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102 MOST FAMOUS PAINTINGS IN THE WORLD


Fascinated by how professional photographers can capture so much movement and emotion in a single frame? You’ll be surprised at how easy it is for you to take home a masterpiece nowadays. On your part, all you have to do is pose as your photographer has planned out. You won’t even have to worry about choosing a backdrop or aesthetic if you’re working with experts like those of I am Abi.


Portraits and landscapes were harder to produce back when photography hadn’t been invented yet, however. A single work of art often took a year or so to complete. The most iconic of these paintings now reside in prestigious museums for people to study and admire.

Want to take a glimpse at some of these masterpieces? Look no further than this article for the 101 most famous paintings in the world.

102 Most Famous Paintings of All Time

102. Feldhase / Young Hare

Albrecht Dürer, 1502

Image source: Wikipedia


Dürer’s portrait of a hare is so detailed, it’s almost photographic! This watercolor and gouache painting is recognized as one of the finest pieces of observational art around. Some scholars even wonder whether Dürer used a dead or living specimen to capture the fur so beautifully.

Interestingly, the hare can also be identified as mature, not young.


DID YOU KNOW? Dürer is the same artist behind the iconic Praying Hands.


101. Lady Agnew of Lochnaw

John Singer Sargent, 1892-1893

Image source: Wikipedia


This oil on canvas portrait features Gertrude Agnew, the wife of Sir Andrew Agnew, 9th Baronet. However, Lady Agnew isn’t exactly sitting straight in her chair! Her relaxed pose and direct gaze make her appear as if she is conversing privately with a friend instead of posing for a portrait. Art scholars have noted that Lady Agnew was actually recovering from illness, which would explain her pose.


100. The Bedroom / Bedroom in Arles

Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Image source: Wikipedia


As its name implies, this painting depicts van Gogh’s bedroom in the Yellow House in Arles. There are three versions of this painting on display in three separate museums across the world, all by van Gogh!


99. The Hangover

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1888

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


This post-impressionistic oil painting portrays Suzanne Valadon, a model and painter in her own right. Valadon often went drinking with her artist contemporaries, including Toulouse-Lautrec, during Paris’ Belle Époque.


98. Moonrise over the Sea

Caspar David Friedrich, 1822

Image source: Artble


This romantic oil-on-canvas seascape most likely depicts the Baltic Sea near Swedish Pomerania, Friedrich’s birthplace. Friedrich painted another piece with the same name in the previous year.


97. The Turkish Bath

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1852-1862

Image source: Wikipedia


Subtle, pale colors become striking in this oil painting depicting women beside a private pool in a harem. Abstract and sinuous, the women are placed in a curved arrangement that heightens the painting’s erotic and Orientalist tones.

DID YOU KNOW? This painting was originally rectangular when it was first completed between 1852 and 1859. Ingres modified the painting and shaped it into a circular tondo in 1862.


96. The Ladies Waldegrave

Joshua Reynolds, 1952


In this oil-on-canvas painting, the three daughters of the 2nd Earl Waldegrave work together to make lace. The painting is an example of Reynold’s skill at placing sitters in well-composed positions that hinted at their character.



95. Watson and the Shark

John Singleton Copley, 1778


Copley’s painting depicts a shark attack in 1749, where 14-year-old Brook Watson lost part of his right leg before being rescued. The painting was considered unconventional for its time, as most other artwork employed Biblical or mythological themes as dictated by tradition.


94. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Paul Gauguin, 1897-1898

Image source: Gauguin.org


Gauguin considered this striking 3.75-meter-long painting as his masterpiece. Letters written after Gauguin’s failed suicide attempt reveal that the painting is meant to be read from right to left. This is indicated by the baby in the lower right corner and the old woman on the lower left.


93. The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633

Image source: WBUR


Rembrandt’s only seascape is a painting of Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee, as narrated in the Gospel of Mark. Unfortunately, this dynamic painting has been missing since its theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.


DID YOU KNOW? There are thirteen people on the boat, aside from Jesus. One of them–the “disciple” holding his cap and staring out at the viewers–is said to be a self-portrait of Rembrandt.


92. The Fall of the Damned / The Fall of the Rebel Angels

Peter Paul Rubens, 1620

Image source: Wikipedia


Another monumental Biblical painting, this work of art depicts countless bodies being thrown into hell by archangel Michael and other angels. Its play of light and dark makes this almost 3-meter tall painting especially dramatic.


91. Judith and Her Maidservant (Florence)

Artemisia Gentileschi, 1612-1613

Image source: Sartle


Gentileschi’s oil-on-canvas painting depicts Judith from the deuterocanonical Bible book of the same name. Judith is seen here together with a maidservant holding the head of Assyrian general Holofernes.


This painting has a second version, which is housed in the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum.


90. Pygmalion and Galatea

Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1890


This painting is one of Gérôme’s various takes on the eponymous Greek myth, especially its climax. Marble sculpture Galatea comes to life in front of sculptor Pygmalion, who has wished for a wife as beautiful as his creation.


89. The Slave Ship / Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon Coming On

J. M. W. Turner, 1840

Image source: Hyperallergic


In this maritime painting, you can see a ship sailing away in the background. However, take a close look at the foreground and you’ll see hands and limbs under the waves. This painting was inspired by the Zong massacre, where over 130 African slaves were thrown overboard by slave ship crew.


88. The Death of Marat

Jacques-Louis David, 1793

Image source: Wikipedia


David’s painting is a romanticized rendering of the murder of French revolutionary leader and journalist Jean-Paul Marat. Scholars often compare it to Michelangelo’s Pietà because of its composition (note Marat’s outstretched right arm and tilted head).


87. Portrait of Madame X

John Singer Sargent, 1884

Image source: Wikipedia


This portrait is well-known for how it contrasts pale and shapely flesh with a dark dress and background. The woman in the portrait is the socialite Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, known for her beauty and her infidelities. Her pose here was deemed to be suggestive by art critics at the time.


86. Samson and Delilah

Peter Paul Rubens, 1609-1610

Image source: Wikipedia


Rubens’ painting captures the moment when Biblical hero Samson has his hair–his source of strength–cut off by his Philistine enemies. A sleeping Samson leans on his lover Delilah, who has been bribed by the Philistines. The crossed hands of the man cutting Samson’s hair is said to symbolize betrayal.


85. Portrait of Juan de Pareja

Diego Velázquez, c. 1650

Image source: Alphr


This portrait of the then-enslaved Pareja was meant to be an exercise for Velázquez’ later painting of Pope Innocent X. However, it garnered applause from other painters at an exhibition at the Pantheon.


Velázquez freed Pareja later on in 1654.


DID YOU KNOW? Pareja also became an artist himself. Some of his known works include The Calling of Saint Matthew, which is on display at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.


84. The Embarkation for Cythera

Jean-Antoine Watteau, 1717

Image source: Smarthistory


The Embarkation for Cythera depicts aristocrat couples in the supposed birthplace of the goddess Venus. Interestingly, it shows the couples leaving the island of Cythera instead of arriving, with the couples’ backs turned on the viewer.

In 1718 or 1719, a second version was painted and titled The Pilgrimage to Cythera to avoid confusion.


83. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Andrews

Thomas Gainsborough, c. 1750

Image source: Wikipedia


Gainsborough’s painting is an interesting combination of a double portrait and a landscape composition. Critics have speculated that the wife’s stiff position alludes to how she has become property of her husband. However, the painting remains as one of the best-loved works in the National Gallery of London.


Notice the unpainted space around the wife’s hands? Scholars believe that it was meant to be a cock pheasant, a work bag for embroidery, or a lapdog, among others.


82. The Gross Clinic

Thomas Eakins, 1875

Image source: Khan Academy


Dr. Samuel D. Gross delivers a lecture on surgery at Jefferson Medical College in this painting. Notable details include a self-portrait of Eakins on the right edge of the painting, by the tunnel railing. Meanwhile, a lone woman (possibly the patient’s mother) cringes in the lower left corner. The Gross Clinic garnered attention for its honest, bloody depiction of surgery.


81. Le Sommeil / The Sleepers

Gustave Courbet, 1866

Featuring two naked women in an erotic embrace, this oil-on-canvas painting is considered to be an influential piece of 19th-century art. After The Sleepers went on public display, other contemporary artists began to incorporate themes of lesbianism in their works.


80. A Cotton Office in New Orleans

Edgar Degas, 1873

Image source: Totally History

This painting depicts the cotton brokerage business of Degas’ uncle Michel Musson, who is inspecting raw cotton. Degas’ brothers Rene and Achille can be seen reading a newspaper and resting by a window respectively. It is regarded as an important depiction of capitalism in the 19th century.


79. View of Toledo

El Greco, 1596-1600


View of Toledo is often called one of the most iconic depictions of the sky in Western art. Notice how the gloomy sky contrasts sharply with vibrant green hills below. This work of art is considered a rarity for its time, since the Council of Trent had previously banned landscape paintings.


78. Charles I in Three Positions / The Triple Portrait of Charles I

Anthony van Dyck, 1635-1636

Interestingly, this work of art was originally meant to be a reference for a bust by Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. While the bust was destroyed in the fire of Whitehall Palace in 1698, the painting eventually became part of England’s Royal Collection.


77. Primavera

Sandro Botticelli, c. 1470s or 1480s

Image source: Wikipedia


Featuring a total of nine mythological characters, this tempera-on-panel painting by Botticelli is one of the icons of the Italian Renaissance. Primavera is often discussed together with The Birth of Venus and was once thought to be paired with it.


DID YOU KNOW? Scholars have identified around 500 different plant species in Primavera–not bad for a painting whose title literally translates to “spring”!


76. Saint George and the Dragon

Paolo Uccello, 1470



Uccello’s painting is based on the Christian legend of Saint George. Here, Saint George spears and defeats a dragon that previously terrorized a Libyan city. At the same time, the princess who has been rescued from the dragon turns her belt into the dragon’s leash.


75. Judith Slaying Holofernes (Florence)

Artemisia Gentileschi, 1614-1620

Image source: The Local Italy


Together with Judith and Her Maidservant, this Gentileschi painting showcases the “Power of Women” topos. Gentileschi has notably painted herself as Judith and Agostino Tassi, convicted for raping Gentileschi, as Holofernes.


Two versions of this work exist. The painting housed in Florence is pictured above, while the version housed in Naples features Judith in a blue dress instead.


74. The Fighting Temeraire

J. M. W. Turner, 1838


Painted at the peak of Turner’s artistic career, this piece depicts HMS Temeraire being tugged up the Thames to be broken up for scrap. By then, the Temeraire had become popular among the British for her performance in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

The full name of this painting is The Fighting Temeraire, tugged to her last berth to be broken up, 1838.


73. The Triumph of Galatea

Raphael, 1514

Image source: Royal Academy of Arts


The Triumph of Galatea is one of several frescoes on the Villa Farnescina in Rome. Oddly, Raphael did not depict a scene from the story of the nymph Galatea (a different entity from Pygmalion’s lover). Instead, he took inspiration from the apotheosis about Galatea in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.


72. Musicians / Concert of Youths

Caravaggio, 1595


In this commissioned oil-on-canvas painting, four boys in quasi-Classical clothes are shown practicing madrigals. Its concept may sound simple, but the painting is known to be one of Caravaggio’s most complex compositions.


71. The Ambassadors

Hans Holbein, 1533


The Ambassadors depicts the real-life diplomats Jean de Dinteville (left) and Georges de Selve (right). At the bottom, there is an anamorphic skull which only takes shape if viewed from the lower left or upper right. The three levels of objects in the painting are said to represent the heavens, the earth, and death.


DID YOU KNOW? Holbein painted The Ambassadors in the same year Elizabeth I of England was born.


70. Red Balloon

Paul Klee, 1922

Image source: The Guggenheim Museum

Red Balloon is innocent and playful, with abstract floating shapes vaguely forming a cityscape behind the balloon. Klee used oil and chalk on muslin to achieve this painting’s intense, bright colors.


69. Washington Crossing the Delaware

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1851

Image source: MPR News


This painting depicts George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River in 1776, during the American Revolutionary War. The original work was destroyed in a bombing raid in Germany after being kept at the Kunsthalle Bremen. Fortunately, Leutze had also painted two more versions, which are now kept at the White House and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.


68. Adoration of the Magi

Gentile da Fabriano, 1423

Image source: Khan Academy


This work of art clearly centers on the Biblical scene where three wise men visit a newborn Jesus together with an extensive retinue. However, a close look at the panels above and below the central panel reveals stories that unfold in connection to the three kings’ visit. The whole painting is painstakingly detailed with gold leaf.


67. The Battle of Alexander at Issus

Albrecht Altdorfer, 1529

Image source: Wikipedia


Said to be Altdorfer’s masterpiece, this sweeping composition depicts the Battle of Issus where Alexander the Great defeats Darius III. Although the actual battle took place in 333 BC, Alexander’s men are dressed in 16th-century armor while Darius’ forces are dressed like Turks. This anachronism is said to echo the conflict between Europeans and the Ottomans, which was in full swing at the time.


66. Composition VIII

Wassily Kandinsky, 1923

Image source: Wassily Kandinsky


The influences of Suprematism and Constructivism shine through in Kandinsky’s Composition VIII. Brightly colored and carefully arranged geometric shapes interact on a single canvas and almost create a rhythm.


DID YOU KNOW? Kandinsky discovered nonrepresentational art by accident when he came home one afternoon in 1910. He found himself enthralled by a painting that seemed to be nothing but lines and shapes. It turned out to be a previous painting lying sideways, but it spurred Kandinsky to produce the first abstract paintings in modern art.


65. A Bar at the Folies Bergère

Édouard Manet, 1882


Manet’s last major work shows a barmaid at the Folies Bergère, then one of the most famous cabarets of Paris. The barmaid’s reflection is notably shifted to the right, creating an unsettling effect that has sparked much scholarly discussion.


64. The Night Cafe

Vincent van Gogh, 1888

Image source: Wikipedia

This painting depicts Café de la Gare, located near the Yellow House where van Gogh had rented four rooms. The intense colors are meant to “express the terrible passions of humanity,” van Gogh explained in a letter to his brother Theo. Indeed, critics have noted that the colors and textures leave the viewer with the sense of despair.


63. The Laughing Cavalier

Frans Hals, 1624

Image source: Wikipedia


Despite its title, the cavalier in this painting is wearing a mysterious smile under an upturned moustache. This is unusual for the time, as adult subjects in commissioned portraits were usually not painted with smiling faces. Also, the subject’s pose lends informality and provides room for the details on his incredibly intricate sleeve.


62. Breezing Up / A Fair Wind

Winslow Homer, 1876

Image source: Pixels


Breezing Up appears to be a simple painting of a three boys and a man on a boat. However, the colors and details turn it into a bright and iconic piece. The anchor near the mast is said to represent hope, for example. One of the boys looks out toward the horizon, reflecting optimism for the future.


61. The Astronomer

Johannes Vermeer, 1668

Image source: Johannes Vermeer


Dutch painters in the 17th century often featured scholarly characters in their compositions, and The Astronomer is a prime example of that. The character in this painting is shown with a celestial globe, which shows the apparent positions of stars in the sky.


60. Paris Street; Rainy Day

Gustave Caillebotte, 1877


Caillebotte’s painting seems to mimic a photograph. The carriage and pedestrians are clear, but the foreground characters seem out of focus. The background also seems shrouded by fog. There is also a man who is barely included on the right side, as if he were almost cropped out.


59. Pollice Verso

Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1872

Image source: akg-images


The painting’s title refers to the hand gestures given by the audience (most notably by the Vestal virgins on the right). These gestures decided the fate of defeated gladiators, such as the one being trampled on by the main subject.


58. Boulevard Montmartre, Paris

Camille Pissarro, 1897

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


This urban landscape painting features the busy Boulevard Montmartre at daytime. Pissarro expertly used quick brush strokes to capture the energy of the fast-moving carriages and crowds below.


DID YOU KNOW? Pissarro rented a room at the Grand Hotel de Russie to capture this view. He painted 12 other works from the same viewpoint, including nighttime scenes where carriages are neatly parked along the boulevard.


57. Flaming June

Frederic Leighton, 1895

Image source: Judaica Art


The woman’s curled sleeping pose in Flaming June echoes Michelangelo’s Night, as well as sleeping nymphs and naiads in Greek sculpture. A toxic oleander branch in the top right part of the painting alludes to the association of sleep with death.


56. Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, 1522-1523

Image source: Wikipedia


This painting depicts the scene where the god Bacchus discovers Ariadne on the island of Naxos and falls in love with her. He later turns Ariadne into the Corona Borealis constellation, which is painted into the upper left corner.


Bacchus and Ariadne can be divided into two triangles. The upper left, predominantly ultramarine in color, contains the two lovers. The lower right is characterized by earthy tones and the movement of the revelers behind Bacchus.


55. The Gleaners

Jean-François Millet, 1857

Image source: Media Storehouse


Miller’s painting depicts the lowest rank of French society in a realistic and sympathetic light. Viewers from the upper and middle classes disapproved of the painting, reminded of the lower classes’ show of power in the February Revolution. However, the painting grew in popularity after Miller’s death.


54. Susanna and the Elders

Artemisia Gentileschi, 1610

Gentileschi’s Susanna and the Elders is one of numerous paintings depicting Susanna from the deuterocanonical Bible book of the same name. Unlike in other paintings where Susanna is shown as either clueless or flirtatious, Gentileschi’s Susanna is visibly distressed.


DID YOU KNOW? Gentileschi completed this painting at the age of 17!


53. The Ninth Wave

Ivan Aivazovsky, 1850

Image source: Fleurmach


Aivazovsky’s painting showcases both the beauty and destructive power of nature. The characters in the foreground cling to ship debris to survive. However, the warmly colored sky downplays the dangers of the sea and adds a hopeful tone to the painting.

The title takes from nautical tradition, where it is said that the ninth wave in a series tends to be the largest.


52. Lady with an Ermine

Leonardo da Vinci, 1489-1490

mage source: Leonardo da Vinci


Scholars generally hold that the eponymous Lady with an Ermine is Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of da Vinci’s patron Ludovico Sforza. The simplicity of her dress indicates that she is not of the noble class. She carries a white-coated stoat or ermine, a symbol of purity.



51. The Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny

Claude Monet, 1899

Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Vibrant and impressionistic, Monet’s painting almost transports viewers to his Asian-inspired water lily pool near the River Epte. Monet was so fascinated with the beauty of the lilies that he painted over 250 works featuring them!


50. The Swing / The Happy Accidents of the Swing

Jean-Honore Fragonard, 1767

Image source: Culture Mechanism


Baron de Saint-Julien commissioned Fragonard for this painting, giving specific instructions such as placing the Baron himself near the legs of his mistress. The girl’s husband can barely be seen pushing the swing on the right. Meanwhile, one of the girl’s shoes flies off to the left towards a statue that resembles Cupid, god of desire.


49. Le déjeuner des canotiers / Luncheon of the Boating Party

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1882

Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party is highly regarded for its freshness, fluidity of brush strokes, and mastery of light. The subjects in the painting are all acquaintances of Renoir, including Renoir’s future wife Aline Charigot (leftmost in the foreground).


48. The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1632

Image source: Mauritshuis


In this Rembrandt painting, Dr. Nicolaes Tulp lectures several medical professionals about the musculature. A play of light and dark adds dynamism to the composition.


All the characters in this work are real people. The surgeons all had to pay commission to be included in the painting. The corpse in the center is that of the executed criminal Aris Kindt.


DID YOU KNOW? It may look realistic, but this painting becomes clearly fictional because of one glaring detail. Anatomy lessons typically start at the specimen’s chest and the thorax, since the organs there decay the fastest.


47. The Cestello Annunciation

Sandro Botticelli, 1490

Image source: Sandro Botticelli


Archangel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary is an oft-depicted scene in the Bible, with countless versions by different artists from various periods. However, Botticelli’s rendition is one of the most iconic. Gabriel holds a stem of white lilies symbolizing Mary’s purity.


46. The Tower of Babel (Rotterdam)

Pieter Bruegel, c. 1563

Image source: Pieter Bruegel


Bruegel’s iconic Tower of Babel depicts the construction of the eponymous tower from the book of Genesis in the Bible. It incorporates elements of the world landscape, such as an elevated viewpoint and a panorama in the background.


Another version of this painting shows the Tower with different architecture. Housed in Vienna and twice the size of the above painting, this second work is often referred to as the Great Tower of Babel. There was a third version that preceded the other two works, but it has been lost.


45. Sunflowers / Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers

Vincent van Gogh, 1888

Image source: Wikiart


This painting is one of several sunflower-themed works by van Gogh, who meant to hang them in a guest room for his friend Paul Gauguin.

The work pictured above is the 4th piece from the first set of sunflower paintings. A second set of sunflower-themed works included two repetitions of this painting.


44. The Venus of Urbino

Titian, 1538


Venus’ pose in this painting is inspired by Sleeping Venus, a Giorgione painting whose landscape Titian completed. The indoor setting adds to the painting’s sensuous quality.

This painting later became the inspiration for Édouard Manet’s Olympia.


43. A Friend in Need

C. M. Coolidge, 1903

Image source: Dogs Playing Poker


This iconic piece of American art is part of the 18-piece series Dogs Playing Poker. However, A Friend in Need stands out in particular because of the bulldog passing an ace to his partner.


42. Nighthawks

Edward Hopper, 1942

Image source: Wikipedia


The title Nighthawks refers to the beak-shaped nose of one of the characters, specifically the man in the center. This instantly recognizable painting has been parodied several times, occasionally featuring TV characters such as The Simpsons or Bojack Horseman.


41. The Bathers / The Large Bathers

Paul Cézanne, 1898-1905

Image source: Paul Cezanne


The Bathers demonstrates a firm sense of symmetry, with the nude women aligning with the triangular arrangement of

the trees. It is often compared with Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

When Cézanne painted The Bathers, he intentionally employed a timeless style that wouldn’t appeal to casual viewers. However, the painting was left unfinished when Cézanne passed away in 1906.


40. The Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Caravaggio, 1571-1610


This painting depicts the execution of John the Baptist, made more dramatic with Caravaggio’s mastery of chiaroscuro. A nearby woman (Salome) holds a golden platter for John’s head. Another female onlooker watches in shock as the jailer gives the executioner a signal.


The Beheading of St. John the Baptist is the only painting featuring Caravaggio’s signature, written in the blood pouring from John’s neck.


39. The Flower Carrier

Diego Rivera, 1935

Image source: Totally History


Subtle yet powerful, The Flower Carrier gives a glimpse of the plight of the working class in a capitalistic world. An untrained worker stumbles as he carries a basket of flowers, which are brightly colored yet reduced to goods on his back.


38. The Third of May, 1808

Francisco Goya, 1814

Goya’s painting is a tribute to Spanish resistance against invading French forces in 1808. Companion piece The Second of May, 1808 recounts a melee between the French and the Spanish in Madrid. The Third of May, 1808 depicts French soldiers executing Spanish rebels on the day after the incident.


37. Bal du moulin de la Galette / Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1876


Renoir’s lively painting captures the festive atmosphere of the Le Moulin de la Galette on a regular Sunday afternoon. Middle-class people would lounge around, sip on wine, and feast on galettes all day long at this open-air dance hall.


Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette is also an early example of plein air painting, or painting finished pieces in an outdoor setting.


36. Cafe Terrace at Night

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890

Image source: Vincent van Gogh


This painting depicts the warm, inviting exterior of an actual cafe in Arles. Van Gogh was simply enchanted by this cafe’s lights and atmosphere. He even wrote about his excitement to paint the cafe in a letter to his sister Wil.


DID YOU KNOW? The cafe terrace in this painting is still open! It has been repainted with a yellow exterior to match van Gogh’s depiction. It is also now named the Café Van Gogh.


35. Scène de Naufrage / The Raft of the Medusa

Théodore Géricault, 1818-1819

Image source: Artble


The Raft of the Medusa is based on a real incident in 1818, which took place off the coast of Africa. After the naval frigate Méduse sank, 147 of its sailors struggled to survive on an unstable raft built from wreckage. Only 15 of those men were left after 13 days.


Géricault conducted extensive research before painting The Raft of the Medusa. Among his preparations were interviews with survivors, visits to hospital morgues, and the construction of a scale model of the raft.


34. Olympia

Édouard Manet, 1863

Image source: Widewalls


One key feature of Olympia is the subject’s confrontational gaze. Not only does it deviate from other nudist works where the subject looks away, but it also goes against the “demure woman” ideal. The near-invisibility of the black maid behind the main subject has also drawn much analysis.

DID YOU KNOW? Victorine Meurent, the model for Olympia, was also an artist who regularly exhibited at the Salon in Paris. She is also said to be the model for the nude in the controversial Luncheon on the Grass.


33. Massacre of the Innocents

Peter Paul Rubens, 1608

Image source: Art and the Bible


This painting depicts a scene in the book of Matthew where, after Jesus’ birth, Herod orders the death of all boys aged two or younger. Rubens happened to paint this piece shortly after the Antwerp massacres that resulted from the Eighty Years’ War.


32. Saturn Devouring His Son

Francisco Goya, 1819-1823

Image source: Wikipedia


In classic mythology, Saturn eats his first two sons in an attempt to stop a prophecy where one of his children overthrows him. Goya depicts this Roman god as a man driven to insanity, either by pure fear or by the murders themselves.


Saturn Devouring His Son was not meant to be publicly displayed. As one of Goya’s Black Paintings, it was originally painted onto the walls of Goya’s house before being carefully transferred onto canvas.


31. The Sleeping Gypsy

Henri Rousseau, 1844-1910

Image source: Art Smarts 4 Kids


Rousseau’s painting simply depicts a lion musing over a sleeping gypsy on a moonlit night. The colors of the gypsy’s striped costume and blanket add a dreamlike quality to the composition.


The Sleeping Gypsy seems to fit into the Synthetic Cubist and Surrealist movements because of its simple shapes and odd assembly. Interestingly, Rousseau is considered an Outsider, detached from art theory and not trained to conform to any prevailing style of painting.


30. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1525-1569

Image source: The British Library


Although Icarus is mentioned in the title, the painting reduces him to a pair of flailing legs in the water. Meanwhile, a ploughman, a shepherd, and an angler go about their work without noticing the drowning Icarus. This can be interpreted as mankind’s indifference to individual suffering, as implied in W. H. Auden’s poem “Musée des Beaux Arts.


29. The Lady of Shalott

John William Waterhouse, 1888

Image source: Tate

The Lady of Shalott is based on a poem of the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in turn inspired by the Arthurian legend of Elaine of Astolat. In Tennyson’s poem, the Lady of Shalott suffers the fatal consequences of an unknown curse after gazing upon Lancelot. The painting depicts the Lady’s final voyage to Camelot before she passes away in the boat.


28. School of Athens

Raphael, 1483-1520


mage source: Joy of Museums


School of Athens places several notable philosophers in the same scene, including great thinkers Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and Diogenes. Raphael himself peeks at the viewer from the lower-right corner beside Ptolemy and Zoroaster, who are holding a globe and a celestial sphere respectively.


27. The Son of Man

Rene Magritte, 1964

Image source: Eric Gerlach


The Son of Man seems like no more than a quirky self-portrait of Magritte with a green apple obscuring his face. Look closely, however, and an eye peeks out from behind the apple. According to Magritte, the painting taps into people’s curiosity for what they cannot see.


26. Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Jacques-Louis David, 1801-1805

Image source: Wikipedia


Napoleon Crossing the Alps is the shared title of five similar equestrian portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte. These compositions all show idealized depictions of Napoleon’s crossing through the Great St. Bernard Pass. The painting shown above is the version housed at the Beldevere Museum.


25. Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

Caspar David Friedrich, 1819

Image source: Artsy


One signature of the Romantic art style is awe-inspiring views of nature, as seen in the titular sea of fog in this painting. Notice how the hiker in the composition has his back on the viewer. He is gazing out at his surroundings, but he is also letting viewers look over his shoulder to take in the same sweeping sight.


24. Impression, Sunrise

Claude Monet, 1874

Image source: Pixels


A flurry of brush strokes captures an orange sun breaking through a blue haze and rising over the port of Le Havre. From its title alone, Monet’s Impression, Sunrise can be pinpointed as a fine example of Impressionism.


23. Liberty Leading the People

Eugène Delacroix, 1830

Image source: Serious Puzzles


Delacroix depicts Liberty as a woman leading members from different classes to charge over a barricade. Dramatic and allegorical, this painting served as a response to the the July Revolution of 1830, which ended with the abdication of King Charles X of France.

DID YOU KNOW? The Statue of Liberty and Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables are among the countless works of art inspired by Liberty Leading the People.


22. Grande Odalisque / The Grand Odalisque

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1814


The Grand Odalisque may look strange at first glance. Researchers have found that this concubine’s back is five vertebrae too long and her left arm is shorter than the right, among other things. However, scholars have argued that Ingres meant to depict an idealized woman, since concubines were often meant satisfy the sultan’s desires.


21. La Maja desnuda / The Naked Maja


Francisco Goya c. 1787-1800Image source: Wikipedia

For its time, The Naked Maja was scandalous enough for Goya to be summoned and tried for moral depravity. The full frontal view and brazen stare of this female nude was a clear departure from similar paintings, which usually showed bare backs instead.

The Naked Maja is often put on display next to The Clothed Maja, a version where the sitter wears contemporary Spanish dress. Many scholars believe that the woman is Pepita Tudó, the mistress of Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy.

Image source: Wikipedia


For its time, The Naked Maja was scandalous enough for Goya to be summoned and tried for moral depravity. The full frontal view and brazen stare of this female nude was a clear departure from similar paintings, which usually showed bare backs instead.

The Naked Maja is often put on display next to The Clothed Maja, a version where the sitter wears contemporary Spanish dress. Many scholars believe that the woman is Pepita Tudó, the mistress of Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy.


20. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

Pablo Picasso, 1907


19. The Arnolfini Portrait

Jan van Eyck, 1434


18. Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe / Luncheon on the Grass

Édouard Manet, 1862-1863

Image source: Mental Floss



Despite being one of Manet’s key works, this painting was rejected by Salon judges and scorned further at the 1863 Salon des Refusés. Visible brush strokes, a flat background, and the subjects’ lack of interaction makes the scene look like it was set up at a studio. The woman’s gaze, directed at the viewers, has also been a common topic of debate for scholars.



17. Guernica

Pablo Picasso, 1937Image source: The Female Gaze

In support of Fascist leader Francisco Franco, German and Italian aircraft bombed the town of Guernica in 1937 and left hundreds of civilians dead. Picasso painted this iconic anti-war mural in response. Guernica was then exhibited at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris and elsewhere in the world, drawing attention to the Spanish Civil War.

It is said that after seeing the mural, a Nazi officer asked Picasso, “Did you do that?” The artist’s response: “No. You did.”


16. The Night Watch

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642

Image source: The Female Gaze

In support of Fascist leader Francisco Franco, German and Italian aircraft bombed the town of Guernica in 1937 and left hundreds of civilians dead. Picasso painted this iconic anti-war mural in response. Guernica was then exhibited at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris and elsewhere in the world, drawing attention to the Spanish Civil War.

It is said that after seeing the mural, a Nazi officer asked Picasso, “Did you do that?” The artist’s response: “No. You did.”


16. The Night Watch

Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642

Image source: DutchAmsterdam


Night Watch portrays Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch move out together with their entourage. It is noted for its rich usage of light and shadow.

At the time, paintings of distinguished civic guardsmen were commonplace for cities in the northern Netherlands. However, Night Watch stands out for depicting the guardsmen of Amsterdam in action instead of posed around a table.


DID YOU KNOW? Rembrandt officially titled this painting Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq.


15. Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 / Whistler’s Mother

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1871

Image source: Wikipedia

The artist only intended this painting of his mother to be an exercise in painting gray and black hues in half-light. However, Whistler’s Mother has become symbolic of motherhood in America. It is even sometimes referred to as the Victorian Mona Lisa.


14. Las Meninas / Ladies in Waiting

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, 1656


Image source: Wikipedia


In Las Meninas, Infanta Margaret Theresa stands in a white dress and looks at the viewer while her entourage surrounds her. Velázquez himself stands to her left, however. On top of that, the King and Queen of Spain can be seen in a mirror on the far wall. Some interpretations of Las Meninas suppose that the King and Queen are standing near the viewer, or that the King is the view

Seurat’s painting deviates from the works of his peers in several ways. For example, this painting features working-class Parisians instead of focusing on the aristocrats. It also gives a sense of permanence with its pointillism, in contrast with dynamic Impressionist paintings and their fluid brush strokes.


12. Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow

Piet Mondrian, 1930

image source: Fine Art America

This iconic painting brilliantly reduces form, color, and composition to their simplest forms. Art scholars often describe Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow as “pure” yet “transformative” and “radical.”


11. The Garden of Earthly Delights

Hieronymus Bosch, 1503-1515

Image source: Museo del Prado

The Garden of Earthly Delights is a triptych, featuring the Garden of Eden on the left panel and Hell on the right panel. It is most known for its intricate center panel, full of nude figures engaging in sensuous activities and peeking into oversized fruits. Depending on the interpretation, the center panel can either be a scene of corruption or Heaven itself.


10. The Kiss

Gustav Klimt, 1907-1908

Image source: Gustav Klimt Museum


Klimt was inspired to use silver and gold leaf in his work after seeing Byzantine mosaics in Italy. Aside from the highly patterned robes of the couple in The Kiss, the flat background is covered in gold as well. The painting as a whole blends classical love for rich detail into the contemporary Art Nouveau style.


9. The Persistence of Memory

Salvador Dali

Image source: Museum of Modern Art


Dali showcases his theory of “softness” and “hardness” on display in this famous painting. However, he denied being inspired by the theory of relativity, claiming to take inspiration from the image of melting Camembert cheese instead.

DID YOU KNOW? Dali painted a re-creation of Persistence of Memory in 1954, titled The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. It shows the clocks from the 1931 painting dissolving in a waterlogged landscape.


8. American Gothic

Grant Wood, 1930

Image source: Wikipedia


While searching for inspiration along the Iowa countryside, Wood came across a Carpenter Gothic house and decided to feature it in his next piece. Since then, the house has become a tourist attraction while American Gothic continues to spawn parodies across pop culture.


7. Girl with a Pearl Earring

Johannes Vermeer, 1665

Image source: Wikipedia


For a painting from 1665, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring displays surprising realism. It is also opulent, with the artist having used rare and expensive ultramarine (from ground lapiz lazuli) for the girl’s turban. A close look at the earring itself reveals Vermeer’s skill: it’s really just a few masterful strokes that imply the earring’s presence.


6. The Birth of Venus

Sandro Botticelli, 1484-1486


Image source: Mental Floss


Venus emerges from the sea and appears to the viewer in Botticelli’s most famous painting. Wind god Zephyr and light breeze Aura push Venus onto the shore, where a minor goddess of spring meets her with a cloak.


DID YOU KNOW? Adobe Illustrator featured The Birth of Venus on its splash screens from 1986 to 2003.


5. The Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci, 1495-1498


Image source: VanGoYourself


The Last Supper captures the shocked reactions of the Apostles after Jesus states that one of them is set to betray him. Da Vinci skillfully used vanishing lines and lighting to draw attention to Jesus at the center of the table.


Very little of the original painting remains intact. However, da Vinci’s contemporaries also produced lasting copies which have become references for restoration efforts.


DID YOU KNOW? Da Vinci identified the Twelve in a manuscript discovered in the 19th century. From left to right: Bartholomew, James the Less, Andrew, Judas Iscariot, Peter, John, Thomas, James the Greater, Philip, Matthew, Jude Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot.


4. The Scream

Edvard Munch, 1893

Image source: Edvard Munch


The Scream is based on Munch’s hallucination of “an infinite scream passing through nature” while taking a walk at sunset. He intentionally painted the clouds a blood-red color, as “the color shrieked,” he would write later on. Nowadays, the genderless central figure is often taken to be a universal symbol of man’s anxiety.


3. The Creation of Adam

Michelangelo

Image source: Artnet News


The Creation of Adam depicts the moment when God brings the first man Adam to life. Michelangelo notably portrays God in a horizontal, slightly convex position to mirror Adam’s concave posture. Also, the limpness of Adam’s hand contrasts with the firm energy in God’s outstretched arm.