Mona Lisa is most certainly the most written, heard of, and perhaps one of the most parodied works of art in the history of art. It is quite well known that it was painted by the Italian artist, Leonardo da Vinci. The subject’s expression in the painting is its most talked about feature and it is believed to be the portrait of Lisa Gherardini but there’s no proof to back this theory up. Millions of tourists travelling to Paris each year wait for hours to catch a glimpse of Mona Lisa at Louvre Museum.
But since you already know about Mona Lisa, get your art game up by learning about these 15 other famous paintings.
1. The Starry Night – Vincent van Gogh
After Vincent van Gogh mutilated his left ear, he voluntarily admitted himself to a lunatic asylum in 1889 and it was during the time that he spent here, that he painted this masterpiece. The painting captures different time of the day, under various weather conditions, and it has been identified as a view from his bedroom window. Since he wasn’t allowed to paint in his room, he sketched with charcoal and later painted in his studio at the asylum’s ground floor. In one of the letters he wrote, Van Gogh described this painting as a ‘failure’ but it came out to be quite the opposite. This painting is on display at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.
2. The Scream – Edvard Munch
The Scream is the name given to each of the four versions of a composition, created as both paintings and pastels, by Edvard Munch between 1893 and 1910. The works show an agonized expression of a figure in a landscape against an orange sky. Munch described the inspiration for this painting as the scream he heard through nature when he was walking and saw the clouds turning blood red. He painted the clouds as actual blood and called the painting, Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature).
3. The Last Supper – Leonardo da Vinci
One of the world’s most famous paintings, this represents Jesus’ ‘The Last Supper’ with his disciples. The painting portrays the reaction given by each apostle when Jesus said one of them would betray him. Leonardo began working on it in 1495 and it took him three years to complete it. The painting contains several references to the number 3, which represents the Holy Trinity. The apostles are seated in groups of three, there are three windows behind Jesus, and the shape of Jesus’ figure resembles a triangle. The painting has been restored numerous times and so, has lost various details. It is located at Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.
4. The Persistence of Memory – Salvador Dalí
Painted in 1931, this surrealist piece introduced the image of a soft-melting pocket watch. This work usually reminds people of the fluidity of time in their lives. The orange clock in the painting is covered in ants. Dalí often used ants in his paintings as a symbol of decay. Since 1934, the painting has been in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
5. Guernica – Pablo Picasso
This oil painting on canvas is regarded as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history. The painting portrays the suffering of people and animals in the vent of a war. This painting helped bring worldwide attention to the Spanish Civil War. The fact that the painting has no obvious references to a specific attack makes it a universal symbol for the devastation that war brings. Painted in 1937, it is now permanently displayed at Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain.
6. Girl With A Pearl Earring – Johannes Vermeer
Considered by many as the ‘Dutch Mona Lisa’, this oil painting by Johannes Vermeer depicts a European girl wearing an exotic dress, an oriental turban, and an improbably large pearl earring. Though the painting is not dated, it is estimated to have been painted around 1665. The painting is on display at Mauritshuis in The Hague, Netherlands.
7. The Treachery of Images – René Magritte
This painting by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte shows the picture of a pipe with a caption, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, which translates as “This is not a pipe”. This is usually interpreted as, this is just a picture of a pipe, and not a pipe itself. It was painted in 1928–29 and is on display at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California.
8. The Son of Man – René Magritte
This 1964 painting consists of a man in a bowler hat and an overcoat standing in front of a low wall, beyond which one can see the sea and the sky. The man’s face is covered by a large hovering apple, however, his eyes can be seen peeking over the edge of the apple. The painter believes that everything we see is hidden by something else and we always want to see the object that is hidden. Our interest always lies in what is hidden, which, the visible doesn’t show us. He painted it as a self-portrait.
9. No. 5, 1948 – Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock is known for his contributions to the abstract expressionist movement. Initial reactions to this were quite underwhelming but this painting has now gained cult status. This is one of the most famous paintings around the world and was sold for $148.1 Million in 2006.
10. Dora Maar au Chat – Pablo Picasso
Dora Maar was Picasso’s lover and this is one of the portraits he painted of hers in their decade long relationship. The painting shows the woman sitting on a large wooden chair with a small black cat perched on her shoulders. Pablo was 55 when he fell in love with the 29-year-old, Dora. The painting is known for its extraordinary attention to detail which includes Maar’s dress, her hat and even her nails.
11. The Joy of Life – Henri Matisse
This painting is one of the artist’s most famous and controversial pieces of work. In the picture, there are several nude bodies of men and women presented in vivid background. The central group of people remind us of his painting, The Dance. When it was first displayed, this painting sparked outrage and protests were held against it. You can see the painting on display at Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
12. The Kiss (Lovers) – Gustav Klimt
In this painting, Klimt shows a couple embracing each other while everything else around is in extravagant, shimmery patterns. Painted between 1907-1908, this can easily be regarded as Klimt’s most famous work. This is an oil painting but layers of gold leaf have been applied on it to give it an extraordinary appearance. This decorative style was known as Art Nouveau (new art). The painting is now in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum in the Belvedere palace, Vienna.
13. The Night Watch – Rembrandt van Rijn
Painted in 1642, it is known for its effective use of light and shadow and the perception of motion. One of the important aspects of the painting is that the figures are nearly of human size. The painting was completed at the peak of the Dutch Golden Age. The painting is displayed at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
14. Cafe Terrace at Night – Vincent van Gogh
Even though the painting is not signed by the artist, it has been described and mentioned by him in three letters. When exhibited for the first time, in 1891, it was called Coffeehouse, in the evening (Café, le soir). Van Gogh mentioned the painting in a letter, writing that he had painted “a view of the café on place du Forum, where he visited often, painted at night“. The painting is currently at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands.
15. Impression, Sunrise – Claude Monet
This work of art from 1872 is attributed to giving rise to the name of the Impressionist movement. It depicts the port of Le Havre, Monet’s hometown, at sunrise, the two small rowboats in the foreground and the red sun being the focal elements. This oil painting is on display at Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, which has more than 300 paintings of the artist on display.