Most Famous Paintings of All Time

Famous French, Italian, Dutch and American paintings are among the artwork featured in this group of the world’s most famous paintings. Beautiful paintings such as these form timeless images which stay with us forever.

Birth of Venus by Botticelli Sandro Botticelli
The Birth of Venus
This famous image shows the goddess Venus coming out of the Sea (according to some legends, Venus did not have a mother or father but was instead born of the Sea after the death of Uranus).
The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci Leonardo Da Vinci
Mona Lisa
Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael are the three great Masters from the Renaissance period. This painting is likely the most famous, most controversial, and most expensive painting in the world. It is a portrait of a rich lady named Lisa Gherardini (a fact which was only known for sure in 2005). It is famous because the lady’s expression is hard to define since she doesn’t have any eyebrows or eyelashes. The painting is currently located in Paris, France at the Louvre.
God touching Adam's finger Michelangelo
The Creation of Adam (from the Sistine Chapel)
The Sistine chapel is part of the pope’s official residence in Vatican City. Michelangelo painted the 12,000 square foot ceiling with various characters from the Bible — the most famous being the image of God creating Adam in the middle.
School of Athens by Raphael Raphael
School of Athens
This wall painting, located in the Vatican, contains pictures of many famous philosophers. Plato and Aristotle are the two in the middle. As an inside joke, Raphael based Plato’s face on fellow artist Leonardo da Vinci. He also included Michelangelo and himself elsewhere in the painting.
Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel Pieter Bruegel
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
This painting represents man’s indifference to the suffering of others. Icarus was the main character in a Greek legend. He created wings made of feather & wax but flew too close to the sun. In the painting, Icarus is hard to find (he’s just below the big boat) and the main character in the painting is going about his work without noticing
Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez Diego Velazquez
Las Meninas
This baroque painting is considered one of the most important of all-time. The central figure is the young Margarita Teresa of Spain but the painting also shows the artist himself, an image of the king and queen, several servants, two dwarfs, and a dog.
Night Watch by Rembrandt Rembrandt
The Night Watch
Rembrandt is one of the most famous Dutch painters. This painting is huge (11 ft x 14 ft) and shows a group of soldiers leaving for a battle. Unlike earlier paintings which showed people looking stiff, this picture captures their movement. Also, the way he painted the light emphasizes the three men in the front as well as a young girl. The girl has a dead chicken hanging from her belt — a symbol that they will defeat their enemy.
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer Johannes Vermeer
Girl with a Pearl Earring
This painting is called “the Mona Lisa of the North”. Three things stand out: the girl’s intimate gaze, her white earring in the middle of the picture, and the interesting combination of colors.
Third of May by Goya Francisco Goya
The Third of May
This painting shows Napoleon’s attack on Spain in 1808. Prior to this, most paintings showed war as being a glorious thing. This painting shows it as being cruel and subhuman (see how the soldiers look mechanical whereas the ones being shot look full of life).
Olympia by Manet Edouard Manet
This painting is an example or realism — a style that shows exactly what the eye sees. It created an uproar, not because the subject was nude, but because of the way he painted her gaze and other subtleties indicating that she was a mistress.
Whistler's Mother James Whistler
Whistler’s Mother
An example of tonalism — a style known for dark, neutral shades, this painting is officially titled, “An arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother”. One story says that his mother agreed to sit for the painting because the real model didn’t show up. Another says that Whistler wanted to paint the model standing up but that his mother could not do so for such an extended period so he painted her seated instead.
Basket of Apples by Paul Cezanne Paul Cezanne
The Basket of Apples
Cezanne is often said to be a bridge between 19th century impressionism (see below) and the more abstract styles of the 20th century.
Water Lillies Monet Claude Monet
Water Lilies
This painting is an example of impressionism — a type of painting known for its light colors and simple subjects. Monet was known for painting lillies, like the ones in this painting.
Le Moulin de la Galette by Renoir Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Le Moulin de la Galette
The title of this painting is French for “Pastry Cafe”. Another example of impressionism, this particular painting is one of the most expensive ever bought (for about $130 million in today’s dollars).
Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh Vincent Van Gogh
Starry Night
Vincent Van Gogh is probably one of the two or three most famous painters in history, often remembered for cutting off part of his ear and suffering from mental illness. Famous for its swirls in the sky, this painting was based on the view from Van Gogh’s bedroom and is an example of post-impressionism.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Geroges Seurat Georges Seurat
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
This painting is an example of pointillism — a technique in which many small dots combine to create an image.
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt Gustav Klimt
The Kiss
Klimt used gold leaf to make this and other paintings. This decorative style was known as Art Nouveau (French for “new art”).
The Scream by Edward Munch Edvard Munch
The Scream
One of the most familiar images in history, this painting is an example of expressionism. In this style of painting, reality is distorted in order to express emotion. Here the emotion is panic.
Composition 8 by Wassily Kandinsky Wassily Kandinsky
Composition 8
Kandinsky was the founder of abstract art — art that uses symbols and designs rather than real people or things.
The Dance by Henri Matisse Henri Matisse
The Dance
This painting is an example of fauvism — a style known for its bright colors. At the time, other painters didn’t like the style and called Matisse and his friends “les fauves” (French for wild beasts).
Dora Maar with Cat by Pablo Picasso Pablo Picasso
Portrait of Dora Maar
Picasso ranks among the top painters of all-time. He was one of the founders of cubism — a style that captures an object from different angles all at once. This painting is actually of Picasso’s lover.
American Gothic by Grant Wood Grant Wood
American Gothic
This is likely the most famous American painting of all-time and has been the basis for many parodies. “Gothic” (an architectural style used for churches) refers to the top window of the house in the background. During the Great Depression, this painting became a symbol of the hard-working and determined American people. Note that the pitchfork is mirrored on the man’s overalls.
Son of Man by Rene Magritte Rene Magritte
The Son of Man
This painting is an example of surrealism — a stlye that captures strange dream-like feelings. Magritte explained this painting as follows: “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us.”
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali Salvador Dali
The Persistence of Memory
This painting is another example of surrealism, distorting the ideas of hard and soft.
No. 5 by Jackson Pollock Jackson Pollock
No. 5, 1948
Pollock was known for using his unique drip technique to create what is called abstract expressionist art. This particular painting is the most expensive painting ever sold (at over $140 million dollars).

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