Have you seen any of the most famous paintings by the great historical artists of the world? I have had the honour of viewing two from this list – The Mona Lisa and The Night Watch, and it was an experience of a lifetime! Most of these masterpieces can be viewed at famous museums around the world, such as MOMA and the Louvre – and even can be viewed online - in some cases, in high resolution.
This is a list of the paintings that I feel are the most popular and influential paintings in art history. This was a very difficult list to choose, as I had to leave out some famous artists and paintings to condense it to a list of 10. I’m sure some will feel certain other paintings should have been included. If you do, please leave a comment at the end of this article.
10 Most Famous Paintings by Historical Artists
The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
The Mona Lisa, which can be viewed at the Louvre, in Paris, France, is touted by many as the most famous painting of all time. It was painted by Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, also known for his painting The Last Supper. (I could have included this one with this list as well, but wanted to choose paintings from 10 different artists.)
The painting depicts a young lady with a mysterious smile, widely thought to be Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of wealthy Florence resident Francesco del Giocondo.
The photograph you see is one I snapped myself during my trip to the Louvre in 1997. As you can see, the painting is highly protected behind plexiglass, and I couldn’t even get close because of the surrounding crowd.
Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh painted this masterpiece from memory while at Saint-Rémy (1889).
Starry Night depicts the view from Van Gogh’s window during the night-time, but was actually painted in the day.
If you want to see it, you will have to visit MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) in NYC. Also, view it online at Google Art Project.
The Night Watch by Rembrandt van Rijn
The Night Watch is also known as The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq. This was painted by another famous Dutch artist from art history, Rembrandt van Rijn (in 1642).
It displays elements of chiaroscuro (shading of light to dark), and motion. Military portraits at the time were traditionally static.
The Night Watch is currently on display at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Guernica by Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso painted Guernica in 1937. It depicts the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. It is an anti-war painting that shows the tragedy, death, and suffering associated with war. The famous painting can be seen at Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain.
The Scream by Edvard Munch
There are actually four versions of The Scream (pastels and paintings) painted by Edvard Munch (1893-1910). The versions can be found at different locations:
National Gallery, Oslo (1893) – painting at right
Munch Museum – painting (1893)
Munch Museum – pastel (1910)
Pastel (1895) - Sold to Leon Black for $120 million in 2012 (on display at MOMA until March, 2013)
Not only has this artwork been stolen and recovered several times, but is also a very common image in pop culture.
The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo
The Creation of Adam (c1511) is one of a series of frescos created by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel.
The images of the finger tips of God and Adam touching is one of the widest recognized and reproduced images in modern culture.
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali
The Persistence of Memory (1931) is the most popular painting of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali.
It is his first painting to use the melting pocket watch image, something which he would use often, and also uses several symbolic references throughout the composition.
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer
The Girl with a Pearl Earring (c1665) was painted by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, and is sometimes called “the Dutch Mona Lisa” or “Mona Lisa of the North”.
The painting can be found in Mauritshuis Gallery, at The Hague, Netherlands.
Very little is actually known about the painting, or the young woman shown, adding to its mystique.
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre Auguste Renoir
Luncheon of the Boating Party was painted by Renoir, a famous French Impressionist, between 1880–1881.
The painting is of some friends of Renoir at the Maison Fournaise, in Chatou, France.
The painting is now in the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.
Water Lilies by Claude Monet
Water Lilies is a huge series of 250 oil paintings by French impressionist artist Claude Monet. The series comprises several huge panoramic scenes and smaller paintings of water lilies and reflections in the water.
Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond, (c1920) can be viewed at Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), New York City.
If there is a particular painting that you think should have been added to this list of most popular paintings by famous artists of the world, please let us know below by leaving a comment. Please also state why you think it should have been included.