animal designs, including “The Tower of Blue Horses“, achieved the greatest recognition. This famous artist’s painting was created around 1913 and is of considerable size with approx. 200cm x 130cm. It shows a group of four impressive blue horses.
Unfortunately, the painting is no longer available as an original, as it disappeared towards the end of the Second World War. The last known owner was the national socialist Hermann Göring, who took possession of this work.
Franz Marc [Public domain]
Sandro Botticelli – The Birth of Venus
Sandro Botticelli was a Renaissance painter from Italy and has achieved great fame. The work “The Birth of Venus” is a large-format work that Botticelli painted with tempera paints on canvas.
Here Botticelli incorporated antique influences into his work. Thus he chose Venus as a theme because she was a well-known figure from antiquity. Her nudity was also something new, as this was unusual in Western art at that time. Botticelli thus set a trend, whereupon more and more undressed women were chosen as a motif.
Sandro Botticelli [Public domain]
Albrecht Dürer – Great Piece of Turf
Albrecht Dürer’s second well-known work besides “Young Hare” is “Great Piece of Turf“. Dürer painted this watercolor as a study of nature. It shows a piece of meadow composed of various herbs and grasses, as well as the earth beneath. It was created in 1503 and fascinates by its attention to detail.
Albrecht Dürer [Public domain]
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino – The School of Athens
Raffaello Sanzio was an important Italian painter of the Renaissance period. In his time he was known exclusively under his first name Raphael. He became famous, especially for his balanced and harmonious paintings. Among other things, he worked in Rome at the papal court as a painter and as a construction supervisor for St. Peter’s Basilica.
His work “The School of Athens” is a very famous fresco – one of the most famous paintings of all time in fact. The painting was completed in 1511. Raphael painted it for Pope Julius the second. It depicts ancient Greece and antiquity itself as the origin of the European culture of that time. The fresco has a gigantic size of 7.7 meters. Who is depicted on it is often disputed. However, it is assumed that various philosophers and scholars such as Socrates, Aristotle, and Diogenes are depicted.
Raphael [Public domain]
Pablo Picasso – Guernica
The work “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso should not be missing in any top painting list. Next to “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” it is the most famous painting by Picasso. He painted the artwork on behalf of the government of Spain at the time. It has gigantic dimensions of 3.50m x 7.75m, which results in a total area of 27m2.
The content of the painting is about the destruction of the Spanish city of Guernica by the German and Italian Air Force, which had their role in the Spanish Civil War. The painting was shown in 1937 at the world exhibition in Paris.
Picasso’s difficulties in creating it were not only based on the colossal space of the area to be painted, but also the given proportions. The proportions of twice the width compared to the height was a challenge for the design. Picasso wanted to create an oppressive scene with collapsing structures and forms. Pablo Picasso prepared himself accordingly and meticulously; a total of 46 studies and sketches are known.
In addition to linear elements, Picasso also incorporated various facets of Cubism, which can be seen in particular on the horse and bull. The condition of Guernica is unfortunately quite desolate. It has been transported countless times, which made it necessary to roll it up and stretch it again. It also had to endure an act of vandalism when an unknown paint was sprayed on it in 1974. Attempts were also made to reinforce the structure on the back, but this failed.
It was, therefore, decided not to transport the artwork anymore. It is now located for an indefinite time in the Museo Reina Sofie in Madrid.
Pablo Picasso [CC BY-SA 4.0]
The most famous paintings of all time have captivated audiences throughout the ages, and hold immense value. While there are so many well-known artists out there, the artworks listed above are some of the most treasured and classic paintings in the world. If you love art, then we hope that you get to see some of these famous artworks up close in your life!