Top 25 Most Famous Paintings in the World

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray 

What does it take to be an artist? Merely emulating a work cannot be considered art. Art is something that comes from within. The creator’s fervor, complexities, desires and sorrow flow into the artist’s piece. An artist might appear to be a creator but the art has an inkling of the artist. The art ultimately gives the artist away.

Below is the list of top 25 painting that have gained international acclaim:-

25. The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dali


Image Source: Wikipedia

It was owing to this painting that Dali became famous at a young age of 28. The painting has several names such as Melting Clocks, Droopy Watches, and Soft Watches. The painting gathered the attention of various academicians worldwide. They were mostly interested in interpreting the painting. It is said that Dali derived the idea from Einstein’s Relativity theory.

24. The Dance, by Henri Matisse


Image Source: Wikipedia

Henri Matisse was not always a painter. He discovered his love for painting after attaining a law degree from Paris. After the discovery he studied art fervently only to become one of the greatest painters in the world. Very few art scholars offer a negative critique to The Dance. It is a display of pagan rituals of dance and music. The people are dancing in trance. The three colours- green, blue and red symbolize the infusion of Earth, Heaven and Humanity.

23. The Kiss, by Gustav Klimt


Image Source: Wikipedia

Gustav was often criticised for the nudity in his paintings. The Kiss by Gustav has been seen as a fusion of all art forms, The painting could have been a self portrayal of Gustav and his lover, Emilie. Klimt was influenced by Byzantine mosaics. Byzantines used gold in their paintings. Likewise Gustav mixed gold leaves in his paints to created his own style of painting.

22. The Sleeping Gypsy, by Henri Rousseau


Image Source: Wikipedia

No one but Rousseau himself can describe the scene better. He is said to have described the scene as “A wandering Negress, a mandolin player, lies with her jar beside her (a vase with drinking water), overcome by fatigue in a deep sleep. A lion chances to pass by, picks up her scent yet does not devour her. There is a moonlight effect, very poetic.” What’s magnificent is that he was a self-made painter.

21. The Last Judgement, by Hieronymus Bosch


Image Source: Artbible

The painting is nothing short of magnificent. It is beautifully done. The left panel shows the creation of Adam and Eve. The middle panel shows the ‘last judgement’ by Jesus as to who shall go to heaven and who shall go to hell. The Earth we can see is burning. The panel on the right is a loathsome image of hell.

20. Metamorphosis of Narcissus, by Salvador Dali


Image Source: BBC Art gallery

We are all familiar with the greek mythology of Narcissus, the man who became obsessed with his own image. Well, Dali here has painted his own interpretation of Narcissus.

The story goes something like this. Narcissus was beautiful and he ended up breaking the hearts of many. So the Gods interfered. They thought it appropriate to punish him by making him see his own reflection. However, on doing so, Narcissus fell in love with himself  and ultimately died because he could not embrace himself. The gods felt sorry for having done this, so they immortalized him in the form of a daffodil.

The left panel shows Narcissus staring at his own reflection. After which he fell in love with himself. The right panel shows the events that ensued including the daffodil.

19. Massacre of the Innocents, by Peter Paul Rubens


Image Source: Wikipedia

The painting derives its theme from the biblical massacre of the innocents of Bethlehem. After being told about the birth of Christ by the three wise men, King Herod instructed the killing of young male children and infants in the city of Bethlehem. There are dead bodies of children lying about in the image. The massacre is at its peak in this painting as the last few children are being snatched and waiting to be killed mercilessly. Through the use of rich colours, Ruben delivered a masterpiece.

18. No 5 1948, by Jackson Pollock


Image Source: MentalFloss

Pollock worked very differently from other painters. He would place his canvas on the ground and move around the canvas as well as on top of it while dripping paint from sticks, paintbrushes and syringes. Owing to his unique technique, he was even referred to as a ‘dripper’. This painting was the world’s most expensive painting for sometime.

17. Bal du moulin de la Galette, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir


Image Source: Wikipedia

Also known as Dance at le Moulin de la Galette, Bal du moulin de la Galette is one of Renoir’s most joyful paintings. The idea was to depict the cheerful image of Parisian life. On further scrutiny we find that Renoir has included several friends of his in this painting. Being slightly blurred, the painting was earlier criticised by Renoir’s contemporaries.

16.  The Last Supper, by Leonardo Da Vinci


Image Source: Wikipedia

The scene is picked up from the Bible. The Last Supper depicts Christ’s last meal before being arrested. He has just spoken to his apostles and told them that one of them will betray him. It is at this moment that all the apostles are grieved and tell him that it is surely not them. This very moment has been beautifully captured by Vinci in the painting through his vivid imagination. It is interesting to note that Leonardo took four years to complete this painting.

15. Water Lilies, by Claude Monet


Image Source: Wikipedia

Monet’s Water Lilies are seen everywhere. You must have seen them as wallpapers, posters and on art magazines. The fact was that Monet was obsessed with lilies. Before he began painting lilies, he used to grow them in copious amounts. He built a Japanese-style bridge in his garden above the pond of lilies. Quite pleased with how it turned out, he painted the same scenario seventeen times in the same year.

Given that most of his painting contain lilies, it shouldn’t be surprising that Monet had once said, “One instant, one aspect of nature contains it all.”

14. The Scream, by Edvard Munch


Image Source: Wikipedia

There’s something mysterious about this image besides the aura of fear it creates. Only a master such as Munch could have put an emotion like fear on paper. Munch had made four versions of The Scream. At first he made a painted version and a crayon version. Later he added two more- one pastel version and a tempera paint version. According to the passages in Munch’s journal, it is pretty evident that he himself believed in death and spirits. Based on this fact, it is said that he painted himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did for man can better describe what he himself has experienced.

13. Whistler’s mother, by James Whistler


Image Source: Wikipedia

The painting that is usually referred to as the symbol of motherhood was not supposed to be as it is. It is said that Whistler’s sitter did not show up so he decided to paint his mother instead. Some also view this painting as a sad portrayal of Whistler’s mom’s life. Adding to this notion are the dark colours that have been used in his painting.

12. Portrait of Dora Maar, by Pablo Picasso


Image Source: Wikipedia

Picasso met Dora Maar in Paris. She is said to have been intellectually more close to Picasso than previous lovers. Through the cubist form of art, Picasso has been able to put movement in his art. Maar’s face seems to turn right, to face Picasso. Picasso has made Maar’s presence felt. Perhaps he wanted to feel her presence at all times!

11. The starry night, by Vincent Van Gogh


Image Source: Wikipedia

And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

-The Bible

Van Gogh painted Starry Night while in an Asylum where he had willingly committed himself. Earlier that year he had cut off his left ear lobe. His self-affliction of pain is said to be part and parcel of his madness that had started earlier that year. From his entire collection, Starry Night has gained maximum popularity primarily due to the orb of light around the stars.

Albeit the aforementioned quote and the number of stars in his painting coincide, there is no proof as to whether Van Gogh was inspired from the Bible.

10. Olympia, by Édouard Manet


Image Source: Wikipedia

Manet has recreated the The Venus of Urbino by Titan.

Manet became infamous for painting the face of a prostitute. Although gentleman at the time visited courtesans quite frequently, they did not think it appropriate for someone to explicitly portray it. The practice in that era was to depict historical, mythical or biblical themes, Manet, however, showcased a supposedly lowly scene despite being of a high class.

9. The Third of May 1808, by Francisco Goya


Image Source: Wikipedia

The painting is a historical depiction of Napoleon’s conquest on Spain. Napoleon fooled the King of Spain. While claiming that they merely needed to pass the country, Napoleon’s forces took of the kingdom by taking the lives of many.

The painting shows French soldiers attacking a Spanish man. The man has a worried expression. His hands have been stretched out as though he has submitted himself to fate. War, blood and death have been depicted profoundly by Goya.

8. Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer


Image Source: Wikipedia

It is said that the girl is Vermeer’s eldest daughter, Maria. Her features are present in many of his works, but it remains hard to compare the pieces. A book, work of fiction with the same title was written by Tracy Chevalier. Tracy claims that she picked up his work because there was very little information about Vermeer and his paintings and this particular painting gave out a mysterious air. Later, her novel was adapted into a film.

7. The Night Watch, by Rembrandt

Image Source: Wikipedia
The painting is a group portrait of the company run by Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburgh. The men of this company were called upon to defend the city or raze uprisings to the ground. The extra men seen were added by Rembrandt to make his composition whole. Given that he bought an expensive house around this time, it could be true that he had received a huge commission for this painting.

6. Las Meninas,  by Diego Velázquez


Image Source: Wikipedia

Although painting has Velazquez himself, however, it is not a self portrait. The center of attention is Infanta Margarita, the daughter of King Philip IV. This painting is particularly intriguing because Velazquez instead of continuing the portrait of the King and the Queen is forced to stop and look at Infanta Margarita instead. The painting looks almost alive, telling the past as well as creating in the audience a sense of curiosity.

5. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, by Pieter Bruegel


Image Source: Wikipedia

It is the only painting by Bruegel that has been painted in oil as against tempera. There is still doubt as to the authenticity of the painting mainly due to two reasons. First, he did not paint in oil, and second, it is of weak quality.

The painting inspired W.H. Auden to write a fierce poem on the same. It depicts the story of Icarus and how he falls in trying to fly. Iracus’ feather was fixed using wax but his flying near the sun, melts the wax and makes him fall.

4. School of Athens, by Raphael


Image Source: Wikipedia

The School of Athens is probably the most coruscating fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael.

The School of Athens represents all the greatest mathematicians, philosophers and scientists gathered under one roof sharing their philosophies and learning from each other. These figures all lived at different times, but Raphael has put all of them into one hall. Some of the figures include Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras and Ptolemy. On closer examination we find that Raphael has included a self-portrait in this painting. I suppose every artist does like to leave their mark, the only difference lies in the form. Or was it because he considered himself to be one of the great figures?

3. The Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo


Image Source: Wikipedia

Michelangelo never did consider himself much of a painter, he always considered himself more of a sculptor. But he did create an exquisite fresco that awed the world. The piece is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. Michelangelo was given the duty to paint several biblical stories on the ceiling, one of which was The Creation of Adam. We can see the sculptor in Michelangelo through this painting. The human body of Adam has been given precision via the usage of vivid colours and exact muscular form. This painting gives away the sculptor in Michelangelo.

2. Mona Lisa, by Leonardo Da Vinci


Image Source: Wikipedia

Albeit the most studied painting, the Mona Lisa still remains the most mysterious of them all. What’s strange is that Leonardo is said to have never stopped working on this painting. His death is said to brought his work on the painting to a halt. Mona Lisa is the first Italian portrait that focused on the sitter in a half-length portrait. The Mona Lisa’s skin appears to glow because of the usage of layers of transparent oils. Being a scientist Da Vinci applied whatever he knew of anatomy to make Mona Lisa realistic. As to who this person is, it still remains mere conjecture.

1. The Birth of Venus, by Sandro Botticelli


Image Source: Wikipedia

The painting depicts Venus, the goddess of love standing on a seashell being blown to the shore by Zephyr, the god of west wind. On the shore one the Horae, goddesses of seasons is prepared to clothe the newborn deity. The model for Venus is thought to be Simonetta Cattaneo de Vespucci. Simonetta Cattaneo died at a young age of 22 and Botticelli’s wished to be buried next to her. He was bound to her by a knot of unrequited love. It is the most exquisite piece of art to have ever been made.

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Bhavya Sinha

An economics student at Delhi University, Bhavya has but catholic interests ranging from writing, karate, art to binge watching endless movies and TV shows. Writing helps her vent out things bottled up inside.