More than $850 million — that's the estimated value of the legendary Mona Lisa painting. Nevertheless, one of the most famous paintings and an iconic Renaissance art piece is not for sale. Under French heritage law, an artwork declared priceless is prohibited from being bought or sold. Although you might not be able to take the painting home, you can still take a glimpse at the iconic smiling lady in the Louvre for less than the cost of a meal at Mickey D's.
However, Leonardo Da Vinci, arguably one of the most famous portraitists who ever lived, isn’t the only face behind some of the best artworks of all time. Art and history fanatics, and just regular folks, really, must know other famous artists such as Michelangelo, Salvador Dalí, the geniuses behind some of the most famous still life paintings, Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh, and many other talented painters who changed art history forever. Luckily, there is no need to be an art major to recognize some of their most famous paintings.
Below, we've compiled a list of famous artworks from some of the most brilliant artists who brought color to history. Famous watercolor paintings, lifelike portrait paintings, best of still life, you name it! There’s plenty to recall (or discover). We even threw some dark, even scary paintings into the mix! Take a look and let us know which famous artwork or painter is your favorite. Also, while it was our job to gather the most famous paintings, it’s now up to you to rank them. The more upvotes the artwork receives, the higher it will be on the list, so get upvoting your favorites!
Girl With A Pearl Earring By Johannes Vermeer
Artist: Johannes Vermeer | Year (completed): 1665 | Movement: Dutch Golden Age
The Girl With A Pearl Earring, one of Vermeer's most famous paintings, was created in 1665, ten years before his terrible demise. The work has gone by several names throughout the ages, and only in the 20th century did it receive its current title. A young woman is depicted in the painting in a small, dark environment that focuses the viewer's attention solely on her. She is decked out in a gold jacket with a visible white collar underneath, the titular pearl earring, and a blue and gold headpiece. Unlike many of Vermeer's subjects, she is not focused on a routine task and unaware of the viewer. Instead, she turns her head over her shoulder and meets the viewer's gaze, her lips parted as if she was about to speak.
The Starry Night By Vincent Van Gogh
Artist: Vincent van Gogh | Year (completed): 1889 | Movement: Post-Impressionism
The Starry Night perfectly fits the Post-Impressionist aesthetic because it is rife with meaning. The meaning of it is typically connected to Van Gogh's deteriorating mental state. In this painting, he returned to the blues he had used when fighting mental illness. His mental state can also be indicated by the erratic brushstrokes. The dark church he painted from memory is reminiscent of his highly devout upbringing. Since cypress trees are frequently connected with cemeteries and death, it might be that Van Gogh wanted the tree to represent his struggles with mental illness.
The Creation Of Adam By Michelangelo
Artist: Michelangelo | Year (completed): 1512 | Movement: Renaissance
Michelangelo drew two similar bodies that were both powerful and robust, taking his cue from the Genesis 1:27 line, "God created man in his own image." Adam, lying on the ground, is on the left, while God, surrounded by angels, is on the right. Many people wonder what the real meaning and significance of this magnificent work of art are since the scene is intricate and has many layers of symbolism. Considered one of the most iconic images in European art history, in a sense, this image illustrates more than just the formation of the first man, which is suggested in the title of the artwork. Instead, it shows the very beginning of the species that would eventually give rise to the human race.
The Lady Of Shalott By John William Waterhouse
Artist: John William Waterhouse | Year (completed): 1888 | Movement: Romanticism
The Lady of Shalott by Waterhouse is a famous work and possibly one of his most well-known oils. The poem of the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, about the Arthurian girl who fell in love with Sir Lancelot, was the inspiration for the painting. However, her feelings for Sir Lancelot are unrequited. She’s cursed and imprisoned in a tower close to King Arthur's Camelot. According to the poem's author, the lady was prohibited from gazing directly at the outer world and was doomed to view it through a mirror. The scene in the painting suggests that the woman is on a boat, having just escaped from the tower. To tell the story based on the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, he employs symbolism and realism.
Nighthawks By Edward Hopper
Artist: Edward Hopper | Year (completed): 1942 | Periods: Modern art, Realism, American Realism, Modernism, Social realism
"Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city," Edward Hopper reflected regarding his masterpiece. In the piece, we can observe three patrons seated at a counter in an all-night diner, each appearing deep in thought and disconnected from the other two. In Nighthawks, Hopper created a calm, lovely, yet enigmatic setting. Although Hopper was inspired by a restaurant he saw on Greenwich Avenue in New York, the painting does not accurately represent the actual location. Observers of the picture are left with questions regarding the characters, their connections, and this imaginary setting.
Flaming June by Frederic Leighton
Artist: Frederic Leighton | Year (completed): 1895
Frederic Leighton's most well-known piece Flaming June was a tribute to Michelangelo's Night statue, which Leighton regarded as one of the pinnacles of western civilization. Leighton's version of the reclining figure is a rush of warm, carnal color in contrast to Michelangelo's cool, solemn marble: the saffron gauze shift draped around the curled-up body; the long auburn hair; the blush of the cheek that suggests the woman is aware she is being watched and is only pretending to be asleep. The oleander in the upper corner may represent how close sleep and death are to one another.
The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazovsky
Artist: Ivan Aivazovsky | Year (completed): 1850 | Movement: Romanticism
The Ninth Wave, a masterpiece by Ivan Aivazovsky, is a powerful depiction of Hope itself. In a ferocious storm, the painting displays survivors of a shipwreck holding onto a piece of wreckage for their life. According to nautical tradition, the ninth wave is said to be the worst, most potent, and most devastating wave. However, the light of hope shines through the darkness of the night. Through centuries, the artwork developed allegorical interpretation and symbolic resonance, inspiring belief in the victory of a human, humanity, and life itself.
The Japanese Footbridge And The Water Lily Pool, Giverny by Claude Monet
Artist: Claude Monet | Year (completed): 1899 | Movement: Impressionism
Monet's gardens at Giverny and the sequence of paintings they sparked are two of his finest accomplishments. They are both represented by Water Lilies and the Japanese Bridge in his famous painting. An 1899 painting by Claude Monet is on display in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It exemplifies the harmony between the natural and man-made worlds through the carefully chosen plants and a bridge and the careful attention to lighting and object placement.
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci
Artist: Leonardo da Vinci | Year (completed): 1498 | Movement: Renaissance
The Last Supper, also known as The Lord's Supper, was Jesus' last dinner with his followers in an upper room in Jerusalem. It was the catalyst for establishing the Eucharist, a practice still performed in many Christian churches today. Many renowned artists have attempted to paint The Last Supper. However, in contrast to artists before and after him, Leonardo da Vinci decided against giving Jesus Christ a halo. Although da Vinci received a Catholic funeral, some art historians think Leonardo da Vinci was more of a believer in nature than God.
The Birth Of Venus by Sandro Botticelli
Artist: Sandro Botticelli | Year (completed): 1486 | Movement: Renaissance
The artwork depicts the goddess of love and beauty setting foot on the island of Cyprus after being carried there by the winds Zephyr and, possibly, Aura. The goddess is perched on a massive scallop shell that is as flawless and pristine as a pearl. Botticelli draws inspiration from classical statues for Venus' modest pose, where she covers her nakedness with long, shiny hair. The artwork essentially captures the geopolitical, social, cultural, and spiritual upheaval that followed the tumult of the Middle Ages.
The Night Watch by Rembrandt
Artist: Rembrandt | Year (completed): 1642 | Movement: Dutch Golden Age
The Night Watch, a painting by Rembrandt, is arguably the most well-known of his works. It depicts a militia company, units of physically fit men who might be called upon to defend the city or quell riots if needed. The company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburgh, are shown in the artwork encircled by sixteen of their men. The final picture is today acknowledged as one of the most significant pieces of art ever produced. It's displayed in a specially constructed room at the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands.
Dance At Le Moulin De La Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Artist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir | Year (completed): 1876 | Periods: Impressionism, Modern art
The Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, one of the most famous Impressionist works of art, is a stunning example of Renoir's skill at capturing dappled light. Its modernism is a result of both its theme, a typical Sunday afternoon in working-class Paris, and its loose Impressionist brushstrokes. Aware of the rich, vividly colored brushstrokes but unable to focus on any one form, the viewer's attention glides across the form- and motion-filled surface. While Renoir employed some professional models, most of the people in Dance at le Moulin de la Galette were his friends. Hence, it might be claimed that the scene he painted is more like a collection of portraits than an accurate portrayal of Moulin's clientele.
Cafe Terrace At Night by Vincent van Gogh
Artist: Vincent van Gogh | Year (completed): 1888 | Periods: Post-Impressionism, Cloisonnism
One of Van Gogh's earliest nighttime paintings was Café Terrace at Night, completed during his stay in Arles. Most individuals who view it have many questions, from how the painting was created to the meaning it is meant to convey. The painting's most striking feature is the stark contrast between the warm colors under the marquise, which are yellow, green, and orange, and the deep blue of the starry sky, which is accentuated by the dark blue of the houses in the distance. "I believe that an abundance of gaslight, which, after all, is yellow and orange, intensifies blue," commented Van Gogh on the outcome. Apparently, the cafe portrayed in the painting is still open today under the name Café Van Gogh.
The Astronomer by Johannes Vermeer
Artist: Johannes Vermeer | Year (completed): 1668 | Period: Dutch Golden Age
In The Astronomer, the scientist is depicted sitting at a table with a celestial globe, which is thought to have been created by Jodocus Hondius and displays the positions of the stars and constellations in the sky. The astronomer is holding open the book "Institutiones Astronomicae" ("On the Investigation of the Stars"), written by Adriaan Metius and published in 1621, in front of him. A flat astrolabe, an essential tool for navigation, is also on the table. It has been determined that the robe worn by the astronomer in the painting is a Japanese Rok, a garment given as a gift to Dutch traders during their visits to the Japanese Court.
The Persistence Of Memory by Salvador Dalí
Artist: Salvador Dalí | Movement: Surrealism
The Persistence of Memory is one of Dali's earliest Surrealist works and perhaps one of his most important. Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights heavily influenced the painting, which he paired with a Catalan heritage, a recurring theme in much of his early work. He used his "paranoid-critical" technique, in which he portrays his own psychological struggles and fears. Some art historians believe that the three "melting clocks" in the picture may represent the past, present, and future, while the fourth clock, which is face-down and undistorted, may represent objective time.
Water Lilies by Claude Monet
Artist: Claude Monet | Year (completed): 1899 | Movement: Impressionism
Monet emphasized the water's surface in each "Water Lilies" painting. Only their reflection in the water is depicted, with no indication of the land or sky. The only clue of willow trees in these paintings is just a reflection. The water reflects the sky's white clouds, making the sky and the water's blue the same shade. The only thing that makes the observer realize that this is a reflection is the presence of the water lilies.
The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Hokusai
Artist: Hokusai | Year (completed): 1831
This woodblock print is an iconic piece of world art thanks to its beautiful composition. It's believed to have inspired Debussy's La Mer (The Sea) and Rilke's Der Berg (The Mountain). Ingeniously manipulating perspective, Hokusai made the tallest mountain in Japan appear like a little triangular mound within the trough of the cresting wave. The artist rose to fame for his original landscape paintings utilizing imported Prussian blue and indigo as primary colors.
Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
Artist: Leonardo Da Vinci | Year (completed): 1506 | Period: Renaissance
Leonardo has frequently been referred to as the prototypical "Renaissance man," a person whose seemingly limitless curiosity was only surpassed by his inventiveness. He is regarded as one of the finest artists and possibly the person with the broadest range of talents ever. However, Leonardo was and is primarily known for his paintings. The Last Supper and the portrait of the Mona Lisa, two of his creations, are arguably the most well-known, frequently imitated, and often parodied paintings of all time. Leonardo da Vinci was one of the first painters to use aerial perspective. His work was among the first portraits to show the subject in front of a made-up landscape. Before him, portraits lacked mystery; artists merely depicted physical attributes without considering the soul. If they did, they attempted to convey the soul through gestures, symbolic items, or inscriptions. The Mona Lisa remains a mystery to this day; the soul is present yet inaccessible.
Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich
Artist: Caspar David Friedrich | Year (completed): 1818 | Periods: Romanticism, German Romanticism
Some believe Friedrich's painting Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog is a self-portrait. The young person in the frame is thought to have the same fiery red hair as the artist. The individual is seen standing in a state of introspection and reflection, entranced by the sea fog as though it were a religious or spiritual experience. He is thinking about the improbable future at that precise moment. He isn't shutting people out by turning his back on them; instead, he allows them to share and understand his unique perspective by allowing them to see the world through his eyes.
Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez
Artist: Diego Velázquez | Year (completed): 1656 | Period: Baroque
Las Meninas has captivated art lovers for more than 350 years. King Philip IV of Spain's court is vividly depicted in this intricate oil painting by Diego Velázquez. This masterwork from 1656, arguably one of the most significant paintings in the entire history of Western art, still impacts artists today. As the title translates, Ladies in Waiting is a turning point in art history for Velázquez's departure from the stiff, formal portraits that typically denoted royalty. The king's daughter, Infanta Margaret Theresa, is depicted on the enormous canvas surrounded by her entourage as Velázquez works behind an easel.
Lady Agnew Of Lochnaw by John Singer Sargent
Artist: John Singer Sargent | Year (completed): 1892 | Movement: Impressionism
Lady Agnew (born Gertrude Vernon) is the subject of this painting, which was ordered by her husband, the Scottish barrister Sir Andrew Noel Agnew. The lady establishes a strong rapport with the observer through her direct stare and informal stance. Her exquisite white gown with lilac accent blends well with the vibrant, patterned upholstery of the Chinese silk wall hanging from the eighteenth century and the French chairs. Sargent’s smooth brushstrokes exude an air of luxury and comfort. The artist said he sometimes got his best results only after a few sittings. He finished the Portrait Of Lady Agnew Of Lochnaw in six sessions. The work’s exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 1893 helped establish Lady Agnew as a society hostess and the Sargent’s portrait painter status.
The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Artist: Jean-Honoré Fragonard | Year (completed): 1767 | Period: Rococo
In The Swing, we can see a young woman fly through the air inside a lovely garden wearing a voluminous pink dress. Her suspension above the ground is made possible by a swing made of a seat cushioned in red velvet and two ropes fastened to the knobby branches of a huge tree. An older man sitting on a stone bench on the far right assists in operating the apparatus. He pulls the swing back to provide the woman the momentum she needs to move forward using a network of interconnected ropes. A young man, positioned at the bottom of the large pedestal, stares at the swinging woman's open skirt.
Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi
Artist: Artemisia Gentileschi | Year (completed): 1620 | Period: Baroque
One of the scene's bloodiest and most vivid renderings is this painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, completed in Florence in 1620. It surpasses the version by Caravaggio, the arch-realist of Baroque Rome, in its immediacy and horrifying realism. Artemisia was undoubtedly familiar with Caravaggio's depiction of the subject because her father, Orazio, who gave her an artistic education, was a close friend and admirer of the artist. The teenage Artemisia was motivated and perhaps even challenged by Caravaggio's artwork. Comparing the two reveals not only Judith's debt to the more experienced artist but also a number of subtle changes that intensify the physical fight, the amount of bloodshed, and the mental and physical fortitude of Judith and her maidservant, Abra.
Vase Of Flowers by Ambrosius Bosschaert
Judith And Her Maidservant by Artemisia Gentileschi
Moonrise Over The Sea by Caspar David Friedrich
Sunday Afternoon On The Island Of La Grande Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat
A Bar At The Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet
Portrait Of Madame X by John Singer Sargent
Artist: John Singer Sargent | Year (completed): 1884 | Periods: Impressionism, American Renaissance
John Singer Sargent was the most famous portrait painter of his time, also hailed as the "leading portrait painter of his generation." In 1874 he went to Paris to study painting. Ten years later, in 1884, at the Paris Salon, Sargent debuted arguably one of his best-known paintings, Portrait Of Madame X, which portrays a Parisian beauty named Madame Gautreau. Sargent thought it was his best work and was unpleasantly startled when it sparked a stir because reviewers thought it was eccentric and provocative. After failing in Paris, Sargent relocated permanently to London. His art didn't instantly appeal to the English taste. However, it all changed in 1887. That year, his painting of two little girls lighting Japanese lanterns won the British public's hearts. He started to receive extraordinary acclaim in England and the United States. Clients flocked to his studio in Chelsea, where he charged around $5,000 for a full-length portrait. However, despite it bringing him a bunch of money, in 1907, Sargent gave up on painting portraits on commission. He referred to the genre that had made him famous in his letter to his lifelong friend Ralph Curtis as "paughtraits," using his unique and satirical spelling. "I abhor and abjure them and hope never to do another, especially of the Upper Classes."
Young Hare by Albrecht Dürer
Artist: Albrecht Dürer | Year (completed): 1502 | Period: Northern Renaissance
A Young Hare is one of the best-known examples of Dürer's studies of nature and animals. This artwork is notable for displaying Dürer's extraordinary knack and sheds light on his idea of the relationship between art and nature. Dürer's artistic creativity was heavily influenced by studying nature. Biodiversity, or the idea that every specimen and element of nature has a unique character that can and should be captured, was another fundamental concept in Dürer's understanding of nature. Perfectly capturing the hare’s timid and delicate nature, Dürer painted the animal with extraordinary skill, paying close attention to even the tiniest details, like the critter’s whiskers and eyes.
The Garden Of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch
Artist: Hieronymus Bosch | Year (completed): 1505 | Period: Northern Renaissance
The crux of the painting shows an unrestrained, wildly imaginative romp. However, Bosch’s main point - and the elaborate, cunning symbolism that drives it - is unquestionably more complicated. A lot is going on, and multiple sittings at the painting may not be enough to analyze the whole picture. It’s replete with sin, punishment, and hell themes. Few pieces of art better capture the crazed thrill and bizarreness of lust than Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. A cluster of naked people can be seen in one place, intertwining and devouring a giant, juicy strawberry. Others sway rapturously from something resembling clumsy reproductive organs and seed pods about to explode. Fruits are picked, clear blue water flows directly into the mouth, open clam shells and plump nectarines are strewn about. More than 500 years later, it’s hard to distinguish a single message left by the author. Some people thought it was about how mankind fell into sin and lust, ultimately meeting their own demise in hell. Some believe it was painted with moralistic and religious motives. Whatever the reason, Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych, known to modern audiences as The Garden of Earthly Delights, and arguably his most puzzling work, gives a graphic portrayal of the anxieties that characterized medieval life.
Paradise by Jan Brueghel the Younger
The Scream by Edvard Munch
Artist: Edvard Munch | Year (completed): 1891 | Movement: Proto-Expressionism
The Mona Lisa of our time, Munch's The Scream, is a classic work of modern art. Munch captured the anxiety-ridden, unsettling nature of the modern era, much as Leonardo da Vinci did while evoking the Renaissance ideal of calm and restraint. It's acknowledged that The Scream was inspired by an actual past event from Munch's life. Apparently, he created The Scream as a response to the horror and dread he experienced one day while out for a stroll with two friends. The peaceful environment he had planned to venture into was abruptly disturbed by changes in the sky brought on by the setting sun. Since, Munch's The Scream has become a universal, timeless picture and symbol of the human condition and alienation.
Chalk Cliffs On Rügen by Caspar David Friedrich
At Eternity's Gate by Vincent van Gogh
Breezing Up by Winslow Homer
Pink And Blue by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Serenade by Judith Leyster
Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte
Artist: Gustave Caillebotte | Year (completed): 1877 | Movement: Realism
Parisian audiences used to the formal, academic style were thrilled by the painting's finely detailed surface, exacting perspective, and expansive size. A more radical sensibility was sparked by its asymmetrical composition, irregularly cut shapes, rain-washed tone, and truly modern theme.
Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals
Artist: Frans Hals | Year (completed): 1624 | Periods: Baroque, Dutch Golden Age
Frans Hals, a highly skilled portrait artist, had a remarkable ability to characterize and give his subjects a lifelike appearance. His most well-known painting is this vivacious portrait of a young man, age 26, dressed in flamboyant attire. He is dressed in a lavish jacket embroidered with symbols of love's joys and pains, such as a blazing cornucopia, lovers' knots, and arrows, which may indicate that the painting is a betrothal portrait. The man's sly face, upturned hat and mustache, and confident attitude with his left hand on his hip, give the photo a remarkable liveliness. The black sash really stands out because it demonstrates Hals' brilliant ability to paint with a limited color pallet.
Lady With An Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci
Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh
Pollice Verso by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Wapping by James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Alexander Von Humboldt by Friedrich Georg Weitsch
España Y Filipinas by Juan Luna
Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck
Artist: Jan Van Eyck | Year (completed): 1434 | Period: Northern Renaissance
At first glance, Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait looks like a detailed yet straightforward picture of a wealthy merchant and his bride. A second look, however, reveals a more captivating picture within this representation of the Arnolfini wedding. The setting where the Arnolfini betrothal is shown is cluttered with items that suggest wealth, have religious overtones, or are just odd. Although Giovanni Arnolfini and Costanza Trenta are presumed to be the couple in the Arnolfini wedding portrait, their identities are unknown. However, experts believe they were most likely wealthy members of the affluent Italian elite. The couple's matching gold and silver wrist bracelets and the elaborate beading on the edge of the woman's veil are just a few of the little, exquisite touches Van Eyck made sure to add. These not only demonstrated his gift for deft, delicate brushwork but also the obvious truth that the couple in the image was not only wealthy but also educated. They knew how to spend their money in a way that would reflect well on themselves.
Netherlandish Proverbs by Pieter Brueghel the Elder
Venus Of Urbino by Titian
Portrait Of Juan De Pareja by Diego Velázquez
The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur
Luncheon Of The Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Napoleon Crossing The Alps by Jacques-Louis David
The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
Whistler's Mother by James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Artist: James Mcneill Whistler | Year (completed): 1871 | Periods: Modern art, Realism
James Abbott McNeill Whistler produced Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 in 1871 while living with his mother. The painting is commonly referred to by its colloquial name, Whistler's Mother, as the subject of the artwork is his mother, Anna McNeill Whistler. However, the son deliberately chose to exclude his mother from the title, but it wasn't so out of emotion. Whistler instead chose this title for artistic reasons. He regarded this artwork as a combination of neutral colors, thus grey and black in the original name. The painting was 'renamed' after his mother when the art world branded it as emotionless. The public didn't get the artist's point. Yet, regardless of his original intentions, Whistler captured his mother in a distinctive and memorable way, and the painting has become a visual icon of motherhood.