Famous art has inspired and awed people for centuries. Due to their unique style, composition and meaning, these famous paintings have been preserved in art galleries around the world.
As different painters create different types of paintings, they still have one thing in common. Their beautiful art has stood the test of time, marking the art world for eternity, and making them famous and appreciated.
Behind each painting, an interesting story stands. Keep reading to discover the most famous art paintings in the world and all the stories behind them.
Mona Lisa By Leonardo da Vinci
Is there a person who hasn’t heard about the world’s most famous painting created by Leonardo da Vinci?
Leonardo da Vinci created the most famous painting of all time during the Renaissance in Florence. He started his artwork between 1503 and 1506 and finished it shortly before he died in 1519. It is believed that this beautiful portrait belongs to Lisa del Giocondo, an Italian noblewoman. King Francis I of France acquired the artwork in 1797. It’s the year when the painting was placed in Paris’ Louvre Museum and since then it belongs to the French Republic.
This amazing work of art is also the most written about and the most visited when it comes to famous artwork pieces. Just imagine, six million people visit the museum each year just to see this famous painting. Movies are filmed, books are written, but Mona Lisa’s smile lasts for eternity. There was also a time in 1911 when Louvre’s employee Vincenzo Peruggia stole the painting believing it should be returned to Italy. He kept it for the whole two years! How crazy is that?
Moreover, there is a veil of mystery around this world-known artwork. Her facial expression, which cannot be explained, tickles the imagination of visitors and professional artists for decades. The fineness and subtlety of this painting, as well as its composition, has made the Mona Lisa the most famous artistic painting of all time.
Fun fact: the painting is literally priceless, so it can’t be insured for any amount of money
Starry Night By Vincent Van Gogh
The Starry Night is an amazing piece of work created by well-known artist Vincent Van Gogh. It’s probably one of the most famous paintings in modern culture.
However, there is an interesting story behind this artwork. After having his famous mental breakdown in 1888 in which removed his own ear, Vincent Van Gogh painted this masterpiece. It represents the view over the city of Saint-Remy under the swirling sun but with the addition of a tree to the left. It is a view from his room at the sanitarium where he lived at the time.
If you dig into the deeper interpretation of the painting, you will discover that it states an inner reflection of Van Gogh’s response to nature. He drew his inspiration from nature and this is actually a subjective expression of his state of mind toward nature’s beauty. There is even a well-known saying written to his brother Theo that confirms the obvious: ‘Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.’
You can find this beautiful art in the Museum of Modern Art in New York where it has been placed since 1941.
Fun fact: Did you know that Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime?
The Last Supper By Leonardo da Vinci
Another great work of art from the famous artist Leonardo da Vinci has found its place among the most famous art paintings in the world. With one exception. It is not a real painting placed in any museum but a mural painting covering the back wall at the monastery of Santa Maria Della Grazie in Milan.
Leonardo da Vinci accepted the request of the Duke of Milan and painted one of the most important Christianity moments. The scene from the Last Supper when Jesus announced that one of his twelve apostles will betray him realistically portrays the resentment of Jesus’ disciples. This beautiful, quality mural was completed by the end of the year 1498 and measures an incredible 180 x 360 inches!
As in the case of all the famous paintings, behind this are also hiding various stories. The most controversial theory proposes that the person sitting left of Jesus is Mary Magdalene instead of John the Apostle. The whole theme was also the central role in the famous novel ‘Da Vinci Code’ by Dan Brown.
Fun Fact: Leonardo da Vinci invented a brand new technique (tempera paints on stone) to create this painting
Guernica By Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso is the next great painter that cannot be missed among famous artists. His well-known cubist style dived art lovers into two types: those who love his work and those who don’t.
Guernica represents a sad moment of taking innocent lives. The Government was the one who asked Picasso to paint tragedies of war and suffering of people, so he painted the bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica by German bombers during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso even went one step further and illustrated not only human suffering but also the suffering of animals. He created a masterpiece with its own weight and a strong message. He brought the world’s attention to those horrible events.
This strong famous art can be found in the Spanish Museo Reina Sofia.
Fun fact: Guernica is one of the most important anti-war works of art in history
The Scream By Edvard Munch
One of the most expensive paintings in the famous art selection is an interesting artwork created by Edvard Munch. The Scream represents the frightened person screaming against a blood-red sky, leaving a strong impression on the viewer. This painting affects art lovers by leaving them amazed and some even frightened, and that’s the real beauty of this fabulous work of art.
If you always wanted to know where Munch found the inspiration for this famous art, here’s the story. One evening, he was walking through the city roads when he saw sky colored in bloody red. Hearing the faint creaking sound, Munch got the impression that nature was screaming for something. That is how The Scream came into existence.
Edvard Munch created several versions of this painting; four to be exact. It’s interesting how almost all of those versions were stolen in high-profile art theft but were able to recover after some time. Some of them are part of a private collection, and the others are part of world-famous art galleries.
However, the one he painted in 1893 can be seen in the National Gallery of Norway.
Fun fact: This famous painting is one of the most common targets of art looters
Whistler’s Mother By James McNeill Whistler
The most famous art by American artist James M. Whistler is the one where he painted his own mother. Created in 1871, the painting shows Whister’s mother seated on a chair against a grey background.
What is so special about this famous painting? Well, numerous stories and theories surround the creation of the Arrangement in Grey and Black as well as what this painting is also called. Speculation is that the model couldn’t come to the studio, so Whistler asked his mother Anna to take the place of a model. They also say Whistler wanted to paint the model in a standing pose, but due to the bad health of his mother, he had to change his mind.
However, this beautiful work of art has an incredible composition. The model is painted as one of the several elements that are all interconnected at the right angles. Even her firm and severe expression fit into the composition.
This famous painting became a symbol of motherhood and it can be seen in Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
Fun fact: James Whistler won so many recognitions and awards for this painting
The Birth of Venus By Sandro Botticelli
Another incredible work of art created by Sandro Botticelli is a must-see when it comes to famous art paintings.
The Birth of Venus represents goddess Venus emerging from the sea which is in accordance with the myth of her birth. The goddess can be seen being blown away in a giant shell by the gods Zephyrus and Aura, while the personification of spring awaits her on land with a mantle. Botticelli created his work of art in the mid-1480 for the famous Lorenzo de Medici.
There is an interesting story about how during the infamous ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ when numerous books, artworks, and objects were burned on a pyre, this famous painting managed to escape destruction. However, Botticelli was so shaken by this event that he gave up painting for a while.
Today, the painting is housed at the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence.
Fun fact: The Birth of Venus is the first non-religious, full-length nude since antiquity.
The Girl With a Pearl Earring By Johannes Vermeer
The Girl With a Pearl Earring, created by Johannes Vermeer, is one of the rare famous paintings that very little is known about. As the painting is not dated, it is unclear whether this work of art was commissioned, and if so, by whom. However, it’s assumed that Vermeer painted his masterpiece around 1665.
This enigmatic artwork is an unconventional portrait of a woman assumed to be Vermeer’s maid. It portrays a turbaned girl with a pearl earring, and ambiguous expression on her face, trying to establish an intimate connection. There is even written a historical novel by Tracy Chevalier who fictionalized the circumstances of the painting’s creation. That same novel inspired a movie with Scarlett Johansson who played Vermeer’s assistant wearing the pearl earring.
If you want to enjoy this gorgeous piece of art, head to the Netherlands. It’s on display in Mauritschuis in The Hague.
Fun fact: The painting is also called ‘Dutch Mona Lisa’
The Persistence of Memory By Salvador Dali
The Museum of Art in New York holds a beautiful work of art by Salvador Dali. The Persistence of Memory is one of his most famous paintings created in 1931. It’s also one of the most recognizable works of art of Surrealism.
A seemingly bizarre piece of art representing watches melting on the dark coast is actually a brilliant work of art inspired by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Salvador Dali attempted to bring himself into a meditative state of self-induced psychotic hallucinations before painting this artwork. He always thought that this state of mind would result in amazing ‘hand-painted dream photographs’.
It’s up to you to decide if he was right or not.
Fun fact: The painting has become popular in pop culture and referenced in TV shows like The Simpsons, Doctor Who, Sesame Street, Futurama.
The Kiss By Gustave Klimt
Since time immemorial, art has been associated with love. Many works of art are created from the painters’ unhappy love ending or inspired by the strong feelings he felt.
An extravagant painting by Gustave Klimt shows exactly that. There is a deep intimacy between life-size figures, wrapped in a gold embrace. He combined gold and silver leaves inspired by his trip to the Basilica di San Vitale and Japanese prints with elements of his famous and signature Art Nouveau style. This masterpiece of early modern art (1907-1908) is also considered to be one of Klimt’s most popular artworks.
If you pay attention, you will see the male figure is characterized by strong squares and sharp rectangular forms, while the female has more soften lines and floral patterns. Klimt created a real magnum opus.
Currently, this famous art can be found in Austria, in Vienna’s Upper Belvedere Palace.
Fun fact: The painting was sold even before Gustave Klimt had completely finished it.