The 12 Most Famous Artworks at The National Gallery of Art

Located in Washington D.C., the National Gallery of Art is home to an extraordinary collection of artworks that span centuries and represent diverse styles and genres. From Renaissance masterpieces to iconic American art, the gallery showcases the creativity and innovation of artists from around the world. In this article, we will explore twelve of the most famous artworks in the National Gallery of Art, offering a glimpse into the rich history and significance of each piece.

1. “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo

The Creation of Adam

Dimensions: 280 cm × 570 cm

Location: Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

Created: 1511-1512

Genre: Religious art

Medium: Fresco

Period: High Renaissance

Arguably one of the most famous artworks of all time, “The Creation of Adam” is a striking fresco by Italian artist Michelangelo. Located on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, this masterpiece portrays the moment from the Book of Genesis when God gives life to Adam, the first man. The intricate details and dynamic composition showcase Michelangelo’s exquisite skill and his unique ability to capture the human form.

For more information about “The Creation of Adam” and its significance, visit the Britannica.

2. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Dimensions: 44.5 cm × 39 cm

Location: Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

Created: 1665

Genre: Portrait

Medium: Oil paint

Period: Dutch Golden Age

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” is an iconic painting by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. The enigmatic gaze of the young girl, the contrasting colors, and the luminosity of the pearl earring have captivated viewers for centuries. The painting’s popularity surged with the publication of Tracy Chevalier’s novel and the subsequent film adaptation, both titled “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” The painting now holds a prominent place in popular culture and is often referred to as the “Mona Lisa of the North.”

Discover more about “Girl with a Pearl Earring” on the official website of the Mauritshuis.

3. “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh

The Starry Night

Dimensions: 73.7 cm × 92.1 cm

Location: Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Created: 1889

Genre: Landscape

Medium: Oil paint

Period: Post-Impressionism

Arguably one of the most recognizable and beloved paintings in the world, “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh is a testament to the artist’s unique vision and emotional depth. The swirling sky, vibrant colors, and expressive brushstrokes create a sense of movement and turbulence. Van Gogh painted this masterpiece during his stay at a mental asylum, where he drew inspiration from the view outside his window.

Learn more about “The Starry Night” and explore other masterpieces of van Gogh on the Van Gogh Museum website.

4. “Water Lilies” by Claude Monet

Water Lilies

Dimensions: 79 cm × 130 cm

Location: Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

Created: 1916

Genre: Landscape

Medium: Oil paint

Period: Impressionism

Claude Monet’s masterpiece series “Water Lilies” epitomizes the artist’s fascination with capturing light and nature in his ethereal landscapes. The series includes around 250 oil paintings that depict water lilies and the Japanese bridge in Monet’s garden at his home in Giverny. The dreamlike quality and poetic atmosphere of these paintings have made them iconic examples of Impressionism.

Explore Monet’s “Water Lilies” further on the official website of the Musée de l’Orangerie.

5. “Self-Portrait” by Rembrandt


Dimensions: 64.7 cm × 50.5 cm

Location: Kenwood House, London

Created: 1669

Genre: Self-portrait

Medium: Oil paint

Period: Dutch Golden Age

Rembrandt’s self-portraits are renowned for their introspective nature and the artist’s exceptional skill in capturing his own likeness. One notable example of this is the self-portrait housed in the Kenwood House in London. It showcases Rembrandt’s masterful technique, particularly in the detailed rendering of his facial features and the interplay of light and shadow. This painting serves as a window into the artist’s psyche and his mastery of self-expression.

Experience Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait” in closer detail on the English Heritage website.

6. “The Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Fall of Icarus

Dimensions: 73.5 cm × 112 cm

Location: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

Created: 1558

Genre: Mythological painting

Medium: Oil paint

Period: Renaissance

Depicting the story from Greek mythology, “The Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder explores the tragic tale of Icarus, who flies too close to the sun with wings made of wax and feathers. Bruegel’s painting, however, does not place Icarus at the center of the composition. Instead, the artist skillfully portrays everyday activities happening on land and at sea, with Icarus represented as a small figure plunging into the water below, barely noticed by the people around him. This painting is often analyzed for its commentary on human indifference to the suffering of others.

For an in-depth interpretation of “The Fall of Icarus,” visit the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium website.

7. “American Gothic” by Grant Wood

American Gothic

Dimensions: 78.3 cm × 65.3 cm

Location: Art Institute of Chicago

Created: 1930

Genre: Portraiture

Medium: Oil paint

Period: American Regionalism

Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” is an iconic representation of rural American life during the Great Depression. The painting features a farmer and his daughter standing in front of their humble farmhouse, with the man holding a pitchfork. Wood intended to portray the resilience and determination of the American spirit in the face of hardship. The stern expressions and precise detail of the figures have made “American Gothic” an enduring symbol of American identity.

Learn more about the historical context and interpretation of “American Gothic” on the Art Institute of Chicago website.

8. “The Veiled Nun” by Giuseppe Crosti

The Veiled Nun

Dimensions: 198 cm × 100 cm

Location: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Created: 1863

Genre: Sculpture

Medium: Marble

Period: Neoclassicism

Giuseppe Crosti’s remarkable sculpture, “The Veiled Nun,” showcases the artist’s incredible technical skill and ability to transform marble into delicate fabric. The sculpture portrays a nun with her head veiled, her features obscured by the intricate folds of her gown. The play of light and shadow across the marble adds depth and drama to the piece and further emphasizes the craftsmanship of the artist.

Experience the ethereal beauty of “The Veiled Nun” through the National Gallery of Art’s website.

9. “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze

Washington Crossing the Delaware

Dimensions: 378.5 cm × 647.7 cm

Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

Created: 1851

Genre: History painting

Medium: Oil paint

Period: Romanticism

“Washington Crossing the Delaware,” painted by Emanuel Leutze, depicts the pivotal moment in American history when General George Washington led his troops across the Delaware River during the American Revolution. The painting exudes a sense of heroism and determination, capturing the resilience of the young nation. Leutze’s portrayal of the frozen river, the dramatic lighting, and the powerful composition have contributed to the enduring popularity and significance of this artwork.

Discover more about “Washington Crossing the Delaware” on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.

10. “Diana and Actaeon” by Titian

Diana and Actaeon

Dimensions: 184.5 cm × 202.2 cm

Location: National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

Created: 1556-1559

Genre: Mythological painting

Medium: Oil paint

Period: Renaissance

Titian’s “Diana and Actaeon” is part of a series of masterpieces that depict tales from classical mythology. The painting portrays the moment when the mortal hunter Actaeon accidentally stumbles upon the goddess Diana and her companions while they are bathing. As punishment for witnessing her nakedness, Diana transforms Actaeon into a stag, leading to his tragic demise. The vibrant colors, dynamic brushwork, and dramatic storytelling in this artwork exemplify Titian’s mastery of the Italian Renaissance style.

To delve deeper into the symbolism and historical context of “Diana and Actaeon,” visit the National Galleries of Scotland website.

11. “The Hay Wain” by John Constable

The Hay Wain

Dimensions: 130.2 cm × 185.4 cm

Location: National Gallery, London

Created: 1821

Genre: Landscape

Medium: Oil paint

Period: Romanticism

John Constable’s “The Hay Wain” is a quintessential example of British landscape painting. The artwork showcases the pristine beauty of the English countryside with a hay wagon crossing a shallow river. Constable’s attention to atmospheric conditions and his ability to capture the play of light and shadow on the landscape make this painting a masterful representation of the Romantic movement. “The Hay Wain” is a groundbreaking artwork that challenged traditional notions of landscape painting in its time.

Learn more about “The Hay Wain” and Constable’s contributions to landscape painting on the National Gallery website.

12. “Red Studio” by Henri Matisse

Red Studio

Dimensions: 180.3 cm × 221 cm

Location: Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Created: 1911

Genre: Interior

Medium: Oil paint

Period: Fauvism

Henri Matisse’s “Red Studio” is an innovative exploration of color and composition. The painting depicts Matisse’s own studio, transformed into an otherworldly space through bold and vibrant hues. The artist liberates color from its conventional role of representing reality and instead employs it as a tool for emotional expression. “Red Studio” reflects Matisse’s pioneering approach to art and his desire to challenge traditional artistic norms.

Discover more about Matisse’s revolutionary use of color in “Red Studio” on the Museum of Modern Art website.

The National Gallery of Art houses an extensive collection that offers countless opportunities to explore the world of art. These twelve famous artworks are just a glimpse into the richness and diversity of the gallery’s holdings. Whether you are a seasoned art enthusiast or a newcomer to the world of fine arts, a visit to the National Gallery of Art is sure to be a captivating experience.