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
This one 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.
This is indeed regarded as one of the most complex and unique paintings of all time. This is why it 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.
This 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”. This is thought to be one of the most calculated demonstrations of the heights and complexities possible in painting.
99. The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks
There are more than a hundred versions of this now-popular Peaceable Kingdom. 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, the painting 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 the crossing of the alps.
The actual crossing of the alps of Napoleon and his army was far more treacherous that what this painting makes it out to look like. It is perhaps the most widely reproduced image of Napoleon Bonaparte. Due to this, it is also one of the most famous art pieces of all time.
97. Musicians by Caravaggio
Caravaggio’s paintings are famous for their chiaroscuro effects. One such fantastic painting is the ‘Musicians’ that show 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
The post-impressionist French artist 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 the number of players.
95. The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau
Most of Rousseau’s contemporaries were captivated by wandering gypsies. The 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
This Jean-Francois Millet artwork is a simple oil painting that depicts three peasant women gleaning a wheat field after the harvest. The painting is perceived as a pioneering work of modern art and represents the artist’s profound respect for peasants and their timeless dignity. The painting is the result of Millet’s ten years of research on the subject of the gleaners.
93. Primavera by Sandro Botticelli
This exceptional piece of artwork 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.
92. Charles I in Three Positions by Anthony Van Dyck
The popular painting is a triple portrait of King Charles I in three different viewpoints, including left-full profile, right three-quarter profile, and 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 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
This seminal piece of artwork was designed by the impressionist artist after visiting the 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
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
The portraitist artist 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 for 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 painting 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, the painting is also believed to be an expression of feelings.
86. 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 painting 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 is a clear visual depiction of Gothicizing tendencies. It represents a scene from a popular story of Saint George and the dragon. Saint 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 the divine intervention helped him to victory.
84. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough
Thomas Gainsborough shows possessions, money, and power with 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. The painting covers the detail of the Roman Imperial age and also shows several defeated gladiators, a mass of spectators, Vestals in white, and the king in the imperial box.
82. The Embarkation to Cythera by Antoine Watteau
The work of Watteau continued to influence various French painters throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This particular painting 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 is an incredible representation of the Impressionist movement. The painting is one of the pieces from a series the Boulevard Montmartre 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 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 “The Astronomer” is the same one as depicted in “The Geographer”. It is thought that the man in both paintings is Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Although, 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 seek 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 J.M.W 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 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
This is one of Rembrandt’s most dynamic and dramatic work of art. The large-scale image has overwhelming effects that portray survival through a violent storm. High waves are lashing the boat with Jesus and his disciples, and dark clouds are glowering above. The painting also depicts faith, showing Jesus in a very calm position and least bit worried. The painting is popular for its incredible theme and the vivid brushstrokes that bring the canvas to life.
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 this painting. The Laughing Cavalier is regarded as one of his masterpieces with extensive attention to the 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 the French artist 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, the masterpiece by Gustave 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 that portrays foxes. The bizarre combination of colors including blue, dark green, and bright red makes the painting stand out. What makes it unique is the brokenness of the lines, which does not compromise the clarity of the painting and the real fox faces can be clearly seen.
As can be seen, 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 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. At this time, 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 has stirred various speculations about the completion of the painting. It was believed that the painting always had white ermine, but a three-year investigation revealed that the painting was not completed in one but three different stages. The first version did not include any animal. The painter added a small grey ermine to the image in the second attempt. In the final stage, the small ermine was changed into a large white ermine.
72. Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley
The painting 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 proving that the boy lost his foot. To give the painting a touch of reality, the painter consulted prints and maps of Cuba and never visited the Caribbean himself.
71. Et in Arcadia Ego by Nicolas Poussin
Painted by one of the most famous artists of the classical French Baroque style paintings, the popular piece of art depicts a pastoral scene. The image shows idealized shepherds belonging to the classical antiquity surrounding an austere tomb. This painting has two versions where he carefully composes mythological painting, finished in rich and vibrant hues. According to art critics, the letters engraved into the stone means ‘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 a limited life so one can make the most out of it.
70. The Ladies Waldegrave by Joshua Reynolds
The three figures in The Ladies Waldegrave are Lady Charlotte Maria, Lady Anna Horatina, the daughters of James Waldegrave, and 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 different fates of three different women.
69. Breezing Up by Winslow Homer
This artist 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 year of the country and became the most beloved and well-known artistic work in America. The painting portrays what a breezy day on coastal waters looks like. He achieved it with unique light-handed brushing techniques to complete the image in vibrant colors, detail, and shadowing. It gained popularity for its spirit, look, and hope it brings to American life in the centennial year.
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”. The painter 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. This 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 painting gained popularity for how it reflects bitterness, sadness, and loneliness in the atmosphere.
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 power. Childe Hassam enjoyed constant prominence as one of the ‘Ten American Painters’ who were influenced by famous French. The painting is a stunning depiction of the Fifth Avenue, which was frequently decorated with the American flag as the national sentiment moved inexorably towards intervention from isolation.
65. Annunciation by Leonardo Da Vinci
The painting shows a beautiful and flourishing garden in the Renaissance Palace. The theme revolves around the purity of Mary. The painting shows how Archangel Gabriel kneels before the Virgin Mary, offering a lily. Mary responds from behind a lectern in a dignified way. The combination of the religious and traditional theme has been beautifully adjusted in an earthly setting by Leonardo, setting this painting apart.
64. The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein The Younger
The painting portrays two educated, powerful, and wealthy young men. The left one is a 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 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
The genius academic painter believed in an art for art’s sake based on the ideas of Aestheticism. This painting reflects moral connotations, extensive narrative, and realistic detail. It shows a sleeping girl curled up in orange clothes. The theme of the artwork is a figurative representation of an unconscious mind.
The woman laying 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 a 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, curved and straight lines against a dull cream background that melts into pale blue in certain areas. The way the artist has used mathematical forms of creativity to complete this piece; it 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
This painting 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. The painting is made memorable due to the significance of the event as well as the beautiful classical buildings in the 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 had painted many harbor scenes throughout his years, although this is generally considered the best. An interesting fact is that this is one of the very first paintings bought by the National Gallery 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 da Vinci, then this painting which is also called the Dutch Mona Lisa should be 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 said 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. W
hat also needs mentioning is that this painting was restored in 1994. At this time, the intimacy of the girl’s gaze towards the viewer was greatly enhanced. This can also be said in terms of the color scheme.
57. Guernica by Pablo Picasso
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.
56. Madame Recamier by Jacques-Louis David
This painting 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 it. 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, Rothko painted his creation titled 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 at 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. It is a 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. This is also considered to be one of Constable’s finest works.
This is particularly true in terms of depth, sparling light, and vigorous effect. What is interesting to note is that in 1826, Constable made the one and only copy of this painting. This is known as the Foster Version.
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. Anyhow, the painting is regularly exhibited at museums around the world but is the property of Musee d’Orsay.
52. The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
This is an interesting painting from the early twentieth century and is known for its detailed patterns. The Kiss features a couple embracing each other and is a symbolic representation of love. The painting has been made in the art nouveau style which also features a luxurious mix of colors and textures. Gold leaf has been used heavily in the painting which was an inspiration from the mosaic work.