Would you like to learn and see the most famous paintings of all time? Then read on!
Countless painters have delighted people with their paintings down the centuries. Many have inspired new thoughts and pushed the boundaries of artistic expression.
Such painters are remembered even today for their legacy, and their works have become part of the current human civilization and heritage.
The Most Famous Paintings Of All Time (Video)
In almost every major city of the world, there are galleries and museums that celebrate the most accomplished artists of older and current times.
Their paintings reflect the values and attitudes of the times and offer a window into the societal and cultural concerns of the age in which they were created.
A small number of these paintings survive the test of time to become actual timeless works of art that are remembered beyond the lifetime of their creators.
This updated guide lists the top 100 most famous paintings in the world.
Let’s start with #100 (be sure to check out page 2 as well)!
100. Las Meninas By Diego Velázquez
Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez is a painting of a painting within a painting. The masterpiece has rolled up three different themes. It is a portrait of the family of King Philip IV (Spain’s royal family) in the studio, the painter’s self-portrait, and an interior scene that shows a glimpse of Diego’s working life.
Since everyone had a different perception of this puzzle-like painting, it remained a riddle for the viewers. It is regarded as one of the most complex and unique paintings of all time. This is why Las Meninas is one of the most widely and thoroughly analyzed pieces of western painting.
The enigmatic and complex nature of the painting begs questions of illusion and reality. It creates a very uncertain relationship between the figures in the painting and the viewer.
Las Meninas is also recognized as being one of the most important pieces of art in western history. The reason for this is because it supposedly represents “the theology of painting”.
99. The Peaceable Kingdom By Edward Hicks
There are more than a hundred versions of the Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks. The ornamental painter created all these versions featuring a theme of the eleventh chapter of Isaiah. The painting made its mark not only for its appealing imagery but also for its beautiful message of peace.
98. Napoleon Crossing The Alps By Jacques-Louis David
Completed in 1801, Napoleon Crossing The Alps by Jacques-Louis David signifies the beginning of a new century. It is a perfect portrayal of the emergence of France as a great power after a decade of uncertainty and terror following the revolution.
The painting features General Napoleon Bonaparte, who eventually became the emperor and the most powerful man in France. This is one of five in a series of oil paintings that depicts Napoleon crossing the alps. These paintings were all commissioned by the then king of Spain.
This painting is a very romanticized and idealized version of Napoleon crossing the alps. The actual crossing of the alps by Napoleon and his army was far more treacherous. It is perhaps the most widely reproduced image of Napoleon, and that’s why it’s one of the most famous art pieces of all time.
97. Musicians By Caravaggio
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio or simply, Caravaggio, is famous for how he uses chiaroscuro in his paintings. Chiaroscuro is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark.
One such fantastic painting is the Musicians, which shows four boys wearing classical costumes in a musical arrangement. The independent sketches of four figures make it a fascinating piece of work. This painting is referred to as one of the most complex and ambitious compositions of Caravaggio to date.
96. The Card Players By Paul Cezanne
Paul Cezanne was a post-impressionist French artist who is famous for some of the most captivating still-life paintings. The Card Players is not one but a series of oil paintings that historians believed the artist chose as a subject because people playing card games were essentially a very common form of still-life. All the versions vary in size, setting, and number of players.
95. The Sleeping Gypsy By Henri Rousseau
Next on the list of the most famous paintings of all time is The Seeping Gypsy by Henri Rosseau. Most of Rousseau’s contemporaries were captivated by wandering gypsies. This painting features a dark-skinned Romany sleeping calmly while a large lion sniffs her.
The Sleeping Gypsy summons an aspiration for a preindustrial past, which represented it as a highly-fascinated modern art during the mid-nineteenth century. The dream-like atmosphere and simple geometric designs portray the painter’s remarkable illustrative imagination.
94. The Gleaners By Jean-François Millet
The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet is an oil painting that depicts three peasant women gleaning a wheat field after a harvest. The painting is perceived as a pioneering work of modern art and represents the artist’s profound respect for peasants and their dignity. The painting is the result of Millet’s ten years of research on the subject of gleaners.
93. Primavera By Sandro Botticelli
Primavera is an exceptional piece of artwork and is labeled as one of the most popular paintings in western art by the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli. While the history of the painting is unclear, the theme is based on a group of figures from ancient mythology. Historians believe the painting is based on the rich growth of springs.
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92. Charles I In Three Positions By Anthony Van Dyck
This popular painting is a triple portrait of King Charles I from three different viewpoints, including a left-full profile, a right-three-quarter profile, and a front face on. The painter was presumably inspired by Lotto’s Portrait of a Man in three different positions. The painting was also used as a study piece for sculpturing the monarch later.
91. The Tower Of Babel By Pieter Bruegel The Elder
This painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder depicts the incredible construction of the Tower of Babel. The painting features numerous arches and portrays the real essence of Roman engineering. Bruegel visited Rome and studied the Roman ruins before attempting the painting to show its true layers and the ascending spiral design.
90. A Cotton Office In New Orleans By Edgar Degas
A Cotton Office In New Orleans by Edgar Degas was designed by the impressionist artist after visiting a cotton office in New Orleans that belonged to his brother. The painting combined genre and portraiture art and is a realistic portrayal of capitalism in the 18th century. The aim was to capture the lively, friendly, and successful American business style.
89. Bacchus And Ariadne By Titian
Next on the list of the most famous paintings of all time is Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian. This exotic piece of artwork is based on the mythological story of Bacchus and Princess Ariadne. After being abandoned by her lover Theseus, she married Bachhus, the god of wine, who fell in love with her.
The painting gained popularity for the way Titian froze the moment in a very dynamic scene. The beautiful and bright colors in the painting give it a very life-like appeal.
88. The Gross Clinic By Thomas Eakins
In The Gross Clinic, the portraitist artist Thomas Eakins depicts overseeing a lecture to a class of medical students and live surgery. Similar to Rembrandt’s version, the painting portrays the sanitary medical procedures during that time. The artist’s work of visual record is a calculated approach to presenting living figures in the medical amphitheater.
87. The Two Fridas By Frida Kahlo
The double self-portrait of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is one of her most notable paintings and her first large-scale work. The Two Fridas depicts two different versions of Frida sitting side-by-side. Frida claimed the theme of the painting to be more politically engaged as she used her image as a metaphor to explore the varying lines of emotions.
Painted in 1939 at the time of her divorce from Diego Rivera, the painting is also believed to be an expression of feelings.
86. The Ninth Wave By Ivan Aivazovsky
Number 86 on the list of the most famous paintings of all time is The Ninth Wave by Ivan Aivazovsky. This painting is the perfect example of a storm both in terms of the weather depiction and emotions. It is believed that the ninth shaft is the strongest of the waves, and nothing can withstand its power.
The Ninth Wave gained popularity for its creative use of warm tones while depicting the sea that’s hit by a storm. The warm colors tones down the apparent menace and gives a light of hope for survival.
85. St. George And The Dragon By Paolo Uccello
The famous painting St. George and The Dragon by Paolo Uccello is a clear visual depiction of a gothicizing tendency of the artist. It represents a scene from a popular story of St. George and the dragon.
St. George can be seen spearing the plague-bearing dragon while the princess is holding the dragon’s leash. The sky shows the emergence of the storm, which suggests that divine intervention helped him to victory.
84. Mr. And Mrs. Andrews By Thomas Gainsborough
Thomas Gainsborough shows possessions, money, and power in the painting Mr. and Mrs. Andrews. The artist lays bare the English class society on the canvas. The painting shows a young couple who got married to join their families’ fortune and chose Thomas Gainsborough – a relatively unknown painter – to paint their portraits. Little did they know that a few decades later, their painting will make the painter more famous than them.
83. Pollice Verso By Jean Leon Gerome
Pollice Verso, or the Turned Thumb, became a painting that was reputedly used as the primary inspiration for the movie Gladiator. The painting portrays the drama of the gladiatorial spectacle. The Colosseum spectators show the ‘thumb-down’ sign to the victorious gladiator as he stands with his foot on the defeated gladiator’s throat, who is pleading for mercy with his two fingers raised in the air.
Pollice Verso by Jean Leon Gerome covers in great detail the Roman imperial age, several defeated gladiators, a mass of spectators, Vestals in white, and the king in the imperial box. Truly one of the most famous paintings of all time.
82. The Embarkation To Cythera By Antoine Watteau
The work of Antoine Watteau continued to influence various French painters throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Embarkation to Cythera has its charm as it displays a ‘fête Galante,’ a party or romantic celebration enjoyed by the aristocracy of France during the Regence. This period after the death of Louis XIV is seen as a time of pleasure, peace, and dissipation. It is the historical significance of this painting that makes it so famous.
81. Boulevard Montmartre In Paris By Camille Pissarro
The Boulevard Montmartre by Camille Pissarro is an incredible representation of the Impressionist movement. The painting is one of the pieces from a series and features rich atmospheric effects, a complex blend of colors, and an outstanding depiction of gloomy feelings. The artist’s creative brushwork convincingly captures the image of dynamic, fast-paced urban life.
80. The Astronomer By Johannes Vermeer
The Astronomer has several pictorial elements of compositions that are carefully fused together by the creative painter, Johannes Vermeer. The painting is a very interesting portrayal of an astronomer’s profession, which is shown through a celestial globe, as well as the book on the table. The popularity of the painting is based on the pure depiction of scientific investigations in the 16th century.
It is thought that the man depicted in this painting is the same one depicted in The Geographer. Also, it is thought that the man in both paintings is Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the father of microbiology, but this has never been proven as fact.
It is also interesting to note that this scientifically inspired painting also has religious elements to it. The book, Institutiones Astronomicae Geographicae, is open to a section advising that the astronomer seeks inspiration from God.
There is also a painting on the wall that depicts the finding of Moses. It is thought that here, Moses may represent science and knowledge. In terms of the theme and message, it is certainly a complex piece of art.
79. The Grand Canal, Venice By JMW Turner
J.M.W. Turner painted The Grand Canal, Venice, on his second visit to the city. This painting was a part of the series the painter made showing the city in different views, capturing stunning scenes through his dynamic lens of romance and sensibility. The artist was known for his incredible knowledge of using colors and dramatic light to portray nature beautifully.
78. A Bar At The Folies Bergere By Edouard Manet
This is one of the best paintings of Edouard Manet and also one of his last major works. Putting his creativity to best use, the artist represents the bustling ambiance of significant cabarets and music halls of Paris in this painting. Manet used a real barmaid as a model to complete his artwork.
What may appear as another barmaid on the back is actually the reflection of the barmaid on the front. This also sparked debates on the inaccuracy of the reflection that’s way too far to the right. This was another reason for the fame of this painting.
77. The Storm On The Sea Of Galilee By Rembrandt
The Storm On The Sea Of Galilee is one of Rembrandt’s most dynamic and dramatic works of art. The large-scale image has overwhelming effects that portray survival through a violent storm. The painting is popular for its incredible theme and the vivid brushstrokes that bring the canvas to life.
High waves are lashing the boat with Jesus and his disciples, and dark clouds are glowering above them. The painting also depicts faith, showing Jesus in a very calm position and the least bit worried.
76. The Laughing Cavalier By Frans Hals
Frans Hals is one of the best portrait artists of the seventeenth century and boasts a spontaneous and lively style of portraiture, which can also be seen in his painting, The Laughing Cavalier. The painting is regarded as one of his masterpieces with extensive attention to detail. What makes the painting even more interesting is that the person in the portrait painting is not a cavalier and not even laughing.
75. Paris Street In Rainy Weather By Gustave Caillebotte
The life-like painting by French artist Gustave Caillebotte is considered one of his best works to date. It is a large oil-based painting that shows various individuals walking on a rainy day through the Place de Dublin and epitomized the modern paradigm. And even though this one is regarded as an Impressionist work of art, this masterpiece by Caillebotte is different for its apparent linearity and realism as compared to regular brush strokes.
74. The Foxes By Franz Marc
Franz Marc, known for his unusual expressionist work, had a series of abstract animal-theme paintings, one of which is this painting that portrays foxes. The bizarre combination of colors, including blue, dark green, and bright red, makes The Foxes stand out. What makes it unique is the brokenness of the lines, which does not compromise the clarity of the painting, and you can clearly see the fox’s faces.
As you may notice, the painting features a very crystalline composition. This is thought to be an imitation or a resemblance of stained glass often seen in medieval churches.
An interesting fact is that a Jewish banker names Kurt Grawi purchased this painting in 1928. However, he was forced to get rid of his art collection when the Nazis put him in a concentration camp. Although he still technically owned The Foxes at this time, he was forced to sell it to a German film director in 1940.
This man then donated it to the city of Dusseldorf. It was not until 2021 that Dusseldorf was forced to return the painting to the rightful owners, the Grawi family. The Foxes is estimated to be worth anywhere up to 30 million Euros.
73. Lady With An Ermine By Leonardo Da Vinci
This masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci stirred various speculations about the completion of the painting. It was believed that the painting always had a white ermine. However, a three-year investigation revealed that the painting was not completed in one stage but in three different stages.
The first version did not include any animals. The painter then added a small grey ermine to the image on the second attempt. And in the final stage, the small ermine was changed into a large white ermine.
72. Watson And The Shark By John Singleton Copley
Watson And The Shark by John Singleton Copley generated a sensation mainly because it covers a very gruesome subject. It depicts a real-life incident in which a 14-year-old boy, Brook Watson, was attacked by a shark in Havana Harbor. The images portray the traumatic incident where nine seamen are trying to help save the boy. It also shows bloody water because the boy lost his foot. To give the painting a touch of reality, the painter consulted prints and maps of Cuba since he has never been there.
71. Et In Arcadia Ego By Nicolas Poussin
Painted by one of the most famous artists of the classical French Baroque style paintings, Et In Arcadia Ego by Nicolas Poussin depicts a pastoral scene where it shows shepherds belonging to classical antiquity surround an austere tomb.
According to art critics, the letters engraved into the stone mean, “Even in Arcadia, I am there”, and these words were left on the stone by Death. The shepherds are realizing that even in a paradise-like place like Arcadia, one cannot evade death. The message is about how our time is limited, so you need to make the most out of it.
70. The Ladies Waldegrave By Joshua Reynolds
The three figures in The Ladies Waldegrave are the daughters of James Waldegrave, Lady Charlotte Maria, Lady Anna Horatina, and his wife Maria Walpole. The portrait of the beautiful ladies was a calculated approach, with its primary intent being to attract attractive men for their daughters.
The painting is the perfect depiction of socialites. Critics reveal how the art is arranged in a way that depicts the different fates of the three different women.
69. Breezing Up By Winslow Homer
Winslow Homer is popular for developing an inclination towards realism right from the start of his career. The Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) was completed during the centennial of the country and became the most beloved and well-known artistic work in America.
The painting portrays what a breezy day in its coastal waters looks like. Homer achieved it with unique light-handed brushing techniques to complete the image in vibrant colors and a lot of detail. Breezing Up gained popularity for its spirit, look, and hope it brought to American life in 1876.
68. The Treachery Of Images By Rene Magritte
What could be more interesting than a painting of a pipe with words that mean “This is not a pipe”? Rene Magritte tried to prove his point that paintings are a symbol of what they are representing. This is a very creative way to prove the semiotic gap between verbal and visual. This makes the viewer think in-depth about the picture and the relationship our mind creates with the image. The Treachery Of Images has been regarded as one of the most interesting paintings of all time.
67. The Night Café By Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh painted The Night Café while he was in Arles. He stayed in the room at the Café de la Gare, and that’s exactly what he has put on this painting. The painting perfectly depicts the regular scene of the café, with lined walls, tables, and chairs, and areas occupied by figures engaged in different activities.
Despite everything going on in this room, The Night Café gained popularity for how it reflects bitterness, sadness, and loneliness in the ambiance. After reading this, you might want to check out our top 10 most famous sad paintings here.
66. The Avenue In The Rain By Childe Hassam
The Avenue In The Rain is a highly popular painting in the world and came into being at the height of Hassam’s popularity. Childe Hassam enjoyed constant prominence as one of the top ten American painters who were influenced by French art.
The painting is a stunning depiction of Fifth Avenue, which was frequently decorated with American flags exhibiting the national pride of its residents.
65. Annunciation By Leonardo da Vinci
The painting shows a beautiful and flourishing garden in the Renaissance Palace and revolves around the purity of Mary. The painting shows how Archangel Gabriel kneels before the Virgin Mary, offering a lily, and Mary responds from behind a lectern in a dignified way.
The combination of the religious and traditional themes has been beautifully adjusted in an earthly setting by Leonardo da Vinci, which makes it an impressive work of art.
64. The Ambassadors By Hans Holbein The Younger
The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger portrays two educated, powerful, and wealthy young men. On the left is French ambassador Jean de Dinteville and on the right is his friend Georges de Selve, the bishop of Lavaur.
The painting, however, is much more than a simple portrait. It is more of a traditional setting showcasing learned men with their instruments and books. Some details in the painting can be perceived as a reference to the contemporary division of religions.
63. Flaming June By Frederic Leighton
Frederic Leighton was a genius academic painter who was part of the Aestheticism movement. Aestheticism is centered on the doctrine that art exists for its beauty alone and doesn’t need to serve any political, didactic, or other purposes.
Flaming June reflects moral connotations, extensive narrative, and realistic detail. It shows a sleeping girl curled up in orange clothes, and the theme of the artwork is a figurative representation of an unconscious mind.
The woman lying down is thought to be a humanized representation of nymphs and naiads. Both nymphs and naiads were popular figures often sculpted by the Greeks. In terms of realism, the exquisite detail that can be seen in the woman’s dress stands out.
An interesting fact about this painting is that it disappeared in 1900. It then resurfaced in the 1960s. Another interesting fact is that when it was found, it sold for just $140 (about $1,125 today).
62. Las Damas Romanas By Juan Luna
Also known as The Roman Maidens, this is one of the most popular paintings by Filipino painter Juan Luna. The artist created this painting during his six years of stay in Rome during the Spanish period. The painting shows a domestic scene of ancient Roman life, portraying two ladies lying on the stairs. The women in the painting seem to be in harmony with nature, representing the richness of life.
61. Composition VIII By Wassily Kandinsky
The abstract-style painting is a fantastic contrast of calm and chaos by strategically drawing lines and shapes. It consists of various vibrant colors, geometric shapes, and curved and straight lines against a dull cream background that melts into pale blue in certain areas.
The way the artist, Wassily Kandinsky, used mathematical forms of creativity to complete this piece, displays more than just shapes and colors. It is the emotional impact that makes this unique abstract art so popular.
60. The Embarkation Of The Queen Of Sheba By Claude Lorrain
The Embarkation Of The Queen of Sheba by Claude Lorrain was made in the year 1648 and features Queen Sheba making a visit to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon. This is a common Biblical scene made memorable due to the significance of the event as well as the beautiful classical buildings in its surroundings.
What is noticeable is that the painting draws attention to a group of people standing on the steps to the right of the painting.
Claude Lorrain painted many harbor scenes throughout his years, although this is generally considered his best. An interesting fact is that this is one of the very first paintings bought by the National Gallery, London, in 1824.
59. Starry Night By Van Gogh
Starry Night is one of the best-remembered paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, by far the most well-known Dutch painter. It is particularly well known for depicting the modern art tradition and is recognizable by its deep blue swirls representing the night sky.
The painting represents a break from the traditional techniques that were focused on capturing realism. Currently housed in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, this painting is also one of the most commonly reproduced works of art in popular culture for its color scheme.
58. Girl With Pearl Earring By Johannes Vermeer
If the Mona Lisa is considered to be the best work of Leonardo da Vinci, then this painting which is also called the Dutch Mona Lisa, should be considered the best painting by Johannes Vermeer. This painting features a portrait of a girl wearing a very distinguishable earring that reflects the light beautifully.
Made a few decades after the Mona Lisa, it features a high degree of realism and can be seen at the Mauritshuis Gallery in the Netherlands. This realism is especially evident in the pearl earring with the light reflecting off of it. That said, there are some debates about whether the earring is supposed to be a pearl or polished tin.
This painting is what is known as a ‘tronie’. This means that although it is a depiction of a head, it is not meant to be a portrait. Also, the painting was restored in 1994, and the intimacy of the girl’s gaze toward the viewer was greatly enhanced.
57. Guernica By Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso was one of the denizens of modern art, and Guernica represents the culmination of his artistic output. Made in 1937, this painting was inspired by the Spanish civil war. Painted in shades of black and white, it is a vocal protest against genocide and other heinous crimes committed during times of war. It became one of the most impactful paintings with a political message and was instrumental in ending the civil war.
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56. Madame Recamier By Jacques-Louis David
Madame Recamier by Jacques-Louis David features a portrait of Juliette Recamier, who was a popular Parisian socialite in the early seventeenth century. The portrait features her reclining on a settee dressed in white, with mostly antique furniture around her.
It is a unique painting that David was unable to complete. Nonetheless, it offers an excellent example of the artistic prowess of the painter, especially his ability to produce translucent colors, as seen in the attire of Madame Recamier.
55. Royal Red And Blue By Mark Rothko
In 1954, Mark Rothko painted this creation entitled Royal Red and Blue, which at first glance, resembles a wash of three different colors. This is an oil painting on canvas and is an abstract expression that is also known as No. 1.
Estimated to be worth $50 million, this is one of the most visited paintings at Sotheby’s and has been exhibited at famous galleries of the world, such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington.
54. The Lock By John Constable
John Constable was a famous English painter who is regarded as one of the best the nation has produced. The Lock is part of his River Stour series of paintings which shows a villager trying to get a small barge to cross the river by opening a gate. A giant tree can be seen in the background, completed with a heavily overcast sky.
The Lock is often considered to be one of the best paintings of all time. This particular painting was completed in 1824 and is part of the Six-Footer series of paintings by John Constable.
It sold for well over twenty-two million English pounds at Christie’s in 2012.
53. Whistler’s Mother By James Whistler
Whistler’s Mother, painted in 1871, became famous when it was featured in the Bean movie released in 1997. It features the painter’s mother seated on a chair and posing for her son.
It is rumored that she was a last-minute replacement for the model whom Whistler intended to paint on that day. Whistler’s Mother, number 53 on the list of the most famous paintings of all time, is regularly exhibited at museums around the world but is the property of Musee d’Orsay.
52. The Kiss By Gustav Klimt
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt is a beautiful painting from the early twentieth century and is known for its detailed patterns. The famous painting features a couple embracing each other and is a symbolic representation of love. It was made in the art nouveau style, which also features a luxurious mix of colors and textures. Gold leaf has also been used heavily in the painting.