- Arts and Design
My 50 Favorite Art Masterpieces of All Time
Art Is One of Our Greatest Treasures
I still remember the day my big sister brought home this huge book from the public library. Curious, I looked inside and was enchanted by what I saw: There were pictures of beautiful paintings inside, and biographies of the people who painted them! I was seven years old, and couldn't believe that a mere mortal was capable of creating such beauty and magic!
Featured in this massive book were the movers and shakers of their day: Giotto, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Bosch, El Greco, Velazquez, Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet, and many more! I studied the glossy pages over and over, reveling in the mystery and beauty of their contents until, unfortunately, my sister returned the book to the library.
Discovering the old masters made a huge impact upon me; since then, I have held the highest regard for artists and art. I collect art books, and have amassed quite a large collection. I have a love for all kinds of art: from Bosch, to Gainsborough, to Grandma Moses.
This page showcases fifty of my personal all-time favorites--paintings that speak to me personally, and have touched me in some way. I hope you enjoy viewing them; perhaps they will speak to you, too!
"Starry Night" by Vincent van Gogh (1889)
Who doesn't love van Gogh's "Starry Night," one of the most recognizable masterpieces in the world? I am caught up in the energy conveyed through the bold brush strokes, bright colors, and swirly sky. The dusky, dead tree in the foreground provides ominous overtones as well as contrast. I like the way it resembles a castle.
"Starry Night Over the Rhone" by Vincent van Gogh (1888)
The bold rendering of the sky brings to mind a fireworks display, which makes this piece, along with the luminous reflections in the water, very exciting, beautiful, and magical.
"Allegory of April--Triumph of Venus" by Francesco Del Cossa (1476--84)
I love the fantasy aspect of this piece, which is considered one of the earliest Post-classical paintings of the three Graces. I particularly enjoy the harnessed swans pulling a barge. This is one of twelve frescoes created by Del Cossa to commemorate each month of the year, utilizing mythology and the zodiac. "Allegory of April" is one of seven surviving frescoes in the series. This painting is the first tier of three. View the complete fresco here.
"Lady With An Ermine" by Leonardo da Vinci (1490)
The beautiful lady, with close-fitting hair wrapped under her chin, elongated head, and long, graceful neck, resembles the ermine which she holds in her arms, an act of genius by da Vinci.
"View of Toledo" by El Greco (1597--99)
I enjoy the drama here, which is prevalent in all of El Greco's work. There are stormy clouds with blue sky peeking through, and darker clouds on the horizon. I like the way the sunlight still manages to light up the landscape, even with an ongoing storm. The jagged appearance of the castle-like buildings add even more wonderful drama to El Greco's turbulent landscape.
"The Burial of Count Orgaz" by El Greco (1586--88)
The arched shape of this painting perfectly sets off this composition. I am taken in by the great contrasting colors, emotional overtones and touching gestures. El Greco, one of my favorite artists of all time, never fails to excite through his mannerist style of painting, which perfectly captures and projects the mood and message intended for the viewer.
"Cardinal Fernando Nino de Guevara" by El Greco (1600)
I enjoy all the shapes, colors, and textures here: The cardinal's hat is shaped like a cathedral, and the folds and peaks in his robe almost resemble bat wings. His round, dark glasses lend him a pensive, scholarly appearance. The red material of his robe appears to be taffeta, with a wonderful pattern of swirling, zigzaging threads of lights, contrasting beautifully with the white, lacy undergarment. All is set wonderfully against a gold brocade-looking background and patterned floor.
"The Commemoration of Guidoriccio Da Fogliano at the Siege of Montemassi" by Simone Martini (1328--30)
I've loved this painting since I was that little girl gazing through a huge art book from the public library many years ago. I enjoy the horse, with his harlequin-patterned coat, ridden by Guidoriccio, who wears a matching coat. There is something about the combination of horse and harlequin design that is very becoming to me. I'm mezmerized by the hills and castles in the background, which (unintentionally, I'm sure) look like a fairy tale.
"Las Meninas" by Diego Velazquez (1656)
I enjoy the curious composition of this painting. The figures appear to be caught in mid-activity, as if they have been interrupted. The full, elegant gowns of the females against a background of rectangular shapes (paintings, doorway, mirror, and canvas) is very eye-catching. The woman on her knees seems to be trying to persuade the little girl to turn around and pose for the artist (a self-portrait of Velazquez). I enjoy the stark contrast of the beautiful, dainty doll-like little girl and the dwarves and dog.
"The Dance Foyer at the Opera on the Rue Le Peletier" by Edgar Degas (1872)
This painting takes me back to my younger days, when I attended ballet class twice a week. In fact, I used to have a silk screen picture of this exact painting (I probably still have it somewhere--I just can't find it!). Degas' ballet class scene brings back fond memories. Degas was a master of anatomy in dancers, and perfectly captures every single ballet position without a hitch.
"A Bar at the Folies Bergere" by Edouard Manet (1882)
As far back as I can remember, this has been one of my favorite paintings. I like the reflections in the mirror of the immense crowd present, the chandeliers, and the gentleman she is speaking with. I enjoy the richness of textures and color: the velvet and lace of her dress, the flowers, the wine, the oranges, and the crystal. The story aspect of this painting piques one's curiosity. What has the man said to the woman to make her so sad?
"Adoration of the Magi" by Gentile da Fabriano (1423)
At first glance, I am dazzled by the lavish, ornate frame. But, the painting itself is exquisite. I enjoy the composition of this piece, especially the caravan of horses at the top, the arrangement of figures, the dog, and the colorful horses to the right.
"The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli (1485)
What is there NOT to like about this masterpiece? First of all, you have a beautiful nude goddess in the process of being born. And if that's not enough, she's riding the waves on a fabulous seashell with a crystalline ocean as the backdrop. Very dreamy, mythical, and romantic.
"Primavera" by Sandro Botticelli (1482)
I am struck by the idealized, romanticized figures (the Three Graces, in particular) that are set off beautifully against a dark background of fruit trees. This piece is mythological and full of symbolism, incorporating Venus, Mercury, and even Cupid into the story. To many people, this painting signifies the arrival of Spring.
"The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch (1500)
"The Garden of Earthly Delights" has had more of an impact upon me than any painting I have seen. What an imagination Bosch had! One never tires of this piece; every time you look, you see something different. Bosch is deservedly considered by many to be the father of fantasy art. Upon examining this surreal tryptych, it's not hard to figure out why. And yes, this was one of the paintings featured in that humongous art book I viewed as a child. I have always been fascinated by Bosch's bizarre imagery in this painting, wondering what it represented. This article offers an explanation: Interpreting the Symbolism of Hieronymus Bosch.
"The Old Checkered House" by Grandma Moses (1944)
I love Grandma Moses! Isn't this a great painting? Looking at it makes me feel all warm inside, kind of like my favorite television series, "The Waltons." I especially love the checkered house.
"The Two Fridas" by Frida Kahlo (1939)
So much heart went into all of Frida Kahlo's paintings; each and every one expresses what she was going through at that particular place in time. At the age of nineteen, Frida was involved in a horrific bus accident, which left her body shattered. She had to literally be pieced back together. As a result, she was in pain the rest of her life, and had thirty-two surgeries during her lifetime. She also had a crippled leg from contracting polio as a youth. If that wasn't enough, she had a tumultuous on again--off again relationship with Diego Rivera, which caused a lot of strife and unhappiness in her life. This painting was done when she divorced Rivera after returning home from an exhibit of her work in Paris, and depicts the split between her two selves--"The Two Fridas." The woman on the left represents European Frida, while the woman on the right represents Mexican Frida, in traditional tehuana dress. When Frida was with Diego, to please him, she wore traditional Mexican dress and hairstyle. When estranged from him, she did an about face: she chopped off her hair, and abandoned the traditional Mexican garb, her way of rebelling. Frida's work is a chronicle of her life. Her paintings are full of honesty and emotion, and I love them all. This one is a particular favorite because of the unusual double Frida graphic; what a great way to depict inner turmoil and strife!
"Self-Portrait" (Dedicated to Dr. Eloesser) by Frida Kahlo (1940)
Frida dedicated this self-portrait, a brutally honest self-analysis, to her long-time friend and physician, Dr. Eloesser, who helped stabilize her deteriorating body, freeing her from much pain; Frida's necklace of thorns is a reminder of the pain she suffered before Dr Eloesser's help. Her hand earrings were a gift from Pablo Picasso. They have a ghostly effect--like a skeletal hand--a stark reminder of Frida's fragile condition. The stormy sky, grim facial expression, and thorny necklace reflect the desperation and helplessness Frida must have felt as a result of her disintegrating health. This painting projects strong emotion, and has a haunting presence.
"Madame X" by John Singer Sargent (1883--84)
I have always loved the mystery and beauty inherent in this portrait. Madame X has lovely alabaster skin set off by auburn hair and a dark, velvety dress, which emphasizes her hourglass figure. Who or what has so profoundly captured her gaze?
"President Theodore Roosevelt" by John Singer Sargent (1903)
I'm a big Teddy Roosevelt fan, and this is by far, the greatest portrait ever done of him. Sargent not only captures his outer essence, he captures his inner essence as well. Very thoughtful and poignant rendering of a great man.
"Self-Portrait (at 26)" by Albrecht Durer (1498)
All of Durer's self-portraits are wonderful, but this one, of Durer at the age of twenty-six, is a particular favorite. I like the color palette, and the rendering of the hair; you can almost see each and every strand. I am also captivated by his expression. Durer was a very handsome man, indeed!
"Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride" by Jan van Eyck (1434)
Isn't her costume wonderful? I also like the chandelier and gear-like mirror in the background. Notice how the little dog looks like "Toto" in "The Wizard of Oz?"
"Queen Elizabeth I" (The Ditchley Portrait) by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1592)
I've always been fascinated by Queen Elizabeth I, and I'm equally fascinated by this painting of her. Her voluminous gown is outstanding; the design, texture and pattern are very lavish and eye-catching. I love the gossamer appearance of the collar on her robe. Her beautifully coiffed hair is delicately adorned by jewels. The map under her feet is a wonderful addition, and there is great drama emanating from the split skies.
"Beach Umbrellas at Blue Point" by William Glackens (1915)
What a great example of impressionism! Glackens captures the bustling activity of the beach perfectly. One can almost hear the sounds of of the beachcombers, and feel the balmy ocean breeze. I love the colors in this painting, especially the orange and yellow beach umbrellas. My eye is also drawn to the Victorian style building in the background.
"Parade to War" by John Steuart Curry (1938)
I had never heard of John Steuart Curry until I saw this painting in a book; it made me a fan. The tone of the painting is very foreboding. The soldiers march off to war amid confetti and much celebration; If you look closely, you will see that the soldiers' heads are actually skulls; an eerie premonition of what's to come. I enjoy the visual aspect of the painting as well as the message it sends.
"Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund" by Evelyn de Morgan (1905)
I enjoy the colors, composition and all the interesting elements of this painting, and I had never heard of the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Evelyn de Morgan, until I stumbled upon this painting online. There are lots of great elements here: miniature cupids, snakes, monkeys, doves, and a vial of poison; an eerie premonition of the terrible fate that lies in store for Fair Rosamund at the hands of Evelyn, Jealous wife of King Henry II, who has taken Rosamund as his mistress.
"Lady of Shalott" by John William Waterhouse (1916)
Isn't she gorgeous! I enjoy all the colors, shapes, and textures in this painting as well as her romanticized face, staring off into space as if she is daydreaming. Her silky, red dress provides wonderful contrast to her dark hair, as well as the dark background. I particularly enjoy the reflection in the mirror, which gives the viewer a glimpse into the outside world from which she has been barred.
"Mermaid" by John William Waterhouse (1900)
This painting has an innocent beauty. The mermaid is romanticized, but earthy at the same time. The ritual of combing her hair reminds us that she is not so different than we are. I enjoy the rock formations in the background, as well as the treasure shell with pearls. The ocean adds a a lovely touch of blue to an almost monocromatic background.
"Le Molin de la Galette" by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1876)
When I look at this painting, I can actually hear music, laughter, conversation, and the rustle of the ladies' gowns. This painting not only tells a story, it makes you feel as if you're a part of the story.
"The Swing" by Jean-Honore Fragonard (1767--1768)
I've always been a big fan of the Rococo style of art. This piece is delightfully playful, romantic, and dreamy. I enjoy the imagery (particularly the girl on the swing) and the soft colors.
"Giovanna Baccelli" by Thomas Gainsborough (1782)
This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1782. The portrait was commissioned by Giovanna's lover, John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset. Depicted in costume for her portrait, Giovanna Baccelli was a famous dancer with the King's Theatre at Haymarket, London.
Gainsborough was seen as radical, due to his unconvential style of painting, his portraits of notorious society women attracting the most attention.
I'm entranced by the movement and color in this composition. As always, Gainsborough's romantic style of painting is evident in his dramatic and colorful brushstrokes, which convey movement and emotion.
"Wooded Moonlight Landscape with Pool and Figure at the Door of a Cottage" by Thomas Gainsborough (1781)
This piece is very dramatic, suggesting a sense of foreboding. One wonders who the mysterious figure in the doorway is. I enjoy the strong contrast of lights and darks in this piece, as well as the beautiful palette of blues and greens.
"The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to be Broken Up" by J.M.W. Turner (1838)
I have loved this painting for a very long time. The style and colors are very energetic, vibrant, and expressive. I feel a twinge of sadness knowing that this magnificent ship, that so bravely fought for her country, is going to her death.
"Water Lily Pond" by Claude Monet (1897--1899)
It's easy to see why Monet is considered the master of water lilies; this painting represents tranquility and the rarest beauty of all--the beauty that can be found only in nature.
"Ladies in the Garden" by Claude Monet (1867)
The scene is playful, energetic, and pleasing to the eye. I enjoy the billowy dresses and dappled sunlight streaming through the trees. This painting represents to me a celebration of the joy of spring.
"Auto Portrait" by Tamara de Lempicka (1925)
I love the 1920s! This painting, created in Lempicka's trademark art deco style, features a cool car and a flapper, two of my favorite things from that era.
"Portrait of Madame Allan Bott by Tamara de Lempicka
This flapper has beautiful lines--from her toned arms to the graceful curve of her body. The skyscrapers in the background lend a great Art Deco design to this piece, perfectly accenting the flapper.
"High Summer" by Tamara de Lempicka (1928)
With her white cloche hat shading her eyes, she is very sensual and sultry. I love the way the colors pop (especially the reds) against her white outfit and flesh tones.
"Autumnal Fantasy" by Charles E. Burchfield (1916--44)
I'm a big fan of all of Charles Burchfield's work. This painting in particular really moves me. Charles Burchfield was a true pioneer who devised a system of symbols to represent sounds, sensations, and emotions. In this piece, there are auras, chevrons, and looping and vibrating lines, representing the movement, sounds, and sensations found in nature. Everyday symbols, such as birds, trees, flowers, stars, sunlight, moonlight, and dark pools of water, expressed Burchfield's own feelings.
"The Four Seasons" by Charles E. Burchfield (1949--60)
This painting, depicting all four seasons, has great color and depth. Burchfield has thoughtfully rendered the shapes and colors in this piece to conjure up emotion and sensation, drawing us into the scene. I find this painting very imaginative and visually appealing.
"The Picture Gallery of the Archduke Leopold" by David Teniers (1650)
The huge collection of paintings assembled together for this composition makes this painting stunning and eye-catching. The little dogs chasing one another add an air of playfulness to this piece.
"The Triumph of Death" by Valdes Leal (1672)
This painting is fascinating--not only for its macabre subject matter, but also for its message: the obsession for wordly goods and pursuits is futile--for death will triumph in the end.
"Madame de Pompadour" by Francois Boucher (1759)
This is a great rococo painting--so dreamy and romantic. Her gown, which resembles a large pink rose, is set off perfectly by the muted colors of the background. She looks so young and innocent, a romantic vision. The little dog, which appears to be a papillon, seems to be admiring her.
"Midsummer Night's Eve" by Edward Robert Hughes (1908)
As big a fan of fantasy art, I'm really in love with this painting. I enjoy the romantic and mysterious depiction of the beautiful maiden all aglow in moonlight with a wreath of flowers upon her head. The tiny people encircling her add fun and frolic to this piece. You can almost hear their voices and see them dance.
"The Lady of Shalott" by William Holman Hunt (1889--92)
Here we have another gorgeous pre-raphaelite painting of "The Lady of Shalott," which was inspired by Tennyson's poem. In the story, Elaine of Astolat, held prisoner on the island of Shalott, is unable to live life, so she weaves, viewing life only through a mirror. In the end, the spell is broken by Lancelot, who captures her heart. The design and color palette of this piece is stunning, with a beautiful tapestry display on the walls. Encircled around the captive maiden is an ornate tapestry frame, her hair dramatically billowing upward as she frantically weaves.
"Maria Theresa of Vallabriga on Horseback" by Francisco de Goya (1783)
This is a beautiful portrait of Goya's mistress, who looks dashing in her blue velvet dress, astride a golden stallion.
"La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat (1886)
This highly recognizable piece has always been a favorite of mine, with its wonderful stylized figures. The beautiful hues and interesting composition, of people enjoying a little rest and recreation, further add to its charm. I'm particularly drawn to the shape of the ladies in profile, with their exaggerated bustlines, open parasols, and large bustles.
"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper" (1942)
I enjoy the illumination of the diner, with lonely-appearing people inside. While looking at this piece, I feel an aura of mystery: Who are these people, and what is their story?
"Marie Antoinette, Queen of France (in coronation robes)" by Jean-Baptiste Gautier-Dagoty (1775)
I have a fascination for Marie Antoinette, and I love this portrait of her decked out in all her splendor. Her elaborate dress is composed of a design which resembles bunches of grapes. Beautifully framed by plush red velvet curtains, she sits with one hand on the globe, a symbol of having the world in one's hand.
"The Scream" by Edvard Munch (1893)
While technically, this painting isn't spectacular, I chose it as one of my favorites because it perfectly captures that moment when we finally lose it. This painting depicts desperation, helplessness, hopelessness, terror, sadness, and loss of self-control.
In 2012, "The Scream" set a world record for the most expensive artwork ever sold in an auction. Click Here to See How Much it Sold For.
Art Appreciation (Renaissance to Baroque Art Parts 1--5)
Renaissance Art 1
The Art of Leonardo da Vinci
The Life & Style of Francisco Goya
Women in Art
Frida Kahlo Documentary
Tamara de Lempicka
John Singer Sargent
Francois Boucher, Rococo Painter
John William Waterhouse
Seurat: The Realm of Light (parts 1--3)
The Greatest Paintings that Changed the World
~~This Lens Has Been Blessed~~