The world thrives on art and its various interpretations. Art drives humanity and breathes immorality into its creators. A good knowledge of art is essential to make you worldly and cultured. A connoisseur of art always welcomed, as art transcends every language. If you’re just getting started on knowing your art, don’t worry! We have a cheat sheet ready. Our comprehensive list covers all major eras and schools of art to give you the best of the lot. Go through our list of 15 of the world’s most famous works of art and build your repertoire today!
15. The Treachery of Image
Currently located at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, this oil painting is one of the most famous surrealist works of art by Belgian artist René Magritte. Also called ‘This Is Not a Pipe’ and ‘The Wind and the Song’, this 1929 painting depicts a pipe with ‘C’est n’est pas une pipe’ written below it, showing the misinterpretation of words and their meanings. The next time someone shows you a photograph of something, pull a Magritte on them and refute their claims with this conversation piece!
14. Dogs Playing Poker
This series of 18 paintings by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, an American artist, was originally intended as an advertisement for cigars. These oil paintings became insanely popular, and are a household name today. Currently held in various undisclosed private collections, the most expensive painting of the collection was auctioned at a whopping $658.000. The series consists of a group of anthropomorphized dogs sitting around a table playing poker. The next time you watch The Simpsons or Family Guy, look out for parodies of this piece!
Painted by French artist Henri Matisse in 1909-10, this set of two paintings depicts the manifesto of a school of art known as Fauvism, which tried to revive primitive colors and ancient forms of artistic depiction. Presently displayed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, this piece is said to mark the beginning of the ‘modern painting.’
12. No 5, 1948
Painted in 1948 by American artist Jackson Pollock, this painting is the torchbearer of the movement of Expressionism. This 8 feet high oil on fiberboard piece sold for a record $140 million in 2006 to a private collector in New York. Comments ranging from “Is that a painting?” to “Isn’t that a bird’s nest?” have been laughed over and pondered, but the emotions conveyed are raw and enigmatic. Be warned – ‘I can’t paint’ is no longer an excuse!
This is one of the most famous parodies of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. First published in 1919, French artist Marcel Duchamp who belonged to the modern Dadaist school of art conceived this work of art by just drawing on a cheap postcard of the Mona Lisa with a pencil and writing ‘L.H.O.O.Q.’ on it. While pronounced, this sounds like ‘Elle a chaud au cul’, a French expression suggesting sexual restlessness. While this raised eyebrows during its time, it remains immortal in the list of ‘readymades’ or daily objects modified to make art. Keep this tip handy the next time you see an iconic postcard!
Commissioned by the Spanish Government and completed by Pablo Picasso in 1937, this mural painting presents a ghastly, shocking picture of the Spanish Civil War. Painted as a response to the bombing of Guernica, a Spanish village by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the piece showcases the brutal nature of the era and common man’s response to the crime. It is currently housed at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.
9. Girl with a Pearl Earring
Dubbed one of the most beautiful models in paint, Girl with a Pearl Earring was painted by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in 1665. It depicts a woman with a headscarf and a pearl earring, with a bewitching half-open mouth and beautiful Saxon eyes. Housed in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague, this work of art inspired a novel, movie, and play of the same name which rocketed Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson to fame. Does this give you more incentive to wear pearls, ladies?
8. The Scream
Painted as a series of four compositions by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, this Expressionist depiction is also called ‘The Scream of Nature’. The Expressionist school of art focuses on bringing a voice to nature and its elements. The four pieces are spread over the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, Munch Museum and the private collection of Leon Black, an art connoisseur. A frequent victim of art thefts, this painting depicts a very evident emotional streak expressed through the early 20th century.
7. Whistler’s Mother
This muse of famous composer Debussy is formally known as ‘Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1’. Painted by American artist James McNeill Whistler in 1871 while in London, this portrait of the painter’s mother has been dubbed as the Victorian Mona Lisa. It is currently housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Paint your mother and become a world famous artist this Mother’s Day!
6. Water Lilies
French Impressionist Claude Monet took painting seriously – he painted 250 pieces of water lilies! This series is extremely popular for its fluid, aesthetic charm which gives off a calm, charming aura. Although the paintings contain an explosion of color, they were painted while the artist suffered cataracts! These beauties are on display at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Legion of Honor and other locations.
5. The Persistence of Memory
Surrealism is incomplete without Salvador Dali. The Spanish master painted this in 1931. His trademark motifs of the melting clock, altered dimensions, and floating landscapes are apparent in an exotic dream-like setting. It is on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
4. The Creation of Adam
Painted as a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, this painting depicts the creation of Man as described in the Book of Genesis. Painted in the 16th century by Italian master artist Michelangelo, this iconic religious painting has been replicated, immortalized and parodied in many forms. If you’re planning on visiting the Sistine Chapel, don’t forget to look up!
3. The Last Supper
One of the two most famous pieces by Leonardo da Vinci, this painting is the most famous Christian piece of art, perhaps rivaled by ‘The Creation of Adam’. Taking and altering Biblical connotations, this painting is the biggest on our list today, spanning 15 feet by 19 feet! Painted with revolutionary mural techniques at the Santa Maria delle Grazie convent in Milan, The Last Supper remains one of the most observed and debated murals in the world, with books, movies and research articles being made about the many stories and inner meanings hidden in it. The Da Vinci Code, anyone?
2. The Starry Night
Housed currently in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, The Starry Night is a post-impressionist masterpiece. With fluid, caressing brush strokes to convey the naked emotions of the namesake, this Vincent Van Gogh piece was way ahead of its time, painted in 1889. A peek at the Dutch painter’s life reveals that he was admitted to an asylum after he went through a bout of psychosis and mutilated his ear. This painting depicts the view from his window at the asylum. Depicting a picturesque night at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, this has inspired numerous other painters to adopt this style. Interior decorators and stylists also endorse this vision.
1. Mona Lisa
This da Vinci masterpiece needs no introduction! Housed currently at the Louvre in Paris, this painting of an elusive dame is the most recognized piece of art in history. This Renaissance beauty was painted in the 16th century by the Italian artisan. Valued at $800 million dollars, this infamous painting was stolen and vandalized before finding its way to the Louvre. The enigmatic smile of the mystery woman in the portrait has inspired muses and poets alike. This is the most parodied painting in the world. And if you get a chance to see the painting in real life, don’t be surprised by her glossy skin – da Vinci used translucent oils to make her skin glow!
Which painting spoke to you the most? Are you inspired to take up painting now? Let us know in the comments below!