10 Most Famous Sad Paintings

Throughout history, people have turned to art to express the whole range of human emotions. While the world’s most famous paintings may often create feelings of joy and triumph, many famous paintings deal with emotions of sadness, grief, and loneliness. Here are the world’s most famous sad paintings:

Most Famous Sad Paintings

1. Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth

Christina’s World
  • Year: 1948
  • Medium: Tempera
  • Location: The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) was an American realist painter, working predominantly in the regionalist style. Wyeth was a self-taught painter who only received formal education from his father, artist, and illustrator N. C. Wyeth. Wyeth’s career spanned over seventy years, and he became one of the most recognized artists of his time.

Christina’s World is Wyeth’s most famous painting. It depicts Wyeth’s neighbor, Anna Christina Olson, who had a degenerative disorder that rendered her unable to walk. Wyeth’s painting magnifies the isolation of the composition, emphasizing how far she is from home and family and the challenging journey that lies ahead of her.

2. Stańczyk by Jan Matejko

Stańczyk
  • Year: 1862
  • Medium: Oil
  • Location: The Warsaw National Museum, Warsaw

Jan Matejko (1838-1893) is arguably the most celebrated Polish painter of all time. He is most famous for large-scale paintings depicting significant events in Polish history. He studied at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts and eventually became director of the institution, which was renamed for him in 1979.

The full English title of this painting is “Stańczyk during a ball at the court of Queen Bona in the face of the loss of Smolensk.” It depicts Stańczyk, the court jester, sitting alone in deep, gloomy thoughts while a prosperous and joyous celebration is happening behind him.

He appears to have read the letter on the table, cast aside his jester’s props and trinkets, and sunk down in sadness and mourning for the lost battle. The painting is perhaps rendered sadder by knowing that Matejko used his own face as a model. 

3. Melancholy by Edvard Munch

Melancholy
  • Year: 1891
  • Medium: Oil
  • Owned by: Private collection

Norwegian expressionist artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is known for works that are unhappy and unsettling. His most famous painting, The Scream, is a famous depiction of grief and horror. Munch’s early life was plagued with physical and mental illnesses, and the events of WWI and WWII affected him deeply.

Melancholy depicts a young man looking into the distance, contemplating a romantic breakup. The landscape of Asgardstrand beach behind him reflects his vague thoughts in deep, unhappy colors.

Munch painted this subject six times between 1891-1896, and each time demonstrates different aspects of grief and sadness.

4. The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo

The Wounded Deer
  • Year: 1946
  • Medium: Oil
  • Location: Private collection

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) is one of Mexico’s best-known artists who used a folk art style that mixed reality and fantasy with challenging questions of politics and identity. Famous for her self-portraits, Kahlo was disabled by polio and suffered from chronic pain, often a subject of her work.

In The Wounded Deer, Kahlo depicts herself as a human-animal hybrid. A deer with her face appears to be standing mid-step in the center of the painting, surrounded by trees and foliage.

The deer is wounded by nine arrows, and lightning descends from the blue sky in the background. The deer’s face is sad but calm, as though accustomed to the pain.

5. The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso

The Old Guitaris
  • Year: 1903
  • Medium: Oil
  • Location: Art Institute of Chicago

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is one of the most famous painters in the world, and during his long career, he pioneered many different art styles and movements. For example, during his “Blue Period” (1901-1904), he created art that was literally colored by grief for a friend’s death, painting grim and unhappy subjects in gloomy shades of blue and teal.

The Old Guitarist is one of Picasso’s most famous blue paintings. It depicts a thin, blind street musician on the streets of Barcelona, his body painfully angled around the canvas while his head hangs low. At the time, Picasso himself was a poor and struggling artist, and it is thought that this painting reflects his own predicament.

6. Inconsolable Grief by Ivan Kramskoi

Inconsolable Grief
  • Year: 1884
  • Medium: Oil
  • Location: Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi (1837-1887) was a Russian realist painter and art critic. Kramskoi was controversial for painting religious subjects in a humanist tradition, portraying biblical figures as people with complex moral and psychological dynamics.

Inconsolable Grief is a deeply personal painting. Kramskoi lost two of his young sons in four short years and painted a portrait of his wife in mourning. In the painting, she stands beside a funeral table loaded with flowers, a handkerchief pressed to her face.

Her eyes are dark, exhausted, and inexpressibly sad. Kramskoi’s painting expressed his own grief and mourning and realized that it may not be a work of art suitable to decorate a home. So he gave it to a friend, suggesting they turn it to the wall.

7. Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate) by Vincent van Gogh

Sorrowing Old Man
  • Year: 1890
  • Medium: Oil
  • Location: Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo Netherlands

Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) famously struggled with depression and mental illness and is known for paintings that express sadness and loneliness. His Post-Impressionist style used vivid colors and bold brushstrokes that would come to characterize the Modern Art movement after his death.

Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate) is an image of a grieving old man, and van Gogh returned to the subject repeatedly in his art. The original inspiration was drawn from The Last Muster by Hubert von Herkomer, and a war veteran van Gogh had met at a hospital.

In 1882, he completed several drawings and a lithograph called Worn Out. However, when he returned to the subject in later years, he gave the painting the more optimistic title At Eternity’s Gate, suggesting that, despite his suffering, the old man takes comfort in the idea of a life beyond the grave.

8. Lachrymae by Frederic Lord Leighton

Lachrymae
  • Year: 1894-1895
  • Medium: Oil
  • Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896) remains one of England’s most celebrated artists and achieved widespread recognition during his lifetime. He was the first English painter to be made a baron and elevated to the peerage. Due to his fame and success and his role in the Royal Academy, he would influence generations of painters.

Lachrymae is perhaps the most traditionally beautiful of the famous sad paintings. Leighton’s Neoclassical style depicts a woman in black, leaning against a column, resting her head on her arm.

Around her are all the trappings of a funeral, including cypress trees, a dried wreath, fallen leaves, and the setting sun. The title of this painting means “tears,” and it perfectly captures tears and sadness.

9. Sorrow by Paul Cézanne

Sorrow by Paul Cézanne
  • Year: 1867
  • Medium: Oil
  • Location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was one of the most influential French painters in history, as a pioneer in Post-Impressionist and Expressionist art with an interest in optics that opened the door to Cubism.

While his work was often criticized and even ridiculed in his day, his understanding of color, structure, and form influenced a generation of European painters.

Sorrow explores Cézanne’s personal feelings of loss and failure. A male figure dominates the canvas, resting his head on his hands in a dimly lit room.

Beneath the figure, a stylized skull indicates grief and sorrow. The dark colors and deep shadows are full of mourning. However, there is also a softness in the clothing and an almost restful look on the face that suggests that sorrow is not the end.

10. The Sad Message by Peter Fendi

The Sad Message by Peter Fendi
  • Year: 1838
  • Media: Oil
  • Location: Vienna Museum, Vienna

Austrian painter Peter Fendi (1796-1842) was a leading artist of the Biedermeier period when fine art became more accessible for the middle class, and artists increasingly turned to daily life for the subject matter. Disabled in childhood, Fendi worked as an engraver and art instructor and pioneered new lithography methods.

The Sad Message is Fendi’s most famous painting and represented an early breakthrough in genre painting. In the painting, a woman is seen with an infant and a fallen letter on her lap while a child stands behind her.

Leaning over her is a soldier, returning her dead husband’s belongings. In this image, we can see that the woman is already struggling; the home is small and cluttered, a bit messy, and there is a pile of mending beside her. We can’t see her face, but we see her grief and sorrow.