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While we are inundated with art all day and every day, there are a few recognizable pieces that have transcended time and culture and have slated their place in art history and will never be forgotten.

niood lists the 20 most famous paintings of all time:

1. Leonardo Da Vinci, Mona Lisa, 1503–19

Where to see it: Louvre Museum (Paris)


The Mona Lisa is an oil painting by Italian artist, inventor, and writer Leonardo da Vinci. Likely completed in 1506, the piece features a portrait of a seated woman set against an imaginary landscape. Rendered similarly to Renaissance portrayals of the Virgin Mary, the piece features a female figure—believed by most to be Lisa Gherardini, the wife of cloth and silk merchant Francesco Giocondo—from the waist up. She is shown seated in a loggia, or a room with at least one open side. Behind her is a hazy and seemingly isolated landscape imagined by the artist and painted using sfumato, a technique resulting in forms “without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane.” Her gaze is another bewitching part of the composition. Many believe that her eyes follow you across the room, making her an active participant when being viewed, rather than remaining an object to look upon. In addition to its mysterious appearance, her expression has resonated most strongly with art historians for its possible symbolism, as many believe it to be a clever “visual representation of the idea of happiness suggested by the word ‘gioconda’ in Italian.”

One of the most popular reasons for the worldwide appeal of the Mona Lisa is its smile. Da Vinci used optical illusion to create a unique smile through perspective and shadow work. Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa in such a way that the eyes of the Mona Lisa fall directly into the viewer’s focus, while the lips fall just below the periphery of vision.The facial expression gives the picture a puzzling quality and makes the viewer ask what the model thought, who she was and why she appears happy and sad to some.

Mona Lisa, c.1503 - c.1519 - Leonardo da Vinci -

2. Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1484–1486

Where to see it: Le Gallerie Degli Uffizi (Florence, Italy)

Known as the “Birth of Venus”, the composition actually shows the goddess of love and beauty arriving on land, on the island of Cyprus, born of the sea spray and blown there by the winds, Zephyr and, perhaps, Aura. The goddess is standing on a giant scallop shell, as pure and as perfect as a pearl. She is met by a young woman, who is sometimes identified as one of the Graces or as the Hora of spring, and who holds out a cloak covered in flowers. Even the roses, blown in by the wind are a reminder of spring. The subject of the painting, which celebrates Venus as symbol of love and beauty, was perhaps suggested by the poet Agnolo Poliziano.

The Birth of Venus, 1483 - 1485 - Sandro Botticelli

3. Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889

Where to see it: Museum of Modern Art (New York City)

PeriodsPost-ImpressionismModern art

Vincent van Gogh painted Starry Night in 1889 during his stay at the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Van Gogh lived well in the hospital; he was allowed more freedoms than any of the other patients. If attended, he could leave the hospital grounds; he was allowed to paint, read, and withdraw into his own room. He was even given a studio. While he suffered from the occasional relapse into paranoia and fits – officially he had been diagnosed with epileptic fits – it seemed his mental health was recovering.
Unfortunately, he relapsed. He began to suffer hallucination and have thoughts of suicide as he plunged into depression. Accordingly, there was a tonal shift in his work. He returned to incorporating the darker colors from the beginning of his career and Starry Night is a wonderful example of that shift. Blue dominates the painting, blending hills into the sky. The little village lays at the base in the painting in browns, greys, and blues. Even though each building is clearly outlined in black, the yellow and white of the stars and the moon stand out against the sky, drawing the eyes to the sky. They are the big attention grabber of the painting.

Van Gogh Starry Night - The Painting and The Story

4. Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665

Where to see it: Mauritshuis (The Hague, Netherlands)

The painting is considered a tronie, a subcategory of portraiture that was popular in the Dutch Golden Age and Flemish Baroque art. Tronies are studies of facial characteristics, stereotypical characters or exaggerated expressions. Vermeer captures a fleeting moment, the girl turning her head, her lips slightly parted while she directly faces the viewer. The girl wears a head wrap inspired by a Turkish turban and an enormous pearl earring. These exotic elements increase the drama of the painting, and give the artist the opportunity to display artistic effects in his treatment of light and texture. Another tronie by Vermeer, Study of A Young Woman (ca. 1665-1667) is often seen as a variant or counterpart of The Girl with a Pearl Earring. In both paintings, the figures are set against a black background, wearing the pearl earring and having a scarf draped over the shoulder. While The Girl with a Pearl Earring is an idealized beauty, the Study of A Young Woman shows plain and imperfect facial features.

The Girl with a Pearl Earring, c.1665 - Johannes Vermeer

5. Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907

Where to see it: Museum of Modern Art (New York City)


Les Demoiselles d’Avignon marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective in painting. It depicts five naked women composed of flat, splintered planes whose faces were inspired by Iberian sculpture and African masks. The compressed space they inhabit appears to project forward in jagged shards, while a slice of melon in the still life at the bottom of the composition teeters on an upturned tabletop. Picasso unveiled the monumental painting in his Paris studio after months of revision. The Avignon of the work’s title is a reference to a street in Barcelona famed for its brothels.

Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Paris, June-July 1907 | MoMA

6. Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Where to see it:National Museum (Oslo, Norway — opening in 2020) and Munch Museum (Oslo — through May 2020)


Second only to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Edvard Munch’s The Scream may be the most iconic human figure in the history of Western art. Its androgynous, skull-shaped head, elongated hands, wide eyes, flaring nostrils and ovoid mouth have been engrained in our collective cultural consciousness; the swirling blue landscape and especially the fiery orange and yellow sky have engendered numerous theories regarding the scene that is depicted.

Figure on cliffside walkway holding head with hands

7. Leonardo Da Vinci, The Last Supper, 1495 to 1498

Where to see it: Santa Maria delle Grazie (Milan, Italy)

PeriodsRenaissanceItalian RenaissanceHigh Renaissance

The Last Supper is Leonardo’s visual interpretation of an event chronicled in all four of the Gospels (books in the Christian New Testament). The evening before Christ was betrayed by one of his disciples, he gathered them together to eat, tell them he knew what was coming and wash their feet (a gesture symbolizing that all were equal under the eyes of the Lord). As they ate and drank together, Christ gave the disciples explicit instructions on how to eat and drink in the future, in remembrance of him. It was the first celebration of the Eucharist, a ritual still performed. Specifically, The Last Supper depicts the next few seconds in this story after Christ dropped the bombshell that one disciple would betray him before sunrise, and all twelve have reacted to the news with different degrees of horror, anger, and shock.

Mary McConville (@maris1600) | Twitter

8. Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red Blue and Yellow, 1930

Where to see it: National Museum, Belgrade, Serbia

Composition II with Red Blue and Yellow is a 1930 painting by Piet Mondrian. A well-known work of art, Mondrian contributes to the abstract visual language in a large way despite using a relatively small canvas. Thick, black brushwork defines the borders of the different geometric figures. Comparably, the black brushwork on the canvas is minimal but it is masterfully applied to become one of the defining features of the work.

Piet Mondriaan, 1930 - Mondrian Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow.jpg

9. Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937

Where to see it: Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid)


Probably Picasso’s most famous work, Guernica is certainly his most powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace. On completion Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and widely acclaimed. This tour helped bring the Spanish Civil War to the world’s attention.

This work is seen as an amalgamation of pastoral and epic styles. The discarding of color intensifies the drama, producing a reportage quality as in a photographic record. Guernica is blue, black and white, 3.5 meters (11 ft) tall and 7.8 meters (25.6 ft) wide, a mural-size canvas painted in oil. This painting can be seen in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.

Guernica, 1937 - image via jkrwebcom

10. Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Where to see it: Louvre Museum (Paris)


Liberty Leading the People (French: La Liberté guidant le peuple) is a painting by Eugène Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled King Charles X of France. A woman of the people with a Phrygian cap personifying the concept of Liberty leads a varied group of people forward over a barricade and the bodies of the fallen, holding the flag of the French Revolution – the tricolour, which again became France’s national flag after these events – in one hand and brandishing a bayonetted musket with the other. The figure of Liberty is also viewed as a symbol of France and the French Republic known as Marianne. The painting is often confused for depicting the French Revolution.

Eugène Delacroix - Le 28 Juillet. La Liberté guidant le peuple.jpg

11. Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise, 1874

Where to see it: Musée Marmottan Monet (Paris)


This famous painting, Impression, Sunrise, was created from a scene in the port of Le Havre. Monet depicts a mist, which provides a hazy background to the piece set in the French harbor. The orange and yellow hues contrast brilliantly with the dark vessels, where little, if any detail is immediately visible to the audience. It is a striking and candid work that shows the smaller boats in the foreground almost being propelled along by the movement of the water. This has, once again, been achieved by separate brushstrokes that also show various colors “sparkling” on the sea.

Impression, sunrise, 1872 - Claude Monet

12. Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1818–1819

Where to see it: Louvre Museum (Paris)


The subject depicted is the artist’s dramatic interpretation of the events beginning on July 2, 1816, when a French navy frigate crashed on its way to colonies in West Africa. The appointed governor of the colony and the top-ranking officers in the party left on the ship’s six lifeboats leaving the remaining 147 passengers to be crowded onto a hastily made raft. When the raft proved too cumbersome, in a horrific act of cowardice and fear, the ship’s leader cut the ropes to the raft. Left to fend for themselves for 13 days, the passengers eventually resorted to cannibalism. When rescued by a passing British ship, only 15 men were left alive, of whom 5 died before they were able to reach land. When the public learned of this, it became an international tragedy and a searing indictment of the current French government.

JEAN LOUIS THÉODORE GÉRICAULT - La Balsa de la Medusa (Museo del Louvre, 1818-19).jpg

13. Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907 to 1908

Where to see it: Upper Belvedere museum (Vienna, Austria)

The Kiss is probably Gustav Klimt’s most famous work. It is also the high point of the artist’s Gold Period, which was characterized by his use of gold leaf in his work. This painting is one in which Klimt deviated from his portrayal of dominant in women in the form of a femme fatale. Instead is the portrayal of love and art, a couple locked in a golden-flecked, flower-filled embrace. Klimt was a man with an unbridled sexual appetite, as he fathered at least 14 illegitimate children. It is rumored that Klimt and his longtime companion, Emile Floge, who was also said to be his lover, were the models of the painting, which was selected to be printed on the Austrian 100 euro coin, minted in 2003.

14. Michelangelo, Creation of Adam, 1508 to 1512

Where to see it: Sistine Chapel (Vatican City)

The Creation of Adam (Italian: Creazione di Adamo) is a fresco painting by Italian artist Michelangelo, which forms part of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, painted c. 1508–1512. It illustrates the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God gives life to Adam, the first man. The fresco is part of a complex iconographic scheme and is chronologically the fourth in the series of panels depicting episodes from Genesis.

Michelangelo - Creation of Adam (cropped).jpg

15. Dali, The Persistence of Memory, 1931

Where to see itMuseum of Modern Art (New York City)


Hard objects become inexplicably limp in this bleak and infinite dreamscape, while metal attracts ants like rotting flesh. Mastering what he called “the usual paralyzing tricks of eye-fooling,” Dalí painted with “the most imperialist fury of precision,” he said, but only “to systematize confusion and thus to help discredit completely the world of reality.” It is the classic Surrealist ambition, yet some literal reality is included, too: the distant golden cliffs are the coast of Catalonia, Dalí’s home.

Those limp watches are as soft as overripe cheese—indeed, they picture “the camembert of time,” in Dalí’s phrase. Here time must lose all meaning. Permanence goes with it: ants, a common theme in Dalí’s work, represent decay, particularly when they attack a gold watch, and they seem grotesquely organic. The monstrous fleshy creature draped across the painting’s center is at once alien and familiar: an approximation of Dalí’s own face in profile, its long eyelashes seem disturbingly insect-like or even sexual, as does what may or may not be a tongue oozing from its nose like a fat snail.

The Persistence of Memory, 1931 - Salvador Dali -

16. James McNeill Whistler, Whistler’s Mother, 1871

Where to see itMusée d’Orsay (since 2019), Louvre Abu Dhabi (until 2019)

Movement: Realism

The subject of the painting is Whistler’s mother, Anna McNeill Whistler. It is held by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, having been bought by the French state in 1891. It is one of the most famous works by an American artist outside the United States.

Whistlers Mother high res.jpg

17. Claude Monet, Water Lilies, between 1840 and 1926

Where to see it: Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)


During the last two decades of his career, Monet devoted himself single-mindedly to painting the celebrated water-lily pond that he had designed and cultivated at his home in rural Giverny. In one extraordinary canvas after another, he captured the constantly shifting relationships among water, reflections, atmosphere, and light that transformed the pond’s surface with each passing moment. While these now-iconic paintings affirmed Monet’s long-held belief in the primacy of vision and experience, they did so in a pictorial language that was utterly novel and transformative even by the standards of the new century. The earlier paintings in the series—more delicate, ethereal, and restrained—met with immediate acclaim when Monet exhibited them in 1909. The Nymphéas canvases from 1914 onward, in contrast, were bigger, bolder, and much more personal—the very antithesis of the “call to order” that gripped the avant-garde during and after the First World War. They emerged as authoritative and visionary only two decades after Monet’s death, as American Abstract Expressionism triumphed on the international art scene.

The Water-Lily Pond 1899 Claude Monet Metropolitan.jpg

18. Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930

Where to see it: Royal Academy of Arts (2017–2017)School of the Art Institute of Chicago (since 1930)


Grant Wood’s American Gothic—the double portrait of a pitchfork-wielding farmer and a woman commonly presumed to be his wife—is perhaps the most recognizable painting in 20th century American art, an indelible icon of Americana, and certainly Wood’s most famous artwork.

Wood sought pictorially to fashion a world of harmony and prosperity that would answer America’s need for reassurance at a time of economic and social upheaval occasioned by the Depression. Yet underneath its bucolic exterior, his art reflects the anxiety of being an artist and a deeply repressed homosexual in the Midwest in the 1930s. By depicting his subconscious anxieties through populist images of rural America, Wood crafted images that speak both to American identity and to the estrangement and isolation of modern life.

A painting of a man and woman with stern expessions standing side-by-side in front of a white house. The man holds a pitch fork.

19. Vincent Van Gogh, Cafe Terrace at Night, 1888

Where to see it: Kröller-Müller Museum (Otterlo, Netherlands)


This painting of a colorful outdoor view is a picturesque work, the vision of a relaxed spectator who enjoys the charm of his surrounding without any moral concern. It recalls Van Gogh’s mood when he wrote that “the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” The color is more profuse and the eye wanders along the steeped or dove-tailed edges of neighboring areas – irregular shapes fitted to each other like a jigsaw puzzle design. To divide this space for long into a large object and background themes is difficult for the eyes; the distant and nearer parts are alike distinct. The yellow of the cafe plays against the blue-black of the remote street and the violet-blue of the foreground door, and, by a paradox of composition that helps to unify the work, at the strongest point of contrast the awning’s blunt corner nearest to us touches the remote blue sky. Foreshortened lines that thrust into depth, like the lintel of the door, are strictly parallel to lines like the slope of the yellow awning and the roof of the house above, which lie in planes perpendicular to the first. For this roving, unengaged vision the upward dimension is no less important and expressive than the depth.

10 Secrets of Café Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh

20. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Bal du Moulin de la Galette, 1876

Where to see itMusée d’Orsay (Paris)

PeriodsImpressionismModern art

This painting is doubtless Renoir’s most important work of the mid 1870’s and was shown at the Impressionist exhibition in 1877. Though some of his friends appear in the picture, Renoir’s main aim was to convey the vivacious and joyful atmosphere of this popular dance garden on the Butte Montmartre. The study of the moving crowd, bathed in natural and artificial light, is handled using vibrant, brightly coloured brushstrokes. The somewhat blurred impression of the scene prompted negative reactions from contemporary critics.

This portrayal of popular Parisian life, with its innovative style and imposing format, a sign of Renoir’s artistic ambition, is one of the masterpieces of early Impressionism.

Auguste Renoir - Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette - Musée d'Orsay RF 2739 (derivative work - AutoContrast edit in LCH space).jpg