12 Most Famous Painters of All Time and their Masterpieces
In the course of human history, there have been some very amazingly brilliant painters. And even among that elite group of painters that have graced the art world, there are still a select few who produced masterpieces that have remained timeless. Their sheer originality, innovation and genius left an unforgettable impact far beyond Western art and culture.
From renowned Dutch painter Rembrandt to the Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo, WHE has put together a list of the 12 most famous painters of all time.
Leonardo da Vinci
High Renaissance genius of an artist Leonardo da Vinci’s quest for creative ways in all the endeavors that he undertook is the reason why his legacy has endured and will continue to endure. The Italian painter, sculptor and poet who produced the “Mona Lisa”, arguably the most famous painting of all time, is said to have pushed the boundaries of art with his continuous experimentation. Some of the Italian’s most known contributions to art were with mediums and compositions. With regard to the latter, his triangular composition doesn’t appear to be losing its appeal among artists, even more than five hundred years after his death.
Leonardo was able to apply the knowledge gained from his studies of anatomical models to produce masterpieces not just in painting but in other artistic areas. Aside “Mona Lisa”, some examples of his iconic paintings are “Virgin of the Rocks”, “The Last Supper”, and “Salvatore Mundi.”
Born Rembrandt van Rijn (1607-1669), the Dutch master is known for injecting a lot of psychological intensity into his paintings, which often ranged from both simple and breathtaking landscapes to famous biblical, historical and mythological scenes. Honing his skills right from an early age, this Dutch genius mastered the use of many materials and techniques, allowing him to produce all types of portraits. His use of dynamic composition, color and shadow is just one of many reasons his works are powerfully moving.
Rembrandt etched his name into the annals of history by coming out with masterpieces that contained natural and humanistic themes. Often times he achieved this through Intensity and usual spontaneity.
Known to art lovers as a master of light and texture, Rembrandt ranks up there with some of the greatest painters of all time in terms of emotional intensity.
Rembrandt, who blessed the world with iconic masterpieces like “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholas Tulp”, “Man in Oriental Costume” and “Belshazzar’s Feast”, undoubtedly towers above all artists in Dutch art history.
Coming in at number three on the list of greatest painters of all time is Michelangelo, the Italian painter who considered himself more of sculptor. Born in Florence on March 6, 1475, Michelangelo was a polymath genius whose works helped revive classical Greek and Roman art style. His paintings often evoked a lot of psychological and emotional intensity, making them very popular among influential art patrons and individuals of the era.
Michelangelo’s most iconic masterpieces came in the form of breathtaking frescos that cover the whole of the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. They include “The Last Judgement” and “The Creation of Adam”. In the later painting, Michelangelo shows a very muscular Adam in a reclining position extending his hand to God who is on the right flanked by angels. The “Creation of Adam” can be interpreted as the artist’s way of showing the division between humans, i.e. Adam, and God and other heavenly beings. Going against traditional paintings of God being an aloof ruler, Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” tries to capture the intimate relationship God seeks to have with creation.
Vincent van Gogh
A list without Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) would definitely be a travesty as his masterpieces have been extremely influential in shaping not just Western art but art in general. This is one of the reasons his paintings are today some of the most expensive in the world. Van Gogh’s paintings, which were known for communicating powerful expressive emotions, oozed a kind of brilliance rarely seen in art history.
Vincent van Gogh was a true master when it came to the use of bold color. Additionally, his deployment of dramatic brushstrokes makes him the most famous post-impressionist painter of all time. Some examples of Vincent van Gogh’s masterpieces that have had tremendous impact on modern art include extraordinary works like Starry Night, The Bedroom, The Potato Eaters, and Sunflowers in a Vase.
Did you know: The iconic tortured artist Vincent van Gogh sold just one painting during his lifetime?
Famed for his series of water lilies paintings, French painter Claude Monet () was a titan in the impressionist movement. There are very few paintings in art history that could contend with Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise in terms of being the epitome of the impressionist movement.
Born on November 14, 1840 in Paris, France, Monet spent his formative years in the seaside town in northern France. Monet is believed to have drawn a lot of inspiration from the ocean and coastline of his new environment in northern France. This explains why he developed the habit of bringing his easel out of studio to paint in the open environment. This enhanced his ability to incorporate natural light into his paintings. A master of form, light and color, he once opined that “Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment.” For his superb mastery of atmosphere and light, many abstract painters drew a lot of inspiration from his works.
Some notable examples of his Claude Monet’s paintings include Women in the Garden (1866-77), Boulevard des Capucines (1873), and Rouen Cathedral: The Facade at Sunset (1894).
In terms of contribution to modern art, only a very few in art history could have the same claim and reputation as the leading pioneer of Cubism Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Most known for masterpieces like “Portrait of Gertrude Stein” (1905), “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907) and “Guernica” (1937), Picasso injected a new kind of energy into Symbolism and Surrealism.
Picasso is also most known for collaborating with French artist Georges Braque (1882-1963) to invent the collage technique in 1912. Picasso always tried to find innovative ways of depicting the things that he saw, felt and touched. This made him one of the greatest names in the art world of the 20th century.
In Northern Europe, Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” holds almost the same reverence as Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. As a matter of fact the iconic 17th century painting is often revered as the “Mona Lisa of the North”.
Vermeer (1632-1675) was one of the most famous artists of the 17th century, having dazzled the art world with his ability to delve intimately into everyday moments. A leading member of the Dutch Golden Age, Vermeer was also known for producing masterpieces that in some way exposed the viewer to the subject’s interior spaces which in turn provided the needed fuel for other Baroque works of his era. He was indeed one of the greatest masters of light and pigment. Some examples of his most famous artworks are “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” (1654-56), “The Officer and the Laughing Girl” (1657-1660), “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter” (1662-1663), and “Girl with the Pearl Earring” (c. 1665).
French painter and collagist Henri Matisse is best known for his innovative painting technique and brilliant use of colors. His rejection of Cubism resulted in many tagging him as a rival to Pablo Picasso. Matisse, who was a leading figure in the French movement Fauvism, was gifted at using color in a way that blended perfectly with his expressive and huge paintings.
Matisse also made spectacular works of art using the collage technique where he’d cut shapes of color to make his works more relaxing to the mind. This was Matisse’s overarching goal whenever he experimented with new forms and styles. “Luxe, Calme, et Volupte” (1904-1905), “The Woman with a Hat” (1905), and “The Moroccans” (1915-1916) are just some examples of Matisse’s famous masterpieces.
Coming in it at number 9 on our list of greatest painters of all time is Japan’s Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the artist famed for infusing modern print styles into his compositions. Hokusai not only captured themes of Japan’s unity, but he also showcased the sheer amount of diversity in his country. He is said to have always kept an open mind, having drawn a lot of influence from artists outside of Japan.
Hokusai’s rise to fame came as a result of European painters incorporating elements from his decorative motifs and printmaking. In creating some sort of depth in his image, he deployed a number of framing styles, which in turn gave his focal points more prominence. Important artworks by Katsushika Hokusai include “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” (1814), “Ducks in a Stream” (1847), “Fujimigahara in Owari Province” (1830-1832), and “The Old Tiger in the Snow” (1849).
Skilled with an ability to deploy loose brushstrokes as well as combine gleaming colors, American painter Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) is revered by many art lovers as one of the greatest in the Impressionist movement. Cassatt’s painting of mothers and children doing the most ordinary of things have gone down as one of the most popular paintings of all time. Her 1893 painting “The Child’s Bath” was groundbreaking as it communicated very deep moments in the scene.
The Pennsylvania-born credited European Old Masters as some of her biggest inspirations. In developing her style in the world of Impressionism, she incorporated art styles from some Japanese artists. “Little Girl in blue Armchair” (1878), “In the Lodge” (1878) and “A Woman and a Girl Driving” (1881) are just some examples of her most famous masterpieces.
Throughout the 19th century, Realism was the most dominant art movement in Russia. Many of those artists did not hold anything back in producing works with uncompromising accuracy and truth. One such artist was Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944). Formerly a law and economics teacher, Kandinsky entered the world of art with a uniquely different perspective. He would then go on to become one of Russia’s most influential painters of all time.
Kandinsky’s works, which were mainly abstract art, were vital in the transition from representational Social Realism toward abstraction. Revered by many as the “Father of Abstract Art”, Wassily Kandinsky produced works such as “Composition VII” (1913), “Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider) (1903), and “Der Blaue Berg” (The Blue Mountain).
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was simply one of the best painters to hail from Mexico. Famed for her highly intimate series of self-portraits, Kahlo was gifted at producing artworks that visually symbolized physical and psychological suffering. She was one of the first female painters to venture into subjects of emotional suffering and death. By so doing, Kahlo’s masterpieces afforded us the opportunity to better understand the frustrations and turmoil that are so common among human beings, particularly women.
Some examples of Frida Kahlo’s most famous works are “My Birth” (1932), “What the Water Gave Me” (1938), “The Two Fridas” (1939), “Self-portrait with thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” (1940), and “The Wounded Deer” (1946).