Most Popular and Famous Paintings
The Most Popular or Famous Paintings list is based on the list of paintings that are the most searched for on web-based search engines or searched on this site.
Virtual Tour of Most Popular and Famous Paintings
- Mona Lisa – Leonardo da Vinci
- The Creation Of Adam – Michelangelo
- School of Athens – Raphael
- The Last Supper – Leonardo da Vinci
- Starry Night – Vincent van Gogh
- The Night Watch – Rembrandt van Rijn
- Girl with a Pearl Earring – Johannes Vermeer
- Water Lilies – Claude Monet
- The Arnolfini Marriage – Jan van Eyck
- The Ambassadors – Hans Holbein the Younger
- Las Meninas – Diego Valazquez
- The Third of May – Francisco Goya
- The Fighting Temeraire – Joseph Mallord William Turner
- Landscape with the Fall of Icarus – Pieter Bruegel
- Olympia – Edouard Manet
- Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette – Renoir
- The Kiss – Gustav Klimt
- The Birth of Venus – Sandro Botticelli
- A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – Georges-Pierre Seurat
- American Gothic – Grant Wood
- Whistler’s Mother – James McNeill Whistler
- Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I – Gustav Klimt
- Sunflowers – Vincent van Gogh
- The Scream – Edvard Munch
- Supper at Emmaus – Caravaggio
- Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) – Paul Cézanne
- “Madame Moitessier – Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
- Venus at her Mirror – Diego Velázquez
- The Grand Canal, Venice – J. M. W. Turner
Highlights of Most Popular and Famous Paintings
The “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci is a portrait which he started in Florence around 1503. It is thought to be of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant.
Leonardo took this painting with him to France when he joined the court of the French King, and after his death, the picture entered King François I’s collection.
The Mona Lisa then became part of The Louvre collection in 1797 and is considered to be one of the world’s best-known paintings, the most written about and the most parodied works of art in the world.
The Sistine Chapel is the room where the College of Cardinals are locked in and required to decide on the next Pope. The walls and the ceiling are masterfully decorated.
The walls are painted with frescoes by various artists, and Michelangelo painted the Masterpiece of the ceiling fresco.
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) is one of the critical Renaissance sculptors, painters, and architects. He painted the Sistine Chapel from 1508 to 1512.
“The School of Athens” by Raphael is one of the most famous frescoes of the Italian Renaissance. It is widely reproduced because of its artistry and because of the subjects portrayed.
In 1508, the 25-year old painter Raphael was summoned to the Vatican by Pope Julius II (1503-13) and given the most important commission of his career, the decoration of the Papal Apartments, including the Stanza Della Segnatura.
Raphael used the ample space with imposing coffered vaults to paint imagines of the greatest philosophers, mathematicians, thinkers, and artists of antiquity. All arranged in one area to symbolize the School of Athens.
“The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci depicts the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, as told in the Gospel of John.
Da Vinci focused on representing the anxiety and confusion, as he imagined, would have occurred among the Twelve Disciples at the specific point, when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him.
This masterpiece covers one end wall of the dining hall at the monastery of Santa Maria Delle Grazie in Milan.
“The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh depicts the view from the east-facing window of Van Gogh’s asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just before sunrise, with the addition of an idealized village.
“The Starry Night” is regarded as one of Van Gogh’s most beautiful works and is one of the most recognized paintings in the history of Western culture.
In 1888 Van Gogh had a breakdown that resulted in the self-mutilation of his left ear, and he voluntarily admitted himself to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole lunatic asylum.
The asylum was housed in a former monastery that catered to the wealthy and was less than half full when Van Gogh arrived.
He was thus allowed to occupy a second-story bedroom and also to use a ground-floor room as a painting studio.
During the year Van Gogh stayed at the asylum, he produced some of the best-known works, including the Irises, many self-portraits, and The Starry Night.
“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn depicts a company of military men moving out, led by the Captain dressed in black, with a red sash and his lieutenant adorned in yellow, with a white sash.
The Night Watch is one of the most famous Dutch Golden Age paintings. The painting is noteworthy for its colossal size, its dramatic use of light and shadow, plus the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a traditional static military group portrait.
Rembrandt has skillfully used sunlight and shade to lead the eye to the three most important characters among the crowd.
They are the two gentlemen in the center from whom the painting gets its original title, and the woman in the center-left background carrying a dead chicken tied to her belt.
Rembrandt has displayed the woman with the claws of a dead chicken on her belt to represent the symbols of the arquebusiers, and she is holding the militia’s goblet. The dead chicken represents a defeated adversary. The color yellow is often associated with victory.
“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer portrays a girl wearing an exotic dress, an Eastern turban, and an improbably large pearl earring.
The work is signed “IVMeer” and is one of Vermeer’s most famous paintings. However, very little is known about the background story to this picture. Also, the identity of the girl is a mystery.
Johannes Vermeer specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle-class life. Vermeer worked slowly and with great care, and often used expensive pigments.
“Water Lilies” by Claude Monet portrays the water-lily pond, from Monet’s garden in Giverny, with the sky and sun reflecting off the lily pond.
Monet attempted to capture the continually changing qualities of light, color, water, sky, and lilies by dissolving all the elements into: “a peaceful meditation in the center of a flowering aquarium.”
Claude Monet painted nearly 250 paintings in his series of “Water Lilies.” The constant changes in the water surface, based on the direction of the sun during the day, the changing seasons and the changing weather continued to sustain Monet’s interest in his water lilies pond.
“Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck is a full-length double portrait, depicting the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, in their home in the Flemish city of Bruges.
Arnolfini was a member of a merchant family from Lucca living in Bruges, as an agent of the Medici family. The couple is depicted in their prosperous home.
This masterpiece is considered one of the most original and sophisticated paintings in our heritage of early oil paintings.
This painting is famous for its elaborate symbolism, detailed rendering, geometric perspective, use of light, and for the various detailed elements in the picture, such as the mirror, to create a realistic space.
“The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein, the Younger, is a masterpiece of grand size but highly detailed and full of symbolism.
Created in the Tudor Period in the same year Elizabeth I was born, this double portrait depicts two wealthy, educated, and powerful men.
On the left is Jean de Dinteville, French ambassador to England. On the right is Georges de Selve, bishop of Lavaur, who acted on various occasions as ambassador to the Emperor, the Venetian Republic, and the Holy See.
“Las Meninas” or “The Ladies-in-Waiting” by Diego Velázquez is a complex and mysterious composition which, when studied, creates an ambiguous relationship between the audience and the various subjects in this painting.
The complex arrangement of Las Meninas has made this painting one of the most analyzed masterpieces in Western art.
“Las Meninas” depicts a room in The Royal Alcázar of Madrid. It was a fortress located at the site of today’s Royal Palace of Madrid, during the reign of King Philip IV of Spain.
The figures in the painting are all real historical members of the Spanish court.
The young Infanta Margaret Theresa is in the center of her entourage of maids of honor, chaperone, bodyguard, two dwarfs, and a dog. Infanta was the title for the daughter of the ruling monarch of Spain, especially the eldest daughter, who was not heir to the throne.
“The Third of May 1808” by Francisco Goya depicts the early hours of the morning after the uprising in May 1808 by the people of Madrid against the occupation of the city by French troops.
Goya portrays the French as a rigidly firing squad, and the citizens are represented as a disorganized group of captives held at gunpoint. Executioners and victims face each other in a confined space.
The Spanish uprising had provoked harsh repression by the French forces.
Goya has contrasted the disciplined line of rifles, with the chaotic individual reactions of the citizens. A square lantern sits on the ground between the two groups throwing a dramatic light on the scene.
The light highlights the fallen victims to the left where a monk is praying. The central figure is lit brightly by the lantern, as is a man kneeling with his arms flung wide in defiance.
His yellow and white clothing mirrors the colors of the lantern. His plain white shirt and sun-burnt face show he is a laborer.
The firing squad, engulfed in shadow are portrayed as an integrated unit, their bayonets, and headgear forming a solid line.
The Fighting Temeraire is an oil painting by the English artist Joseph Mallord William Turner. The painting depicts the HMS Temeraire, a battle-aged and decommissioned gunship being towed by a paddle-wheel steam tug to her last berth in 1838 to be broken up for scrap.
This painting was an immediate success for Turner, with the critics and the public, but he never sold it. Turner refused offers to buy the painting, having determined to leave it to the nation. He called this work his “darling.”
The HMS Temeraire played a distinguished role in Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and thus became a celebrated gunship known as the ‘Fighting Temeraire.’
The 98-gun ship was one of the critical vessels that took part in the Battle of Trafalgar at which the British decisively destroyed the Napoleonic naval threat.
Britain was bracing itself for invasion by Napoleon, who had brought together fleets from France and Spain, to neutralize the British navy. Success at the Battle of Trafalgar sowed the seeds of the colonial power that was to follow the British victory over Napoleon.
“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Brueghel, the Elder, was long thought to be painted by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder. However, following recent technical examinations, it is now regarded as an excellent early copy by an unknown artist of Bruegel’s lost original.
In Greek mythology, Icarus who succeeded in flying, with wings made by his father, using feathers and beeswax. Unfortunately, Icarus ignored his father’s warnings, and he flew too close to the sun, melting the wax, and he fell into the sea and drowned.
His legs can be seen in the water at the bottom right. The plowman, shepherd, and angler are mentioned in famous Ovid’s account of the legend, in which they are: “astonished and think to see gods approaching them through the aether.”
“Olympia” by Édouard Manet shows a nude woman lying on a bed being brought flowers by a servant. Olympia’s confrontational gaze caused astonishment when the painting was first exhibited because the details in the picture identified her as a prostitute.
“Olympia” was also a name associated with prostitutes in the 1860’s Paris. Most paintings during this period of art that were this large in size and formate were for historical or mythological art, so the significant proportions of this picture on this topic was a surprise to the establishment.
Olympia is identified in the painting as a courtesan or prostitute. The identification is made with the symbols of the orchid in her hair, her bracelet, the pearl earrings, and her oriental shawl.
“Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette” is also known as “Bal du Moulin de la Galette” and is one of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s most famous works.
The Moulin de la Galette was an outdoor dancehall and café, frequented by many of Renoir’s friends. Renoir was a regular, and he enjoyed the atmosphere.
Named after one of the three windmills in the Montmartre neighborhood, it held open-air dances every Sunday, and these would start in the early afternoon and carry on until midnight.
The painting depicts a famous Parisian lifestyle during a typical Sunday afternoon in the late 1870s, when working-class Parisians would dress up and spend time dancing, drinking, and eating into the evening.
“The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt shows a couple embracing, their bodies entwined in elaborately decorated robes. The couple is kneeling at the edge of a flowery meadow.
The work is composed of oil paint with applied layers of gold leaf, a feature that gives it a modern and unique appearance. The painting is considered a masterpiece of the early 20th-century and a symbol of Viennese Art Nouveau.
The Kiss is a vibrant and sensuous image which was a reaction to the academic art of the 19th century. It was inspired by natural forms, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers.
Klimt’s use of gold leaf echoes medieval gold paintings and illuminated manuscripts, and Byzantine mosaics. Klimt traveled to Venice and Ravenna, which are both famous for their beautiful Byzantine mosaics and which inspired his gold technique and his imagery.
“The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli depicts the goddess Venus emerging from the sea after her birth fully grown.
Venus is the Roman goddess of love, beauty, desire, fertility, prosperity, and victory. In mythology, she was the mother of the Roman people through her son, Aeneas, who survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy.
Venus was central to many religious festivals and revered in the Roman religion.
The Romans adopted Venus from the myths of her Greek counterpart Aphrodite for their art and literature.
In the later classical tradition of the West, Venus becomes one of the most famous figures of Greco-Roman mythology as the embodiment of love and sexuality.
“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” is one of Georges Seurat’s most famous works, and is a leading example of pointillism technique on a large canvas.
Seurat’s composition depicts Parisians at a provincial park on the banks of the River Seine. Seurat was one of the leaders of a new and rebellious form of Impressionism called Neo-Impressionism.
This large-scale work, altered the direction of modern art by initiating Neo-impressionism and is one of the icons of late 19th-century painting.
Seurat spent over two years painting this masterpiece, and he focused on the landscape of the park with meticulous detail. He reworked the original and completed many preliminary drawings and oil sketches.
He concentrated on issues of color, light, and form. The Island of La Grande Jatte, when Seurat began the painting in 1884, was a rural retreat far from the city center. Today it is part of a Paris business district.
“American Gothic” by Grant Wood depicts a farmer standing beside a woman. The woman is dressed in a colonial print apron evoking traditional Americana, and the man is holding a pitchfork.
The inspiration came to Wood in his decision to paint what is known as the American Gothic House along with: “the kind of people I fancied should live in that house.”
The man’s pitchfork symbolized hard labor, and with the onset of the Great Depression, this painting came to be seen as a depiction of the steadfast American pioneer spirit.
Wood’s inspiration came from a cottage designed in the Gothic Revival style with an upper window in the shape of a medieval pointed arch, which provided the painting’s title.
Several elements in the picture reinforce the vertical associated with Gothic architecture, including the three-pronged pitchfork and the stitching of the man’s overalls.
“Whistler’s Mother” by James McNeill Whistler depicts the painter’s mother, Anna McNeill Whistler. Its title is “Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1” but is best known by its colloquial name “Whistler’s Mother.”
It is one of the most famous works by an American artist. The painting has been featured in posters and stamps. It has also been referenced in many works of fiction and within pop culture.
An example is a Canadian War recruitment poster that urges men to enlist with the Irish Canadian Rangers and to fight for the women in their own lives.
Based on Whistler’s painting of his mother, it appeals to notions of motherhood and family values that were popular at the time and often attributed to this picture.
“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt is also called “The Lady in Gold” or “The Woman in Gold” is a portrait commissioned by Adele’s husband.
This picture is the most significant representative work of Klimt’s golden phase. It was the first of two depictions of Adele by Klimt.
Klimt drew over a hundred preparatory sketches for the portrait starting is 1903. During that year, Klimt visited the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna where he studied the early-Christian Byzantine gold mosaics of Justinian I and his wife, Empress Theodora. T
he mosaics made a deep impression on Klimt. Klimt later said that the: “mosaics of unbelievable splendor” were a “revelation.”
“Sunflowers” by Vincent van Gogh, was painted in 1888 and is one of four sunflower paintings in his “Arles Sunflowers” series.
Sunflowers were symbolic of happiness for Van Gogh. The “Arles Sunflowers” series was painted in Arles and was intended to decorate Gauguin’s room in the house that he had rented in the South of France.
He and Gauguin worked there together for three months. “Sunflowers” was the painting that Van Gogh was most proud of, and it is one of Van Gogh’s most famous works and one of the most reproduced.
“The Scream” by Edvard Munch depicts a figure with an agonized expression on a walkway overlooking the blue water and a tumultuous orange sky dominating the top third of the artwork.
He later described his inspiration for the painting:
“One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.”
“Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio depicts the moment when the resurrected Jesus reveals himself to two of his surprised disciples, only to soon vanish from their sight, as told in the Gospel of Luke 24: 30–31.
One of the disciples, Cleopas, wears the scallop shell of a pilgrim on his clothing. The other apostle, presumed to be Luke, wears the green torn coat. The standing waiter appears oblivious to the unexpected event that is taking place.
This event, according to the Gospel, took place in the town of Emmaus. Luke reports that Jesus appeared, after his death and resurrection, before two of his disciples while they were walking on the road to Emmaus.
Its geographical identification is not clear, several locations having been suggested throughout history, all we know about the town is that it is on the road connecting it with Jerusalem.
“The Large Bathers” by Paul Cézanne is a reinterpreting of a historical tradition of painting nude figures in the landscape by famous artists such as Titian and Poussin.
Historically artists took inspiration from classical myths. Cézanne, however, was not depicting a mythological story. He was more concerned with the harmony of the figures to the landscape.
The Bathers series of paintings inspired Picasso, Matisse, and other artists in the early 1900s who were exploring and developing new art movements.
‘Bathers’ is reminiscent of earlier artists’ works and forms a basis for comparisons with more modern works such as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
“Madame Moitessier” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres is a portrait of Marie-Clotilde-Inès Moitessier (née de Foucauld) begun in 1844 but not completed until twelve years later.
Madame Moitessier (1821–1897) was the daughter of a French civil servant who married a wealthy banker and merchant, who was a widower twice her age.
In this painting, she is shown wearing abundant jewelry and dressed in an elegant silk dress with a floral pattern, which is echoed by the flowers and leaves of the gilt-framed mirrors.
Madame Moitessier is framed on either side by mirrors, and her profile reflection can be seen in the mirror on the right.
“Venus at her Mirror” by Diego Velazquez depicts the goddess Venus in a sensual pose, lying on a bed and looking into a mirror held by Cupid.
Painted by Diego Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age, between 1647 and 1651, it is the only surviving female nude by Velázquez.
Nudes were extremely rare by seventeenth-century Spanish artists, who were policed by members of the Spanish Inquisition.
Despite the Spanish Catholic church’s restrictions, nudes by foreign artists were keenly collected by the Spanish court nobles.
“The Grand Canal, Venice” by J. M. W. Turner was painted on his second visit to Venice, probably in 1833.
Turner created a series of views of the city that displayed his interest in capturing a scene through the lens of his Romantic sensibility.
Turner was the master in portraying nature with dramatic light and color that permeates most of his paintings.
This painting is renowned for the way the foundations of the palaces of Venice merge into the waters of the canal through subtle reflections.
This painting was shown in 1835 at the Royal Academy, where it was well-received as one of his “most agreeable works.”
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– Vincent van Gogh
Photo Credit: Jan van Eyck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons