What makes a painting famous

26 famous paintings and pictures from all periods of art


Countless artists have painted millions of pictures over the past centuries. Even the artists known and established today have created many works of which only a very few became famous paintings. In our article we will show you which are the most famous pictures and paintings from the various art eras.




Well-known paintings and pictures from all art eras

We have put together a selection of well-known paintings and pictures from all art eras. The list is of course not exhaustive and subjective. However, as you read it, you will find that you have heard many of the names of these famous pictures before. We'll give you background information about each painting and list interesting facts. Have fun!



Leonardo Da Vinci - Mona Lisa

Of course, Leonardo Da Vinci's works “Mona Lisa” should not be missing from our compilation of famous paintings. It is probably the most famous picture around the world and from all of themArt epochs. Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa in Florence between 1503 and 1506. It belongs to the Italian Renaissance and was painted with oil paints. The fame of this work is also due to the fact that it was stolen from the Louvre in Paris in 1911 and was therefore on everyone's lips. From 1913 it was back to being in the usual place - until today. Another fascinating point of this painting are the eyes of the Mona Lisa: They always seem to look at the viewer, no matter where he is.

Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain]



Michelangelo Buonarroti - The Creation of Adam

The ceiling fresco by the well-known painter Michelangelo Buonarroti should not be missing from any list of well-known painters. The creation of Adam shows God bringing Adam to life with his outstretched index finger. This is meant to symbolize that Adam is descended from God and is a part of him. In terms of content, it belongs to a whole series of nine frescoes. The ceiling fresco "The Creation of Adam" was completed in 1512 by Buonarroti. The size is stately 2.8m x 5.7m and shows the incredible artistic skills of Michaelangelo Buonarroti. The attention to detail and anatomy were groundbreaking for this time.

Michelangelo [Public domain]



Vincent Van Gogh - Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh should be familiar to anyone interested in art. His work Starry Night is one of the most famous pictures of all. Van Gogh painted this work of art in 1889 in the style of early Expressionism with oil paint. Little is known about the history of its origins, only that it was created at a time when van Gogh had psychological problems and was in a mental hospital. This picture can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Vincent van Gogh [Public domain]



Edvard Munch - The Scream

There are some famous paintings. But you've probably read the title of this famous painting before. As with the Mona Lisa, the fame is partly due to the fact that the picture has already been stolen twice. Once in 1994, when the brazen thieves left a message when it was stolen and thanked them for the poor security. In 2004 it was stolen again, but reappeared under mysterious mysteries in 2006.

The scream consists of a composition of four pictures and was painted on cardboard by Edvard Munch with oil paints, tempera and pastel. All four pictures show a human figure, which praises its hands against its head and has a frightened expression on its face. The origin of this scene was to be found in an anxiety attack by Edvard Munch, which attacked him during a walk in the evening.

Edvard Munch [Public domain]



Leonardo Da Vinci - Salvator Mundi

Another painting by Leonardo Da Vinci? This now well-known work of art should not be missing here, if only because of the unbelievable retail price. The title Salvator mundi is Latin and stands for “Savior of the world”. The picture shows Christ and was probably painted by Da Vinci around 1500. Originally privately owned until 2000, it was sold in 2017 on the famous Christie's auction platform for an incredible 450 million US dollars, making it the most expensive picture ever sold. Quite an impressive amount for a piece of painted wood, isn't it? The work is approx. 65cm x 45cm and was painted with oil paints. Da Vinci has chosen a wooden panel made of walnut wood as the painting surface. It belongs to 14 other paintings by Da Vinci known to date.

Presumably Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain]



Paul Cézanne - The Card Players

Paul Cézanne was a French painter and left a huge footprint in painting. Sounding names like Pablo Picasso or Georges Braque were inspired by him. Cézanne painted his work “The Card Players” in five different versions. They differ both in size and in the number of people depicted. Four out of five of these paintings are owned by well-known museums. The fifth painting in this series, however, is privately owned and has sold for around $ 250 million. Apart from the purchase price, Cézanne's card player series is one of his most important ones. They also show very well how Cézanne is becoming more and more of that cubism turned to.

Paul Cézanne [Public domain]



Diego Velázquez - Las Meninas

Diego Velázquez is a famous Spanish baroque painter who was mainly valued for his portraits. He was a painter at the court of the Spanish king and portrayed so many members of the Spanish royal court. His most famous painting is "Las Meninas", which shows the Spanish royal family.

In the middle you can see the king's daughter, who is surrounded by two short stature, a guard, ladies-in-waiting and a dog. The special thing about this picture is that Velázquez immortalized himself. He can be seen diagonally to the left behind the king's daughter with an easel in hand. In the mirror on the wall you can see the mirror images of the queen and the king. A pretty unconventional picture for this time. This picture has been discussed many times. What is it then - a self-portrait, a group portrait, a family portrait of the farm or something completely different? We will probably never know what kind of approach Velázquez took, but it has inspired generations of painters.

Diego Velázquez [Public domain]



Rembrandt van Rijn - The Night Watch

One of the best-known, if not the best-known works by the famous artist Rembrandt von Rijn is his work “The Night Watch”. The picture shows Captain Frans Banning Cocq with his vigilante groups. It has already come a long way: it was cut during a move and later a victim of vandalism several times:

  • An unemployed cook who previously worked in the navy stabbed the picture with a knife to take revenge on the state for his unemployment
  • And again an unemployed: An unemployed teacher cut the canvas of this well-known work. A subsequent restoration made the picture presentable again, but you can still see slight traces of the cut to this day
  • A mentally ill person poured sulfuric acid on the canvas. However, the museum guards were able to save the picture by pouring water over the painting and washing off the sulfuric acid.

We can only hope that Rembrandt's masterpiece will be spared further damage.

Rembrandt [public domain]



Pierre-Auguste Renoir - The rowers' breakfast

The French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir created a total of around 6,000 works of art. Some of them are worth a lot these days. One of them is the painting "The Rowers' Breakfast", which was created around 1880. The oil painting has a size of approx. 130cm x 170cm. It shows a group of rowers enjoying their breakfast. The Seine can be seen in the background. The work can be found in Impressionism and is one of Renoir's main works. The lighting conditions were always the focus of his works. The play of contrasts between light and dark was his hobby.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir [Public domain]



Jan Vermeer - The girl with the pearl earring

Jan Vermeer's famous painting "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" is painted in oil on canvas and painted in the Baroque style. The composition of the picture is relatively simple: apart from the portrait itself, no background or anything from the surroundings can be made out. Vermeer completed The Girl with the Pearl Earring around 1665 and took center stage in 2003 when an Oscar-winning film of the same name was shown in cinemas.

Johannes Vermeer [Public domain]

Caspar David Friedrich - The wanderer over the sea of ​​fog

The Wanderer Above the Sea of ​​Fog is a painting by Caspar David Friedrich, painted around 1818. It was painted with oil paints on canvas and has a stately size of approx. 75cm x 95cm. It is one of the most famous images from Romanticism.

Caspar David Friedrich was a German painter and had a great influence on the early Romanticism. With the work presented here, he placed a figure from the back in the center of a picture, which was very unusual for the time. The hiker above the sea of ​​fog can be seen in the Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Caspar David Friedrich [Public domain]



Jean-Étienne Liotard - The Chocolate Girl

Jean-Étienne Liotard was an important pastel painter who, around 1745, created his most famous work “The Chocolate Girl” with pastel on parchment. It is a portrait of a maid, probably at the imperial court in Vienna. Liotard was in Vienna at the invitation of the Empress when this work of art was created. It is probably one of the most detailed pastel paintings ever.

Jean-Étienne Liotard [Public domain]



Gustav Klimt - Adele Bloch-Bauer I

"The Golden Adele", as the picture is also called, is one of the most famous paintings by the painter Gustav Klimt. It is in Art Nouveau style and painted with oil paints. In addition, Klimt also applied gold and silver leaf, which achieved an unmistakable elegance.

The picture was taken as part of an order from Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. The commissioned work should show Bloch Bauer's wife. Klimt then created many drawings and studies until he created the actual work. This image fetched the astronomical price of $ 135 million on sale.

Gustav Klimt [Public domain]



Claude Monet - Le Bassin aux Nymphéas

Claude Monet created a large number of pictures in his series "Water Lilies". He was inspired by water lilies in his garden. Most of the paintings in this series are owned by museums. The work "Le Bassin aux Nymphéas", however, was auctioned off at Christie's for a staggering 41 million British pounds. This was the highest amount ever paid for a Monet.

Claude Monet [Public domain]



Paul Gauguin - When will you marry?

The post-impressionist Paul Gauguin painted this well-known work as an oil painting in 1892. Originally exhibited at the Kunst-Museum Basel and later at the Fondation Beyeler, it was sold to a very wealthy Russian billionaire in 2015 for US $ 210 million.

The picture was taken during Gauguin's trip to Tahiti, where he hoped to find a place for his creative streak. But what he encountered did not meet his expectations: Due to the colonization in the 18th century, he encountered a drastically decimated native population. Most of the locals were carried away by diseases brought in by Europeans. Even if Tahiti did not meet his expectations, he painted a large number of paintings there, mostly local women. Sometimes they were naked, sometimes dressed in traditional or European clothing.

Paul Gauguin [Public domain]



Leonardo Da Vinci - The Last Supper

Another famous painting by the famous painter Leonardo Da Vincis should not be missing: The Last Supper. It is probably the most famous mural in the world. The secco technique was used for the creation, the mural was completed by Da Vinci in 1497.

The dimensions of this imposing picture are 4m x 9m and can be classified stylistically in the Renaissance style. Above all, the scenery, correctly presented in perspective, was groundbreaking for the time. Da Vinci's technique of not painting on fresh lime plaster was less pioneering. The colors became brighter as a result, but after a while more and more of the painting flaked off. There were then several attempts to restore the wall painting. Further decay was stopped, and further protective measures such as a dust lock should ensure that it stays that way. A limited number of visitors can examine this unique work every day in the Dominican monastery “Santa Maria delle Grazie” in Milan.

Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain]



Albrecht Dürer - The Brown Hare

The brown hare is a watercolor by Albrecht Dürer, which at first glance seems a bit inconspicuous. The focus is on a brown hare, which was painted diagonally in perspective, and a neutral background. Dürer's nature study was made around 1502. At that time, such photorealistic representations were revolutionary and this work became Albrecht Dürer's most famous painting.

Albrecht Dürer [Public domain]



Vincent van Gogh - Twelve Sunflowers

Another well-known work by van Gogh is the painting "Twelve Sunflowers" from 1888. Van Gogh created a whole series of pictures for this motif. However, the number of sunflowers changes from picture to picture. The sunflowers look quite brown by today's standards. This was because the UV light in combination with the color allspice used became increasingly brownish. The background to this series was that van Gogh was inspired by the early visit of two of his colleagues: Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin. He hoped he could start a community studio with them.

Vincent van Gogh [Public domain]



Carl Spitzweg - The poor poet

Carl Spitzweg was a German painter. His best-known picture is "The Poor Poet", painted in oil. It shows a writer who lies in bed in a poor attic room and works on a work. Spitzweg had to accept a lot of rejection for the poor poet and the success of this picture. The picture was perceived as a mockery of the poets' guild and poetry in general. Spitzweg did not live to see the success of this picture - there was even a German special postage stamp for his work. The oil sketch was auctioned for around US $ 540,000 in 2012.

Carl Spitzweg [Public domain]



Katsushika Hokusai - The great wave off Kanagawa 

Katsushika Hokusai was a well-known Japanese painter who was mainly famous for his landscape paintings. The woodcut “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” is part of a series of 46 pictures in which Hokusai depicted the landscape around Mount Fuji.

The series of pictures was created between 1829 and 1833 and has become well known over the years. The great wave off Kanagawa has been reproduced or interpreted several times, interestingly above all in Europe. This is one of the most famous Japanese pictures of all, which is why it should not be missing from our list of well-known pictures and paintings.

After Katsushika Hokusai [Public domain]



Hieronymus Bosch - The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Dutch painter Bosch created a unique work around 1500. It is a triptych, which consists of three parts and shows the third day of the creation of the world. The garden of Eden with Adam and Eve is depicted on the left outer wing, while the middle shows the Garden of Earthly Delights. Hell can be seen on the right outer wing. The triptych has an impressive size of approx. 220cm x 390cm.

When the triptych is folded up, you can see the earth disk within a transparent sphere on the front or the back of the two outer wings. The Garden of Earthly Delights is exhibited in the Museo del Prado in Madrid

Hieronymus Bosch [Public domain]



Franz Marc - The tower of the blue horses

Franz Marc was a German painter and draftsman and a pioneer of Expressionism and Post-Impressionism. In his later creative phases he also made use of stylistic elements from Fauvism, Cubism and Orphism. However, when he entered the First World War, his artistic work came to a sudden end. As a result, Franz Marc fell in the war. His works with animal motifs, including “The Tower of the Blue Horses”, were best known. It was created around 1913 and is a considerable size at around 200cm x 130cm. It shows a group of four impressive blue horses. Unfortunately, the picture can no longer be seen in the original, as it was lost towards the end of the Second World War. The last known owner was the National Socialist Hermann Göring, who took possession of this plant.

Franz Marc [Public domain]



Sandro Botticelli - The Birth of Venus

Sandro Botticelli was a Renaissance painter from Italy and was very famous. The work “The Birth of Venus” is a large-format work that Botticelli painted on canvas with tempera.

Botticelli incorporated ancient influences into his work here.He chose Venus as his motif, as it was a well-known figure from antiquity. Her nudity was also something new as it was unusual in Western art at the time. Botticelli set a trend, whereupon more and more undressed women were chosen as a motif.

Sandro Botticelli [Public domain]



Albrecht Dürer - The large piece of lawn

Albrecht Dürer's second well-known work besides the field hare is “The large piece of lawn”. Dürer painted the watercolor as a study of nature. It shows a piece of meadow, which is made up of various herbs and grasses, as well as the soil below. It was created in 1503 and fascinates with its attention to detail.

Albrecht Dürer [Public domain]



Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino - The School of Athens

Raffaello Sanzio was a major Italian Renaissance painter. At that time he was only known by his first name, Raffael. He gained notoriety in particular because of his balanced and harmonious pictures. Among other things, he worked in Rome at the papal court as a painter and as a construction manager for St. Peter's Basilica.

His work "The School of Athens" is a very well-known fresco, which was completed in 1511. Raphael painted it for Pope Julius the second. It depicts ancient Greece and ancient times as the origin of the European culture of that time. The fresco is gigantic at 7.7 meters. Who is portrayed on it is controversial. However, it is believed that various philosophers and scholars such as Socrates, Aristotle and Diogenes are depicted.

Raphael [public domain]



Pablo Picasso - Guernica

The work «Guernica» by Pablo Picasso should not be missing in any top list. Next to «Les Demoiselles d’Avignon», it is the most famous picture by Picasso. He painted the picture on behalf of the Republican Government of Spain. It has a gigantic mass of 3.50mx 7.75m, which results in a total area of ​​27m2. In terms of content, the painting revolves around the destruction of the Spanish city of Guernica by the German and Italian air forces, which had their role in the Spanish civil war. The picture was shown at the World Exhibition in Paris on 1937.

Picasso's difficulties in creating it were not only the colossal masses of the surface to be painted but also the given proportions. Because the proportions of twice the width compared to the height were a challenge for the picture motif. Picasso wanted to create an oppressive scene with collapsing structures and forms. Pablo Picasso has prepared accordingly meticulously; a total of 46 studies and sketches are known. In addition to linear elements, Picasso also incorporated various facets of Cubism, this can be seen above all in the horse and bull.

The state of Guernica is unfortunately quite desolate. It was transported countless times, which made it necessary to roll it up and open it again. It also had to endure an act of vandalism when an unknown person sprayed paint on it in 1974. Attempts have also been made to reinforce the structure on the back, but it was unsuccessful. It was therefore decided that the image should no longer be transported. It is now in the Museo Reina Sofie in Madrid for an indefinite period.

Pablo Picasso [CC BY-SA 4.0]