Our Choices: The Top 10 Famous Paintings Ever Created

/ 01:31 AM February 07, 2019

From straightforward cave paintings of successful hunts to the modern and more experimental paintings of today, countless of art pieces have been created.  Although, throughout the years only a few select paintings have truly made an impression in the art history and celebrated today as critically acclaimed timeless icons.  So, what makes these famous paintings, well, famous?

It’s actually quite hard to tell, as you know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  One can say that famous paintings have a similar yet special quality when it comes to being masterpieces.  This is how famous artists produce their art pieces even though they don’t have proper tools at their time of creating these famous paintings.  Say, for example, the Nazca lines located in the Nazca desert of southern Peru.


However, it’s not always the case for famous artists that made it into the art world.  It involves so much more than that—even relating to mathematical equations that make these famous paintings draw us in with their perfected beauty.

No matter what it is that makes these paintings masterpieces, it’s always what they make us feel at the end of the day.  It’s always better to see for yourself, right? To prove this point, we’ve gathered our top ten famous paintings in the world.

Mona Lisa, the mysterious muse of one of the most famous artists

Mona Lisa

Undeniably the most famous painting of all time, Mona Lisa is a portrait of a lady painted by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci who is also one of the famous artists in the world.  Created between 1503 and 1517, Da Vinci’s bewitching art piece has been shadowed by two things since the day it was made: Who is this mysterious lady and why is she smiling?

Well, there has been theories that she’s Lisa Gherardini, the wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco Del Giocondo; or she’s da Vinci’s mother, Caterina, painted from his boyhood memories; and even, that it’s a self-portrait in drag.  Whoever it may be, one thing’s for sure though: Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile has captivated almost everyone as it has become the most written, most visited and the most acclaimed famous painting in the world.

It’s even no surprise that her alluring smile immortalized in this famous painting is literally invaluable and so it cannot be covered by insurance for any amount of money.  You can still visit and marvel at its enchanting expression at the Louvre Museum of Paris which has been its home since 1797.

Tidbit trivia: The original name of Mona Lisa was Monna Lisa as in Italian, it means Madonna that translates to ‘My lady’ but a spelling mistake made it the Mona Lisa today.

Starry Night, a perspective like no other

Starry Night

Vincent van Gogh, one of the most famous artists in history, has painted Starry Night as one of the 2,000 oil on canvas paintings of his which was later considered to be his masterpiece.  It was created by Van Gogh at the asylum in Saint-Rémy, where he’d committed himself in 1889, depicting the view from his room at the sanitarium where he lived. It reflects his tumultuous state of mind at the time as seen in the painting where the night sky comes alive with swirls and orbs from the wild strokes of his brush that is fought over by his personal demons and awe in nature.  The painting has been in display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1941 and has been acquired by Lillie P. Bliss Bequest.


Van Gogh primarily uses watercolors and drawings.  There even is a famous quote from him saying “Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.”  The Starry Night is an example of this as it states an innermost, subjective illustration of his response to nature.


Tidbit trivia: For his inspiration for The Starry Night, van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, stating that “This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.”

Whistler’s Mother, a motherly icon

Whistler’s Mother

As the title states, it’s an oil painting of a mother painted by American-born painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler in 1871.  It’s originally titled as Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 but has been nicknamed as Whistler’s Mother as well, it depicted the artist’s mother.  This piece is considered to be one of the most famous paintings in the world painted by the American outside the United States.

Anna McNeill Whistler, the artist’s mother, posed specially for the art piece when she was residing in the Cheyne Walk, Chelsea.  Since becoming one of the world’s most famous paintings (that is of an artist’s mother) consequently, this painting has been used many times as a symbol of motherhood around the world.

At the moment, it is displayed in Musee d’Orsay in Paris after it was owned by the French state in the year 1891.

Tidbit trivia: It is considered to be the Victorian Mona Lisa and appraised as an American icon.

The Creation of Adam

The Creation of Adam

Painted by Michelangelo in between 1508 and 1512, this painting is placed on the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel of Vatican City.  It basically portrays the Biblical narrative of the creation in the Book of Genesis in which God gives life to Adam, the first man.

It is the most well known of the fresco panels in the Sistine Chapel and its popularity as a piece of art is viewed only by the Mona Lisa of Leonardo da Vinci.  The portrayal of the near-touching hands of Adam and God has become an icon of humanity and has been remade in countless imitations and parodies.

Tidbit trivia: The Creation of Adam is speculated to depict the passage from Genesis 1:27 that read, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him.”

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

This piece was painted in 1907 by one of the most famous artists, Pablo Picasso and is the most famous painting that exemplifies cubism.  Picasso decisively broke away from the representational tradition of Western painting, incorporating allusions to the African masks seen in Paris’s ethnographic museum at the Palais du Trocadero.

This revolutionary piece was prepared by Picasso for over six months through hundreds of sketches, drawings and paintings.  His preparatory work was perhaps more comprehensive than that of other famous artists in history for a painting and certainly more rigorous than any other artwork he created.

One reason Les Demoiselles is an unprecedented piece of work is because of Picasso’s omission of perspective.  There is no dissipating spot, nowhere for the eye to move beyond the women and their pointed stares.

Tidbit trivia: The women being portrayed are actually prostitutes in a brothel in the artist’s native city with “Avignon” referring to the street in Barcelona in a district known for prostitution.

The Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus

A lasting symbol of feminine grace and beauty from the Renaissance age and beyond, Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is a timeless piece of art.  Completed in 1486, the Goddess of Love depicted in the portrait is claimed by many to be modeled after one Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, whose favors were allegedly shared by Lorenzo and his younger brother, Giuliano.

In the Middle Ages, Christian inspiration was dominant in art, therefore, Venus’s nudity as portrayed by Botticelli was groundbreaking leading for one of the most famous paintings to be included in the infamous “Bonfire of the Vanities” of 1497, in which “profane” objects, from cosmetics, artworks to books, were burned on a pyre.  Somehow, the artwork escaped destruction and is now displayed at the Uffizi Gallery in Italy.

Tidbit trivia: Aside from the modestly placed hands of Venus on the painting, there is a much more subtle genitalia hidden in the portrait.  The shell she stands on meant to represent female genitalia, connecting symbolically to human birth.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Painted by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer in 1665, Girl with a Pearl Earring is considered to be “the Dutch Mona Lisa” and “Mona Lisa of the North” by many people.  It is also regarded as one of the most famous paintings in the world and Vermeer’s masterpiece.

Vermeer’s study of a young lady is remarkably real and contemporary, almost as if it were a photograph that a debate over whether or not Vermeer utilized a pre-photographic device called a camera obscura to create the image is deliberated by many.

The girl in the painting is believed to be Vermeer’s maid while some say that it is Vermeer’s eldest daughter, Maria, who was twelve or thirteen years old at the time of the creation of the painting.

The painting is also known as Girl In A Turban, Head Of Girl In A Turban, The Young Girl With Turban and Head of a Young Girl.  It is currently on display in the Mauritshuis Gallery in The Hague, in the Netherlands since 1902.

Tidbit trivia: Strictly speaking, Girl with a Pearl Earring isn’t a portrait but an example of the Dutch genre called a tronie.

The Scream

The Scream

The Scream has been painted by Edvard Munch, one of the most famous painters of his time, in 1893.  His media included oil and pastel on cardboard to illustrate such a haunting painting.

It is also variantly titled as The Scream of Nature as the painting shows the manifesting and suffering expression against a landscape.  Munch shared the rationale for this title in a poem he painted on the frame, saying that it is a result of the anxiety and fear he felt on a day while walking with two friends.

Tidbit trivia: The Scream was always on the target of the high-profile art thefts and eventually, one of the versions of the painting was stolen from the National Gallery.  It had been recovered several months later.

The Persistence Of Memory

The Persistence Of Memory

This oil-on-canvas painting measuring only 9.5 inches by 13 inches was painted by the Spanish artist Salvador Dali in 1931.  It is considered one of the most famous paintings around the globe, first shown at Julien Levy Gallery in 1932. It is now at home in the Museum of Modern Art founded in New York City since 1934 thanks to a patron who bought the piece and donated it there.

The Persistence of Memory has created considerable academic debate as scholars speculate the painting.  Some critics assume the melting watches in the piece are a response to Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

However, Dali refuted it by saying that his true muse for the deformed clocks was a wheel of Camembert cheese that had melted in the sun.

Tidbit trivia: Around the time of its creation, Dalì perfected his “paranoiac-critical method.”  The artist would aim to enter a ruminative state of self-produced psychotic hallucinations so that he could paint what he coined as “hand-painted dream photographs.”

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Georges-Pierre Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte painted in 1884 depicts a warm portrait of a sunny day in a lovely park but a closer look at the Neo-Impressionists most famous work reveals much more: millions and millions of tiny dots.

Seurat became the father of Pointillism and of Neo-Impressionism with this groundbreaking painting.  However, he favored to call his technique more as “chromoluminarism,” a term he felt better stressed its focus on color and light.

30 years following Seurat’s death, the painting was largely unseen until art lover Frederic Clay Bartlett purchased in 1924 and indefinitely loaned it to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1884 where it is displayed as Seurat intended: bordered with a specially-made wooden frame painted a crisp white.

Tidbit trivia: It’s one of the most reproduced and parodied famous paintings in the world.  It first made it into the screen in the Chicago-set comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the science fiction cult classic Barbarella, on the cartoon series Family Guy and other TV shows.  Broadway icons Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine even produced a musical about its creation called, Sunday in the Park With George.

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