The 12 Most Famous Paintings from Art History

famous paintings by claude monet
Impression, Sunrise: One of the most famous paintings by Claude Monet

These are the 12 most famous paintings from art history.

Claude Monet – Impression, Sunrise

The Artist: Claude Monet (1840-1926), a well-known French painter, was born in France. Giving rise to the Impressionist painting style, he became one of the founding members of the French Impressionist movement. He was a loyal and successful follower of movement theory, focusing on capturing form and light rather than realism. 

The Painting: Impression, Sunrise, is a famous painting focused on a scene in the port of Le Havre, where Monet grew up. The fog was drawn to create a foggy background, located in a French bay. Smaller boats were painted in front of the larger ones, being nearly pushed along by the flow of the water. Separate strokes were used, which also depicted different colors sparkling in the water.

Other notes: The most interesting part of the painting is the use of vibrant orange to depict light. A reflection from the sun can be seen standing out against the dull tones. A black boat stands out as a strong value contrast to the surrounding colors. What Monet shows is a high level of saturation contrast, especially when painting a warm light source.

  • Location: Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.
  • Type: Impressionism, a landscape painting. Made on oil on canvas.
  • Size: 48 x 63cm (18.9 x 24.8 in).
  • Year: Completed in 1872

Pierre-Auguste Renoir – Two Sisters On the Terrace

Two Sisters (On the Terrace).jpg

The Artist: A French famous artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, was born in France in 1841. He was an important person in the Impressionist movement. Mostly his famous paintings were portraits and landscapes. From the Impressionist style, he moved on to the Renaissance style in the middle of his career. This allowed him to bring more line and composition to his work, making him one of the top artists of his time.

The Painting: On a pleasant and gorgeous day, Renoir captured the glow of a beautiful young woman. A female boater’s blue flannel is worn by the older girl. He worked on the picture on the balcony of the Maison Fournaise, a restaurant in Chatou, located on an island in the Seine. With the River Seine in the background, greenery and trees are seen over the rails of the balcony.

Other notes: Two Sisters On the Terrace brings us the joys of spring and childhood. Vibrant and colorful surroundings were combined to create a bright and positive environment. The elder sister shows a sense of calm and harmony in her face, while the younger girl shows her purity and innocence. Observers will be able to escape the stress of everyday life, purify themselves, and find peace by looking at this famous painting.

  • Location: Art Institute of Chicago in Illinois, United States
  • Type: History painting. Made on oil on canvas.
  • Size: 100 x 80 cm (39.4 x 31.5 in).
  • Year: 1881.

Leonardo da Vinci – Mona Lisa

See adjacent text.

The Artist: Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), born in Italy, was a painter, sculptor, architect, inventor, military engineer, and draftsman. Also, he is known as ‘The Renaissance Man’ during the Italian Renaissance. Growing up with an open mindset and a sharp brain, allowed him to understand scientific and natural laws. Gaining scientific knowledge and talent provided him with a lot of motivation.

The Painting: Certainly the most famous paintings of all time. Most likely a portrait of Lisa, a Florentine merchant’s wife, focusing her gaze on her husband. Lisa, seen in the painting, is sitting upright and sideways in a chair, with her face and torso tilted slightly away from the observer. She rests her left arm on the armrest, and her right arm crosses her front, clasping her left arm. With hazy blues and no clearly defined vanishing point, the background scenery behind her creates an aerial perspective.

Other notes: Mona Lisa was painted using various unique and creative techniques. To create the effect of light and shadow, several colors were used. Starting with dark undertones, Da Vinci built-up layers of thin, semi-transparent glazes to give the illusion of three-dimensional details. Also, darker colors were used to highlight the motif’s elements and boundaries. He painted many famous paintings during his lifetime including The Last Supper and The Lady with an Ermine.

  • Location: Louvre Museum in Paris.
  • Type: Portrait painting. Oil painting is done on a poplar wood panel.
  • Size: 77 cm × 53 cm (30 in × 21 in).
  • Year: Between 1503 and 1519.

Vincent van Gogh – The Night Cafe

The Night Café: Vincent van Gogh (1888)

The Artist: A Dutch post-impressionist painter, Vincent van Gogh, was born in the Netherlands and lived from 1853 to 1890. Most of van Gogh’s famous paintings are known for their vibrant colors, rough beauty, and emotional impact. His work had a significant influence on modern art. Although he was not famous during his lifetime, he is today considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time.

The Painting: A billiards table is not in use in the center of the canvas. Three walls of the room are visible, with a door on the opposite side of the viewer. Tables and chairs line the walls, some of which are used by people who are leaning over the tables. The majority of the six figures are men, but one table has a woman. A standing guy in white, the cafe’s owner, stands near the pool table, leaning on another table. A bar with bottles on top and a vase of flowers in the center is located on a wall beside the door.

Other notes: The Night Café was painted to show minimal humanity, without adornment, as impactfully and honestly as possible.

  • Location: European art galleries at Yale University Art Gallery.
  • Type: Expressionism. Made with oil on canvas.
  • Size: 89 x 70 cm.
  • Year: 1888.

Johannes Vermeer – Girl with a Pearl Earring

The Artist: Johannes Vermeer, the most famous Dutch Golden Age painter, lived from October 1632 to December 1675. Most of his works were praised for their transparent colors, precise compositions, and wonderful use of light. Although he was a fairly successful painter, he was not rich. Leaving his wife and children in debt at his death was possibly due to the fact that he painted very few artworks.

The Painting: One of the most iconic famous paintings from art history. A 16-year-old girl wearing exotic clothes and a giant pearl earring. Vermeer’s wife, who previously worked as a maid, suspected that her husband and Greet were having an affair. She gets angry when the girl sits in a famous portrait with her pearl earrings.

Other notes: For one thing, it’s quite lovely. The girl wearing a headscarf that is brilliant blue and yellow against a black background, the shining pearl, the excellent capture of light and shadow on her beautiful skin, and the liquid pools of her eyes combine to create a work of beauty.

  • Location: The Hague’s Mauritshuis museum in the Netherlands.
  • Type: Baroque portrait. Made with oil on canvas.
  • Size: 44.5 x 39 cm (17.5 x 15 inches).
  • Year: 1665.

Frédéric Bazille – The Family Reunion

The Artist: Born on December 6th, 1841, Frédéric Bazille was a supporter of the Impressionist movement and a potential artist himself. As a French painter, he experimented with Impressionist techniques, seeking to develop his own personal style. His best-known paintings were made indoors, although, he experimented with the studio’s specialty style of Plein air painting.

The Painting: In “The Family Reunion,” Bazille maintains his fascination with the figures in his subject landscape. Eleven figures are asymmetrically arranged in the shadow of a chestnut tree. Beyond the parapet, there is a girl sitting. From his parents, seated in the center-left foreground, to his extended family of cousins, also shown in the painting. Bazille’s father faced the viewer and the artist. This might be a result of France’s recent advances in photography.

Other notes: The light of the South of France is seen in the strong contrasts. A group is gathered in the shadow, which highlights the landscape’s and sky’s vibrant colors. The light reflected by the overhanging trees highlights the group’s pale clothing, which contrasts with the black shawl and coats. Motionless and staring directly at the artist, these people appear to be posing for a photograph.

  • Location: Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio.
  • Type:  Impressionism style. Made with oil on canvas.
  • Size: 152 cm × 230 cm (60 in × 91 in).
  • Year: 1867

Titian – Equestrian Portrait of Charles V

The Artist: Titian was born in 1505 and was a major Renaissance painter who created paintings for Pope Paul III, King Philip II of Spain, and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. He had a large worldwide audience. Throughout his long career, he experimented with a variety of painting techniques that reflected the evolution of art in his time period.

The Painting: The Equestrian Portrait of Charles celebrates Charles V’s victory over the Schmalkaldic League at Moelberg on April 24, 1547. The Emperor was equipped in light cavalry style with a half-spear and a wheel-locking pistol. With his shield, made around 1545 by Desiderius Helmschmid, and an image of the Virgin and child on the breastplate, This was usual with Charles’ shield from 1531.

Other notes: One of the most famous painting of a portrait. The Equestrian Portrait of Charles gains its influence in part through its directness and sense of the force contained: the horse’s power appears to be in control, and Charles’s shining armor and the dark red color of the painting are reminders of battle and heroism.

  • Location: The Prado Museum is officially known as Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain.
  • Type: Mannerism (Late Renaissance). Large oil painting on canvas.
  • Size: 367 cm × 292.1 cm (144 in × 115.0 in)
  • Year: 1548

Francisco Goya – The Nude Maja

The Artist: Francisco Goya, born in 1746, was one of the greatest painters and printmakers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe. Considered one of the newest Old Masters and one of the first contemporary artists, his work reflected contemporary changes. His art depicts the Romantic focus on subjectivity, imagination, and emotion, features that are most evident in his prints and later private paintings.

The Painting: The Nude Maja or La Maja Desnuda, depicts a naked woman lying on a bed of pillows, her hands behind her head, staring directly at the viewer. Panel light only focuses on the subject, while the background is black and featureless. Art critics have made much of the model’s look as she confidently smiles at the viewer without any shyness.

Other notes: Francisco Goya painted the woman twice in the same pose, but in one picture she is naked (Maja desnuda), while in the other she is dressed (Maja vestida). These paintings created a disturbance and caught people’s interest, making them some of the most famous works of Spanish art.

  • Location: The Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.
  • Type: Romanticism. Made with Oil on a large canvas.
  • Size: 38 x 75 cm (15.0 x 29.5 in)
  • Year: Between 1797 and 1800

Jan van Eyck – The Arnolfini Portrait

The Artist: Jan van Eyck (c. AD 1390-1441), a Dutch Renaissance painter, was renowned during his lifetime for his mastery of oil painting, naturalistic scenes, and eye for detail. His work had an impact on Renaissance art, particularly on Italian artists in the second half of the 15th century AD.

The Painting: A couple stands in a nicely decorated room. A woman’s right-hand rests on top of the man’s left. The use of heavy-looking fabrics and furs, as well as the careful placement of symbols, infuses meaning into every inch of the painting. A small dog by their feet; a lit candle in the chandelier; oranges on a chest; shoes were thrown off in the background and foreground; and a strange curved mirror on the wall behind the couple that reflects the entire scene back at the viewer.

Other notes: Rich in detail, it is a great early example of Northern Renaissance artists’ mastery of oil painting and their obsession with the act of domestic fabrics. But while it may seem like a simple double portrait, Arnolfini is one of the greatest mysteries in the history of Western art, much of the intrigue of this famous painting is the result of its mystique.

  • Location: The National Gallery, in London, UK.
  • Type: Portrait. Made with oil paint.
  • Size: 83.7 x 57 cm
  • Year: 1434

Artemisia Gentileschi – Judith Slaying Holofernes

The Artist: Born in Rome, Italy, on July 8, 1593, Gentileschi was one of the best female painters of the Baroque period. Her dad, Orazio, an excellent painter in his own right, helped develop her creative abilities. By virtue of her excellent work, her creativity in approaching traditional topics, and the number of paintings that remain, she is considered a very successful artist. She was both admired and hated by contemporary reviewers for her brilliance and for the fact that she’s a woman expressing a creative talent traditionally thought to be completely male

The Painting: Judith Slaying Holofernes depicts Judith, supported by her maid, beheading the alcoholic general Holofernes after he falls asleep. This is a dramatic scenario based on a Biblical incident from the apocryphal Book of Judith in the Old Testament, in which the Israelite heroine Judith wants to murder the Assyrian general Holofernes. 

Other notes: The tent’s textured walls give a dark background that not only frames the picture but also creates a contrast between light and dark that highlights each individual’s activities. A light source is on the left side. Three characters’ placement draws the viewer’s attention to the center of the canvas.

  • Location: Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy.
  • Type: Baroque art
  • Size: 162.5 x 199 cm
  • Year: 1620

Nicolas Poussin – A Dance to the Music of Time

The Artist: Since the 17th century, Nicolas Poussin, a classic French painter, has been an influence on many great painters. At the age of 18, Poussin fled Normandy, France, and began studying with the Flemish painters Ferdinand Elle and George Lallemand, who soon became recognized as the great Nicolas Poussin’s teachers. 

The Painting: A man standing in the figure in the extreme rear of the circle, with his back to the viewer, was meant to represent poverty. In keeping with his low position, he dances barefoot and wants the best for Labor, his dancing partner on the right. Labor, a strong young lady who is also dancing barefoot and whose bare shoulders and hair show her hard labor, spins excitedly to take Wealth’s hand. Wealth, dressed in gold sandals and robes, snubs Labor’s hand and looks forward with arrogance. Pleasure, naked, round shoulder, look knowingly at the viewer with a slight smile, suggesting Poussin’s early sensual works.

Other notes: Reflects the sense of movement and the many stages of life. The spinning wheel of fate is shown in its iconography as poverty, work, prosperity, and pleasure.

  • Location: The Wallace Collection in London, UK.
  • Type: Baroque style, Pen, brown ink and wash on paper; traces of squaring on black chalk were used
  • Size: 14.80 x 19.90 cm (44.00 x 59.00 cm)
  • Year: 1640

Diego Velázquez – Las Meninas

The Artist: Born in 1599 in Spain, Diego Velázquez was a great Western artist and one of the most renowned Spanish painters of the 17th century. He had a great eye for detail and wonderful control of the brush. were often characterized by powerful modeling and strong light contrasts, reflecting the dramatic lighting technique known as tenebrism. 

The Painting: Doa Isabel de Velasco and Doa Mara Augustina Sarmiento, Infanta Margarita of Spain, stand between their two prestigious maids. Two dwarfs, Mari-Bárbola and Nicolás de Pertusato pose to the right, the latter gently pushing the sleeping bull mastiff with his feet, and the dog is his lord and mistress, Philip IV of Spain and Mariana. Reflecting in a mirror behind the room, while posing for the court painter Velázquez, under the red curtain are the king and queen.

Other notes: This artwork was not intended for public exhibition; instead, it was created for the King’s private office, as seen by the casual and pleasant environment, as opposed to the usually posed portraits of royalty. It is one of the many famous paintings in the Del Prado Museum, and arguably the most popular.

  • Location: The Prado Museum is officially known as Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid Spain.
  • Type: Portrait, History painting, oil on canvas
  • Size: 318 cm × 276 cm (125.2 in × 108.7 in)
  • Year: 1656

What famous paintings do you think we should add to this list? Comment below.

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