Most Famous Paintings of All Time

By Matt Baker email   Updated 8 Jan 2013

This chart lists, in chronological order, 25 of the most famous paintings in the history of the Western world. You can click on the preview images on the left to see larger versions of each painting.

 

Painter

Painting

Description

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Birth of Venus by Botticelli Sandro Botticelli
Italian
(1445-1510)
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).
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The Birth of Venus, c.1485
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The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci Leonardo Da Vinci
Italian
(1452-1519)
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.
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Mona Lisa, c.1507
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God touching Adam's finger Michelangelo
Italian
(1475-1564)
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.
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Creation of Adam
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School of Athens by Raphael Raphael
Italian
(1483-1520)
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.
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The School of Athens, c.1511 (detail)
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Fall of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel Pieter Bruegel
Dutch
(1525-1569)
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
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Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, ci...
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Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez Diego Velazquez
Spanish
(1599-1660)
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.
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Las Meninas (With Velazqu...
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Night Watch by Rembrandt Rembrandt
Dutch
(1606-1669)
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.
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The Night Watch, 1642
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Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer Johannes Vermeer
Dutch
(1632-1675)
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.
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Girl with a Pearl Earring...
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Third of May by Goya Francisco Goya
Spanish
(1746-1828)
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).
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The Third of May, 1808, Painted in 1814
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Olympia by Manet Edouard Manet
French
(1832-1883)
Olympia 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.
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Olympia, c.1832-1883
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Whistler's Mother James Whistler
American
(1834-1903)
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.
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Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1: P...
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Basket of Apples by Paul Cezanne Paul Cezanne
French
(1839-1906)
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.
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Still Life with Apples, 1893-94
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Water Lillies Monet Claude Monet
French
(1840-1926)
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.
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Water Lily Pond-Pink Harmony
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Le Moulin de la Galette by Renoir Pierre-Auguste Renoir
French
(1841-1919)
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).
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Le Moulin de la Galette a Montmartre
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Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh Vincent Van Gogh
Dutch
(1853-1890)
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.
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Starry Night, c.1889
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A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Geroges Seurat Georges Seurat
French
(1859-1891)
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.
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Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La ...
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The Kiss by Gustav Klimt Gustav Klimt
Austrian
(1862-1918)
The Kiss Klimt used gold leaf to make this and other paintings. This decorative style was known as Art Nouveau (French for "new art").
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The Kiss, c.1907
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Note: works of art do not become copyright-free until 70 years after the artist's death. Therefore, larger versions of the following paintings are not available on this site:
The Scream by Edward Munch Edvard Munch
Norwegian
(1863-1944)
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.
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The Scream, c.1893
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Composition 8 by Wassily Kandinsky Wassily Kandinsky
Russian
(1866-1944)
Composition 8 Kandinsky was the founder of abstract art -- art that uses symbols and designs rather than real people or things.
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Composizione VIII, c.1923
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The Dance by Henri Matisse Henri Matisse
Italian
(1869-1954)
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).
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The Dance
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Dora Maar with Cat by Pablo Picasso Pablo Picasso
Spanish
(1881-1973)
Portrait of Dora Maar Picasso ranks among the top painters of all-time. He was one of the founders of cubism -- a stlye that captures an object from different angles all at once. This painting is actually of Picasso's lover.
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Portrait of Dora Maar, c....
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American Gothic by Grant Wood Grant Wood
American
(1891-1942)
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.
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American Gothic, 1930
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Son of Man by Rene Magritte Rene Magritte
Belgian
(1898-1967)
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."
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The Son of Man, 1964
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The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali Salvador Dali
Spanish
(1904-1989)
The Persistence of Memory This painting is another example of surrealism, distorting the ideas of hard and soft.
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The Persistence of Memory, c.1931
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No. 5 by Jackson Pollock Jackson Pollock
American
(1912-1956)
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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Convergence
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