The musings of a landscape painter, art teacher, and art history lover
Are you curious about the world's most famous works of art? Whether you're an art lover or just getting started, this two-part series is a must-read! In Part II, we'll highlight the final 15 works on our list of 30 truly iconic pieces that everyone should know. From classic to contemporary, this informative lesson is a great starting point for anyone interested in art history. As an art teacher, I've found that introducing my students to these famous works has sparked their curiosity and inspired them to explore the diverse world of art. Join us as we dive into the final leg of this exciting journey!
Art teachers and students: Scroll to the bottom of this article to find free downloadable study guides and lesson plans.
30 Most Famous Works of Art List
1. MONA LISA, LEONARDO DA VINCI (1503-1506) RENAISSANCE
2. DAVID, MICHELANGELO (1501-1504) RENAISSANCE
3. SCHOOL OF ATHENS, RAPHAEL (1509-1511) RENAISSANCE
4. THE CREATION, MICHELANGELO (1508-1512) RENAISSANCE
5. THE LAST SUPPER, LEONARDO DA VINCI (1495) RENAISSANCE
6, THE BIRTH OF VENUS, BOTTICELLI (1484-5) RENAISSANCE
7. SUPPER AT EMMAUS, CARAVAGGIO (1601) BAROQUE
8. LAS MENINAS, VELAZQUEZ (1556) BAROQUE
9. GIRL WITH PEARL EARRING, VERMEER (1665) BAROQUE
10. SELF PORTRAIT, REMBRANDT (1669) BAROQUE
11. OATH OF THE HORATII, JACQUES LOUIS DAVID (1784) NEOCLASSICAL
12. THE GREAT WAVE OF KANAGAWA, HOKUSAI (1830-32) JAPANESE
13. THE THINKER, RODIN (1880) MODERN OR IMPRESSIONISM
14. WATER-LILLY POND, MONET (1920) IMPRESSIONISM
15. BASKET OF APPLES BY CEZANNE (1895)
16. STARRY NIGHT, VINCENT VAN GOGH (1889) POST-IMPRESSIONISM
17. SUNDAY AFTERNOON ON THE ISLAND OF LA GRANDE JATTE, GEORGES SEURAT(1884-6) POST IMPRESSIONISM /POINTILLISM
18. THE SCREAM, EDVARD MUNCH (1893) MODERN
19. THE KISS, GUSTAVE KLIMT (1907) MODERN
20. WOMAN WITH A GUITAR, GEORGES BRAQUE (1913) CUBISM
21. COMPOSITION VII, KANDINSKY (1913) MODERN
22. AMERICAN GOTHIC, GRANT WOOD (1930) MODERN
23. COW'S SKULL RED, WHITE, & BLUE, GEORGIA O'KEEFFE (1931) MODERN
24. PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY, SALVADOR DALI (1931) SURREALISM
25. THE FLOWER CARRIER, DIEGO RIVERA (1935) MODERN
26. GUERNICA. PABLO PICASSO (1937) MODERN (CUBISM)
27. NIGHTHAWKS, EDWARD HOPPER (1942) MODERN
28. CHRISTINA'S WORLD, ANDREW WYETH (1948) MODERN
29. LAVENDER MIST, POLLOCK (1950) ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM
30. CAMPBELL'S SOUP CANS, ANDY WARHOL (1962) MODERN (POP ART)
16. Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night (1889) Post-Impressionism
Vincent van Gogh's famous painting "The Starry Night" depicts the view from his asylum room at Saint-Paul-de-Mausole near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The painting is not an accurate representation of the view, as Van Gogh left out the window bars and added an ideal village. The dark cypress trees in the foreground are associated with death and may suggest a theme of mortality. Despite these deviations from reality, the painting remains a masterpiece of the post-impressionist era, capturing the imagination of art lovers around the world.
It's worth noting that "The Starry Night" is not the only painting Van Gogh created during his time at the asylum. In fact, he produced more than 150 paintings during his year-long stay, many of which feature the surrounding landscape and local people. Some of his other famous works from this period include "Irises," "Wheatfield with Crows," and "The Olive Trees." Van Gogh's time at the asylum was marked by both creative productivity and personal struggles, making it a significant period in his life and career.
17. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat (1884-6) Post Impressionism / Pointilism
Georges-Pierre Seurat's impact on modern art cannot be overstated. As the father of Pointillism and Neo-Impressionism, he is best known for his masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The painting's millions of dots were created using Seurat's "chromo-luminarism" technique, which emphasized color and light. The complex work took more than two years to complete and was inspired by Seurat's fascination with color theory and Divisionism. He also drew inspiration from ancient art to capture the essence of modern Parisian life. While some critics initially rejected the painting's innovative techniques and rigid profiles, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is now considered an iconic work of late 19th-century art.
18. The Scream, Edvard Munch (1893) Modern
Edvard Munch's painting, The Scream, is one of the most recognizable works of art in the world. Completed in 1893, this expressionist masterpiece depicts a screaming figure standing on a bridge with a blood-red sky in the background.
The painting is part of a series of works that explore themes of anxiety, fear, and death, and is seen as a symbol of the human condition. The Scream has been the subject of many interpretations and has been analyzed in numerous academic and popular texts. It is renowned for its intense emotions and use of vivid colors, which convey a sense of psychological turmoil and existential angst. Munch created several versions of the painting, including two paintings, two pastels, and a lithograph.
In 2012, one version of the painting was sold at auction for a record-breaking $119.9 million, making it one of the most expensive works of art ever sold. The painting's enduring popularity and cultural significance have made it a staple of popular culture, appearing in everything from movies to memes.
19. The Kiss, Gustave Klimt (1907) Modern
Gustave Klimt's "The Kiss" is one of the most famous and recognizable paintings in the world. Created in 1907-1908, this oil and gold leaf on canvas painting depicts a couple embracing and kissing, with their bodies intertwined in an almost hypnotic fashion. It is known for its intricate details and symbolism, with the use of gold leaf being a signature of Klimt's art style.
The Kiss was created during the height of Klimt's "Golden Phase," during which he produced several pieces featuring gold leaf. The Kiss was a departure from his usual allegorical themes, and was seen as a more personal piece. Klimt was known for his love of women, and many believe that this painting was inspired by his relationship with Emilie Flöge, a fashion designer and close companion.
It is also significant for its historical context. The painting was created during a time of great social and political upheaval in Austria, with tensions running high between the ruling aristocracy and the working class. Klimt was part of a group of artists who sought to challenge the traditional art establishment and create a new style that reflected modern society.
Despite its initial controversy, The Kiss has become one of the most beloved and iconic paintings in the world. It has been reproduced countless times, and has inspired countless imitations and parodies. Its enduring popularity is a testament to Klimt's talent and his ability to capture the essence of love and passion in his work.
20. Woman with A Guitar, George Braque (1913) Cubism
Woman with a Guitar is a significant artwork created by Georges Braque, a French painter, and sculptor. Braque was a leading figure of the Cubist movement and this painting is an excellent example of his distinctive style. The painting was completed in 1913 and is currently housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
The painting features a woman holding a guitar, but instead of being a traditional portrait, Braque deconstructs the figure into a series of geometric shapes, lines, and fragmented forms. The woman's body is made up of angled planes and her face is shown from multiple perspectives. The guitar, which is also deconstructed, is represented as a series of intersecting lines and shapes.
It is significant as it represents a shift in Braque's style, moving away from the earlier analytical Cubism to a more decorative and expressive form. It also marks a turning point in the Cubist movement as it began to incorporate elements of popular culture, such as the guitar, into its works.
Interestingly, this painting was created at the same time as Picasso's famous work, "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," and both artists were known to have visited each other's studios during this period. However, despite their shared interest in Cubism, Braque's work was less controversial and more widely accepted by the art world.
Woman with a Guitar is an important painting that reflects Braque's innovative approach to Cubism and his willingness to incorporate elements of popular culture into his work. The painting's fragmentation and deconstruction of forms are characteristic of the Cubist style, and it represents a significant shift in Braque's artistic development.
21. Composition VII, Kandinsky (1913) Modern/Abstract
Wassily Kandinsky's Composition VII is a highly regarded masterpiece of abstract art. Painted in 1913, it is part of a series of abstract compositions that marked a turning point in Kandinsky's artistic career. Here are some interesting facts about the painting:
22. American Gothic, Grant Wood, (1930) Modern
Grant Wood's iconic painting "American Gothic" is one of the most recognizable works of art in the world. It depicts a farmer and his daughter standing in front of their house, holding a pitchfork. The painting is known for its unique style and for capturing the spirit of rural America during the Great Depression.
What makes "American Gothic" so famous is its ability to convey a sense of both pride and hardship. The farmer and his daughter stand proudly in front of their home, but their serious expressions hint at the difficult times they face. The painting has become a symbol of American resilience and perseverance, and it continues to inspire people around the world.
Interestingly, the painting was initially met with mixed reviews when it was first exhibited in 1930. Some critics found it too simple, while others praised its realism. But over time, "American Gothic" has become an important piece of American art history, and it remains as relevant today as it was when it was painted over 90 years ago.
So the next time you see a print of "American Gothic," take a moment to appreciate the beauty and complexity of this famous work of art. It may be simple in its composition, but its message is timeless and powerful.
23. Cow's Skull Red, White, & Blue, Georgia O'Keeffe (1931) Modern
Georgia O'Keeffe was an American artist who became famous for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers, and the landscape of New Mexico. One of her most iconic works is the painting "Cow's Skull, Red, White, and Blue," which she created in 1931.
The painting features a bleached cow's skull lying in the desert with a backdrop of red and blue sky. The vibrant colors and composition evoke a sense of starkness and beauty in the barren landscape. The skull is a powerful symbol of life and death, and O'Keeffe's use of color and form adds a layer of emotion to the piece.
O'Keeffe was known for her unique perspective and her ability to capture the essence of a subject in her paintings. She often painted close-up views of flowers and other natural objects, creating abstract compositions that focused on color, form, and texture.
"Cow's Skull, Red, White, and Blue" is a perfect example of O'Keeffe's ability to elevate the ordinary to the extraordinary. The painting has become an iconic image of the American Southwest and has been widely reproduced in popular culture. "Cow's Skull, Red, White, and Blue" remains a testament to her unique vision and talent.
24. Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali (1931) Surrealism
Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory" is one of the most iconic and recognizable paintings of the 20th century. The painting features a barren, dreamlike landscape with soft, melting watches draped over it. The clocks appear to be melting, bending and warping as if they were made of soft, pliable material instead of metal.
The symbolism in this painting is often interpreted in different ways. Some say the melting clocks represent the fleeting nature of time and memory. Dali himself said that the painting was a representation of the "camembert cheese melting in the sun," but many art critics have suggested that the melting watches represent the instability of the world during the time of the painting's creation, which was during the aftermath of World War I.
"The Persistence of Memory" is an instantly recognizable image that has come to define the Surrealist art movement. It is a testament to the power of art to capture the imagination and create lasting, iconic images that can resonate across generations.
25. The Flower Carrier, Diego Rivera (1935) Modern
Diego Rivera's "The Flower Carrier" is a stunning and thought-provoking painting that captures the essence of Mexican culture. The painting depicts a man carrying a heavy load of flowers on his back, while a woman beside him looks on with a sense of weariness. This masterpiece is not just about the struggle of the working class, but it also highlights the beauty and resilience of Mexican people.
Rivera's use of color and texture in "The Flower Carrier" is remarkable. The earthy tones and bold brushstrokes convey a sense of strength and vitality. The flowers, with their vibrant colors, provide a stark contrast against the muted background. The painting exudes a sense of hope and optimism, even in the face of hardship.
"The Flower Carrier" is a powerful symbol of the Mexican culture's appreciation for beauty, nature, and hard work. The man carrying the flowers is a representation of the everyday struggles of the Mexican people. The painting captures the spirit of the Mexican people, who despite facing many challenges, never lose their hope and their love for life.
Today, "The Flower Carrier" remains one of Rivera's most famous and beloved works. It continues to inspire artists and art lovers around the world with its striking imagery and powerful message.
26. Guernica, Pablo Picasso (1937) Modern (Cubism)
Picasso's painting, Guernica, is one of the most famous and powerful anti-war artworks ever created. Completed in 1937, it is a massive black and white canvas that depicts the bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The painting shows distorted and agonized human and animal forms, with jagged, fractured shapes and twisted, anguished faces.
The painting has become a symbol of the horrors of war and of the innocent victims caught in the crossfire. It also represents the chaos and destruction wrought by fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War, a conflict that saw the overthrow of a democratically elected government by military coup.
The political and social themes of Guernica are central to its meaning, and it remains an enduring testament to the power of art to convey powerful messages about human suffering and struggle. Today, the painting is housed in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid and continues to be admired and studied by art lovers around the world.
27. Nighthawks, Edward Hopper (1942) Modern
Nighthawks is a famous painting by American artist Edward Hopper, created in 1942. The painting depicts a lonely, late-night diner in New York City, with three customers and a lone employee. The setting is depicted with a sense of stillness and melancholy, conveying a feeling of isolation and emptiness.
Symbolism in the painting is largely subjective, but many interpret the empty streets outside and the lack of any visible door as a representation of isolation and entrapment. The color palette of the painting, featuring muted tones of green and yellow, creates a sense of unease. Some people believe it represents the tension of America during World War II.
Nighthawks has become an iconic representation of American culture and a symbol of urban loneliness. It has been the subject of numerous parodies and homages in popular culture, and continues to captivate viewers with its sense of mystery and melancholy.
28. Christina's World, Andrew Wyeth (1948) Modern
Andrew Wyeth's painting "Christina's World" has become one of the most iconic works of American art. Completed in 1948, the painting portrays Christina Olson, a friend and neighbor of Wyeth's who had a degenerative muscular condition that left her unable to walk.
The painting is often interpreted as a metaphor for the struggles of the disabled during World War II and the difficulty for soldiers coming home. Christina's world is limited to the small patch of land on which she crawls. The landscape around her, with its sprawling fields and distant house, represents the world that she is unable to access.
Wyeth himself described the painting as a "product of dreams," and it is true that the work has a dreamlike quality. The muted colors and the stillness of the scene create an eerie sense of timelessness, while the sloping horizon line adds a sense of unease.
Despite its haunting quality, "Christina's World" has become a beloved and enduring work of American art. The painting has been the subject of countless essays, exhibitions, and even a feature film. Its powerful symbolism continues to resonate with viewers today, reminding us of the strength and resilience of those who must overcome adversity.
29. Lavender Mist, Jackson Pollock (1950) Abstract Expressionism
Jackson Pollock was an American painter known for his unique style of abstract expressionism, which was characterized by his use of drip painting technique. His most famous work, Lavender Mist, is a prime example of his style and has become an iconic piece in the art world.
Pollock's method involved dripping, pouring, and splattering paint onto a canvas, creating a complex and layered composition that was often accompanied by thick textures and vibrant colors.
Lavender Mist, created in 1950, features a complex composition of interlacing drips and splatters of paint in various shades of gray and lavender. Pollock's unconventional painting style revolutionized the art world, influencing many artists after him. His use of abstraction and emphasis on the process of creating art rather than the final product changed the way people thought about art.
30. Campbell's Soup Cans, Andy Warhol (1962) Pop Art
Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans is one of the most iconic paintings of the Pop Art movement. Created in 1962, it consists of 32 canvases, each featuring a different variety of Campbell's Soup.
At the time, Warhol's work was considered revolutionary, as he challenged traditional notions of what constituted fine art. His use of everyday objects as the subject matter, painted in a flat, mechanical style, was a radical departure from the abstract expressionism that had dominated the art world in the 1950s.
Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans were a reflection of the consumer culture that was taking hold in America in the 1960s. By elevating a mass-produced product to the status of fine art, Warhol was making a statement about the nature of American society and the commercialization of art. He was also commenting on the repetition and uniformity of modern life, as each can of soup looks nearly identical to the next.
Warhol's contribution to pop art extended far beyond his Campbell's Soup Cans. He created a body of work that explored the boundaries between art and commerce, often using images from popular culture such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. His use of bright colors, bold lines, and repetitive images influenced not only art but also fashion, design, and advertising.
Today, Warhol's influence can be seen everywhere, from street art to high fashion. His work remains a testament to the power of art to challenge convention and provoke thought, and his legacy as one of the most important artists of the 20th century is secure.
If you missed the first lesson you can find the 30 Most Famous Works of Art: Part 1. HERE.
This lesson is meant for educational purposes only. I use this as part of my middle-school and high school art curriculum. Please feel free to use this for your own art educational needs, but do not publish it as your own. -Bruce Black
Author: Bruce Black
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