Art is one of the most consistent companions of humankind ever since man learned how to use the brush. Be it the cave paintings of Bhimbetka or the Mona Lisa in Paris, art has always followed wherever creativity flourished. Here are the top 15 most famous painters to have ever lived:
1. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Everyone who has even the slightest interest in art has heard of Pablo Picasso by at least the age of 13. The Spanish artist led a creative life, becoming one of the most influential and greatest artists of the 20th century. Not only did he paint, but he was also a sculptor, poet, playwright, and a stage designer among many, many other things. Some of his most famous works include Guernica (1937), a strong political statement in reaction to the bombing of Basque town, Guernica, under the Spanish Republic by Hitler’s troops. It was a casual bombing practice which went on for about two hours, leading to a loss of countless innocent lives. Today, the painting stands as a reminder of the tragedy of war and the consequent suffering inflicted on all those affected, especially the innocent civilians. After its completion, Guernica was displayed all around the world on a short tour, becoming famous as an anti-war symbol, and widely acclaimed by critics and enthusiasts alike.
2. Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter and is regarded as one of the most famous and influential figures in the world of Western Art. He created around 2000 artworks in just over a decade, of which around 800 were oil paintings, created in the last two years of his life. He committed suicide at the age of 37 due to severe mental disorders and poverty. One of his most famous paintings is The Starry Night (1889) which he painted while in his room at a mental asylum in France. It is of the view he had through his window of the village (idealized through the painting) in which he was staying, just before sunrise. It is one of the most famous and recognizable paintings not just in the art world, but internationally, and has been replicated multiple times over the years.
3. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian painter, sculptor, mathematician, inventor, and had multiple areas of interest such as architecture, music, science, engineering, astronomy, geology and many more, due to which he was also called the ‘Renaissance Man’, since he was knowledgeable about almost all the streams of professions available at the time. Arguably, his most famous painting is Mona Lisa (between 1503-06), which is said to be his most visited, most documented, most recognized, and most parodied artwork in the history of the world. The reason for its fame is the elusive, enigmatic and mysterious smile the subject portrays. Many art historians and enthusiasts, upon seeing the painting in actuality, have described it as one which no photograph could do justice. The painting is thought to be a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo. The Italian name for the Mona Lisa is La Gioconda, meaning “jocund” (happy, or lively), which is thought to be a play on the family surname: Giocondo. The French name of the painting, La Joconde, has the same meaning.
4. Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
Rembrandt van Rijn, commonly known as simply Rembrandt, was a Dutch painter of the Baroque age. He was a great multi-tasker in that he was a master of three different kinds of media, namely draughtsmanship (the art of making technical drawings/plans for machinery, buildings, etc.), painting and printmaking. Because of his versatility, he is considered to be one of the greatest visual artists in the history of art. His versatility expands to his choice of subjects as well, painting everything from landscapes, portraits, self-portraits to historical and biblical events/scenes. One of his most popular works is The Night Watch (1642), which is now housed in the Canon of Amsterdam. It is notable for three things: Its size (it is around 12 ft in width and 14 ft in height), the play of motion in a traditionally stationary military portrait, and its use of light and shadow, which Rembrandt was exceptionally skilled in and was famous for.
5. Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)
Johannes Vermeer was another Dutch painter who was skilled and specialized in domestic, interior paintings of mundane middle class lives. Although overlooked during his lifetime, he was rediscovered in about 1860, when a handful of his artworks were wrongly attributed to other artists, and were verified to be Vermeers thanks to multiple art directors and historians. Today, Vermeer has 34 paintings to his name. The most famous of his paintings is Girl With A Pearl Earring (1665). It is noted for the subtle and intimate gaze of the European girl wearing exotic clothing, along with an unusually large and polished earring, presumed to be a pearl.
6. Michelangelo (1475-1564)
A rival of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo was also considered a Renaissance Man par excellence due to his versatility in sculpting, painting and even poetry. His contribution and influence to the development of Western Art has since been unparalleled. His most famous artwork is David (between 1501-1504), a 17 ft tall marble sculpture of the biblical hero of the same name, a favorite of Florentian artists at the time. The statue eventually symbolized the civil liberties that were threatened in the Republic of Florence, a city rivaled all around by powerful cities and political hegemony.
7. Edvard Munch (1863-1944)
Edvard Munch was a Norwegian Expressionist painter and printmaker. He is known for his psychological themes and overtones which were heavily influenced by 19th century Symbolism. His works also greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century. His most famous and recognizable work is The Scream (between 1893-1910), which has four separate versions on two different media, namely, pastels and paintings. This work is noted for its morbid yet tasteful use of colour, depicting an agonizing emotion against a bright orange background.
8. Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
One of the most famous artists of the Surrealist movement, Dali is noted for his absurd and bizarre aesthetic. Oftentimes, due to the Spaniard’s personality and attention-grabbing nature, Dali was regularly seen to be exhibiting grandiose behavior, indulging in all sorts of luxuries and exotic elements. His most famous work, The Persistence of Memory (1931) is a work denoting the way time melts in a dream-like state, which is one of the many interpretations of this painting. When asked what exactly they signify, Dali replied by saying the melting clocks and watches were inspired by the surrealist image of a melting Camembert (a type of cheese) in the sun.
9. Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Often termed as one of the founders of Impressionism, Claude Monet was a French painter, and one of the most skilled and gifted pioneers of the French Impressionist movement. In fact, the very term ‘Impressionism’ was coined after his painting named Impression, Soleil Levant (Impression, Sunrise). His most famous work is Water Lilies (from 1840-1926), a series of 250 oil paintings depicting the garden at the French painter’s home in Giverny, France. This series was the artist’s primary focus during the last 30 years of his life.
10. Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
Jackson Pollock was an American Abstract Expressionist painter known for his unusual method of drip painting, one in which the paint is poured or dripped onto the canvas. Pollock was relatively famous and notorious as well for his alcoholic tendencies, which finally took his life during a drunk driving accident in 1956. One of his famous paintings is No. 5, 1948 (1948). The notion of subtle discipline and control in complete havoc was the perspective its artist had for it, and was also called as a ‘bird’s nest’ due to the use of grey, brown, yellow and white paint entangled intricately into one another.
11. Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was one of the leaders of the Impressionist style. the French painter is well-known for his depictions of feminine sensuality, and his adoration for beauty. One of his most celebrated works is Bal du moulin de la Galette (1876) which, in typical Impressionist fashion, captures the essence of an outdoor get-together on Sundays in Paris, where Parisians would dress up, drink, dance, chat and eat galettes all the way into the evening.
12. Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)
Gustav Klimt was an Austrian Symbolist painter best known for his works focusing on honest eroticism, murals, sketches, and various still lifes or objets d’arts. Along with the portrayal of the female body, Klimt also painted landscapes and scenery, and was heavily influenced by Japanese methods of art. One of his most well-known artworks is The Kiss (between 1907-1908), one of the highpoints of his Golden Period. This period of his artwork was defined by spectacular use of gilded metallic style of painting, often done using gold leaf.
13. Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
One of the strongest artists of her time and even posthumously today, Frida Kahlo was a Mexican Surrealist painter best known for her self-portraits and depictions of isolation and loneliness. Her works are widely regarded as symbolic of Mexican indigenous and native traditions, as well heralded by feminists for her vivid and authentic portrayal of the inner world of a woman. One of her most acclaimed works is Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940). It is most notable for its free use of symbolism, with the thorn necklace having a lifeless hummingbird hanging from it, possibly symbolizing her inner agony.
14. Rene Magritte (1898-1967)
Rene Magritte was a Belgian Surrealist painter best known for his use of everyday objects and twisting the perception of them using witty ways through his paintings. He was also known for painting thought-provoking artworks encouraging the viewer to break away from preconceived notions of reality. One of his famous works working along the same principle is The Treachery of Images (between 1928-1929) which is a pipe with the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a pipe”) written below it, simply because it is true–it is not a pipe, but merely the image of it. This technique and style of bending what we know as reality was common to all his works and ideology as well.
15. Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Andy Warhol was an American visual artist most noted for his style of work called ‘pop art.’ His works explored the relationship between the glamorous film industry, advertising, celebrity culture and artistic expression. His most famous work is Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962) which consist of 32 canvases, each of 20 inches in height and 16 inches in width. Each painting is of one Campbell’s soup can separately. The individual paintings were produced using semi-mechanized screen printing processes, which greatly helped in the development of pop art and the convergence of popular culture with visual artistry as we know today.