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Ten World Famous Paintings To Love

Updated on July 2, 2016
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Ilona has gardened actively for most of her life, and been a writer and webmaster online since 1998. Homeschooled all 10 of her children.

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Artworks I never tire of viewing

Yes, I love art, and museum hopping is one of my very favorite things to do, but there are certain paintings that I have found to never tire of, and perennially enjoy. That can't be said of all art I was infatuated with over a lifetime. Some pictures are like true loves, and only grow in meaning and enjoyment for me.

I wanted to share ten of those pictures I love the most. Some are reproduction posters on my walls, some are given a place in a fine art book I own, but all have struck a deep chord in my heart.

Classics

Great art is great because it speaks important things to a wide range of people over time.

The Ten Great Pieces Of Art - And The Artists Who Created Them

This collection of choices isn't about who are the greatest or most important painters or sculptors, it is about the ones I find great because I love to look at them. Rembrandt is great in any context, but Carl Larsson is appreciated on a much smaller scale. Nevertheless, when viewed in a personal way, both are great artists in my estimation. They had talents and vision, original expression and the ability to give me, the viewer an experience of that.

This is why these artists are in my personal, very subjective, assessment of great pieces of art. I don't pretend that this is a lesson in art history, it's not. I'm not trying to impress you with my erudition or highly refined sensibilities (!), I just would like you to see and share some of the art I have long enjoyed, which holds meaning for me. I hope it is something ou will enjoy and appreciate, too.

  1. The Milkmaid (De Melkmeid or Het Melkmeisje) by Johannes Vermeer

    The original is very small, but it is one of the best loved paintings of the mysterious master Vermeer. Painted in oils on canvas, the exacting details and technique of the artist gives a feeling of realism without being at all smooth or slick. The fluid milk pouring into the ceramic pitcher, the very seeds on the breads, the worn dairy kitchen walls all create a sense of our own presence in the room.

    It is this intimacy with the subject that I like so well.

  2. Fishing Boats on the beach at Saintes-Maries by Vincent Van Gogh

    So different in feeling from many of his other paintings, this one has more of the "plein air" colors and light that are evident in other Impressionist paintings. The serenity of the sea no doubt soother Van Gogh's soul as well, since it saturates this rendition ( there were a series of these seaside oils).

    His frantic pace of work, however, belies the peacefulness of the scene. Two seascapes, nine drawings, and a landscape of the village were all done in days. The bright,clear colors and the masterful drawing of the boats and horizons is a frame for the strong brushwork that gives movement to the sea and sky. You can almost feel sea breezes, and nothing is still or static.

  3. Front Yard and Washing House by Carl Larsson

    One of the paintings where a little girl in a very big landscape draws all focus into her excitement to reach her brother at the ice pond.

    The buildings seem warm and friendly in the winter scene, but they most definitely stay in the background of the little girls determination to cross the distance of the yard. I like the way the landscape seems large without swallowing or overpowering the subject.

  4. Andrew Wyeth's Wind from the Sea

    Just as I can never get tired of looking outside, or of enjoying the salty sea breezes of the coastal areas, so this painting that so wonderfully catches the delicacy of the lace curtain and the soft insistence of the breezes is one of my favorite works of art.

    Wyeth's work often consisted strongly of water colors done with dry brush technique. This painting is tempera on hardboard. His technique gives substance to the translucency of the lace curtain and the open sense of the unscreened window. One thing I love is the inclusion of the gritty real world within the aged, tattered shade. It is raised, so it doesn't immediately catch the eye, but its presence gives just a little melancholy to what otherwise might be a generic room window. Now it speaks its story.

    In this way, Wyeth's painting relates to Vermeer's Milkmaid, with the realism taking a second seat to the emotional impact.

  5. The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch by Henry Raeburn.

    Yes, always liking the traditional painters of this time period ...whether well trained masters like Raeburn or folk artists, it was a time when many people were brought into art and portrayed in their activities of daily life and pleasures. The soft palette is nevertheless rich with depth, and the movement of the Pastor as he skates, almost meditatively, makes for a fresh enjoyment of the picture every time it is viewed.

    Raeburn painted directly from life, and that no doubt added the lively feeling that this portrait holds.

  6. Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt

    Mary Cassatt painted many beautiful pictures of mothers and their children. This was one of my utmost favorites. Cassatt has such a warm affection for her subjects that their love is captured in her brushstrokes and that is why her artwork is so popular today.

    I respond to the everyday touches and it reminds me of my own moments of motherhood. The ideal ones, of course!

  7. Water Garden by Frederick Childe Hassam

    Hassam is one of the American Impressionists, a group of painters I particularly am fond of. His works carry all of the joy and the freedom of the style and he gives particular attention to gardens and flowers ... which corresponds to my own appreciation of them.

    He was a very prolific artist, but this is the work that I like the best. Hassam preferred painting in watercolors. His painting of Celia Thaxter's garden is also one of my favorites, and if you read her book about her Island garden, you could see in Childe Hassam's painting a very real sense of just how lovely it was.

  8. Woman With A Parasol by Claude Monet

    I don't know why, but this picture always draws me. The blue tints, surely, but more than that is the way it captures a time and place, as well as the attraction of the woman standing in the sea winds. There is something unspoken that transpires between the woman and the painter... and thus between her and us.

  9. Carnation Lily Lily Rose by John Singer Sargent

    The artistry is masterful, there is no doubt about that, but it is the children playing with lanterns and fireflies on a summer evening that is so charming and endearing. It reminds me of all the best summertime memories, but links those to times far before me, in this garden. The colors are wonderful and it captures the light. The fragrance of those perfumed flowers seems almost to scent the air, but that must be my imagination!

  10. Elizabeth I Rainbow Portrait -disputed authorship

    This is one of those magnificent paintings that only the insanely rich and powerful can contract a master to paint. It is a marvel to look at each gleaming jewel and the stiffly starched lace that an army of hands must have worked on to give the queen so much magnificence.

    I enjoy the colors and detail, but also the personality of this most fascinating of personages.

Vermeer's Works, For Fans - The Milkmaid Included

For other fans of Vermeer's oeuvre, this book holds all in one collection. A discussion of the meanings and subtleties of the artists works including beautiful color plates of the paintings. Closeup details to really appreciate some of what makes Vermeer so fascinating.

Vermeer: The Complete Paintings
Vermeer: The Complete Paintings

Walter Liedtke uncovers this very private artist and his paintings, discusses his technique, and gives fans plenty of historical information to put the master and his works in perspective.

 

Why Do I Love These Works Of Art? - Let Me Tell You A Little About The Milkmaid

The Milkmaid, painted by Johannes Vermeer in about 1657-58, is quite small with dimensions of only about 18 by 16 inches in size.

This picture is the reason that Vermeer became my favorite painter. Maybe you are familiar with "The Milkmaid", or maybe the "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (Dutch: Het Meisje met de Parel) is the work by which you most know this painter. He created evocative, small enclosed environments and snapshots of moments with his brushes and oil paints.

The world doesn't have a lot of Johannes Vermeer works, but there is great love for those few. I think they evoke that affection for some of the same reasons I became so attached to his milkmaid.

First, it is the homely activity that was chosen. This wasn't unusual for a Dutch Master in the Dutch Golden Age of painting. Those masters often chose everyday activities and ordinary people for their subjects.

To me the action, the place, and the sense of quiet is important. I appreciate that this was kitchen work, taking place early in the morning with the sun shining into the room in a pleasant diffuse way. The array of hearty breads, the milk being carefully transferred, the young woman's expression all seem to convey a sense of peace and contentment in simple daily work. It exalts the worth of such labor in an effortless way, with an understated joy. Because the overall feeling of the painting is light, optimistic, and approving, it is is not just about the work but the enjoyment of the meal that is anticipated. Prepared by skillful contented hands, the meal is no less a focus of the painter. This is something many women like me can appreciate: the loving service of meal preparation held in esteem; the dignity of such daily tasks; the possibility of finding satisfaction and contentment in one's work, however humble.

Vermeer is also celebrated for his controlled palette, use of light, and intimate focus. All his paintings are more about the still moments, rather than busyness or drama. This also greatly appeals to me. His attention to it serves to quiet my mind as I look at the pictures, at the same time it inspires me. I, too can have quiet joy in the daily tasks of life, and they have a meaning and purpose beyond the mere feeding and caring involved. It is a message I believe and want to believe. If it was meant to depict "Dutch domestic virtue" it does a good job of it, it certainly holds a tone of domestic virtue for me..

I believe these to be some of the reasons I like this paintings so well that it rates in my ten most loved paintings.

Carl Larsson, "Front Yard And The Washhouse"

Museums - One of my favorite things to do is visit an art museum


Carl Larsson - Front Yard and the Wash House

Another artist I appreciate for many of the same reasons is Carl Larsson. I love many of his paintings, but this one is one of my favorites.

Detail of picture: the small girl with the red buildings set in a Scandinavian winter landscape is full of anticipation. I can almost feel the effort of the little girl as she moves through the snow, but from a perspective of one who loves the season, the place and takes joy in the joys of childhood. If peering closely at the picture, her brother putting on his skates is the focus of her trip and it becomes obvious that the lighthearted feeling of the picture is in the outdoor fun of sledding and skating.

An art critic described Larsson's work as "full of an indescribable freshness and heartiness." I would concur.

I particularly like the portrayal of family life which seems very free with lots of activity, joy in one's work, and much love and affection. It is a household I imagine I would like to live in. His portrayal of children is particularly tender and understanding; he and his wife Karin had a household of eight, many of them painted into his works.

Carl Larsson's Art - On everyday objects

Photo credit:Carl Larsson picture by sofi01 on Flickr

Besides the subject matter, which seems to be a perennial favorite for me, it is the typical Scandinavian palette which makes these works so attractive. They convey lots of space, yet with decorative details and comfort. If you look at Scandinavian interior design today, you see many of the aspects that Carl Larsson depicted more than a century ago. It is both light and cozy.

Others To Love

Vincent Van Gogh Painted - Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries

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Once, I would have listed Van Gogh as my most favored of all painters, but as I grew older others replaced him. I still like this particular painting in my lineup of the best, and have a poster of it in my bedroom. I never cease to be refreshed by its color, subject, and impression of a sunny beach with boats ready to fetch the catch of the day. It is a sunny morning picture that brightens my day any time I look at it.

Van Gogh is known enough for his life story as for his paintings, and that tends to give his works a veneer of angst. I don't think his life or his paintings deserve as much as has built up over them. His colors are usually intense and I'm sure that adds to the legend, but this one is softer in both palette and feeling. Perhaps it is the effect of the water, or sea breezes... one can only imagine.

As I've grown older I still admire Van Gogh's paintings, but desire smaller doses of the frantic brush movement and arresting colors. He often used strong complementary colors (opposites on the color wheel) together, and it makes me feel as though he were vying for attention "Look at me, look at me".

This painting of the fishing boats at Saintes Marie has a more settled feeling that captures the appreciation of the beauty of the sea and the colorful boats.

More From The Seaside

Andrew Wyeth's Wind from the Sea (1947) is called one of his most important paintings, but for me it is simply an embodiment of a feeling, a setting, and a palette that I find serene and beautiful. Again, it seems to be in line with my theme of home, and simple things in life. In feeling it holds much of the same quiet that Vermeer is able to invoke. I love the name of the picture... I can't almost smell the salt air of the sea. This painting is shown in the photo polaroid feature below.

It will be on exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in 2014.

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth is probably best known for his work "Christina's World", and as with works by Van Gogh, this was one that I loved earlier in my life, but which is not as important to me now. I've read biographies of both these artists, and the stories of particular paintings, and it may be that this colors my opinion of certain paintings and my degree of appreciation.

I want paintings to not only be beautiful in some way, but to be meaningful to me.

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." Edgar Degas

Wind from the Sea (1947)

Wind from the Sea (1947)
Wind from the Sea (1947)

Van Gogh Is Very Popular - His colors and liveliness engage the attention

Oriental Furniture Starry Night Canvas Wall Art
Oriental Furniture Starry Night Canvas Wall Art

The Starry Night is one of the most famous of Van Gogh's paintings. It combines the contrasting colors in an imaginative way that is fantastical and emotional. It has wide appeal.

 
Vincent Van Gogh Irises Vase Flower Wall Picture Framed Art Print
Vincent Van Gogh Irises Vase Flower Wall Picture Framed Art Print

I have this particular Van Gogh still life of Irises in a vase on my bedroom wall. The powerful brushstrokes bring the art alive and give a feeling of movement, even though the painting is of flowers indoors. The colors are harmonious, but with enough tension to keep it interesting.

Van Gogh's paintings never fade into the background- they always take center stage.

 

I Never Tire Of Simplicity - Although I love intricacy of design, too

The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch by Henry Raeburn has the grayed palette of Wyeth.

I love the contentedness and effortlessness that I feel in the subject of this painting. The gliding motion catches me up inside its momentum, and that is one of the reasons I like it so well- we identify with the Reverend and enjoy his skating almost as much as he does.


Mary Cassatt

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Mother and Child,... by Mary Cassatt

I really like American Impressionism, and one of the artists I personally like the best is Mary Cassatt. she does lots of portraits of mothers , doing tasks like sewing, but mostly interacting with their young children. There is so much unselfconscious affection,and the color, pattern, and composition draws the viewer into the circle. She does beautiful landscapes, too, but ins't so well known for them.

Another one I can't resist showing you:

Frederick Childe Hassam

Young Mother in... by Mary Cassatt


Margot by Mary Cassatt

Margot by Mary Cassatt
Margot by Mary Cassatt

Water Garden by Frederick Childe Hassam

Hassam's flower-y landscapes are the ones that remain my favorites. The light,bright palette is relaxing and I like his rendition of places that he felt were interesting and beautiful, they are that way for me too- especially a garden by the sea, like Celia Thaxter's.

Childe Hassam and Celia Thaxter became good friends, and he often visited her garden made famous from her book, 'An Island Garden'.


Claude Monet

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JOHN SINGER SARGENT

He most famously known for his dramatic portraits, but most of those require a little too much of my focus and while I admire them, it is his rendition of a summer garden at twilight that is best for me.

Woman with an Umbrella by Claude Monet

You knew Claude Monet's artworks would find their way here, didn't you? Impressionism, flowers, fields, romantic subjects, sunlight, "these are some of my favorite things"! I think one painting that always attracts me is this one - it seems so wistful and captures perfectly the sublime summer day that I am sure was somewhere along a sea coast, with the clear air and breeze ruffling the Woman's skirts.

I do love other famous works of this artist, such as "The Little Girl With The Watering Can" and many more, but the colors of blue and green in the 'Parasol" painting is probably the one that always seems fresh and delightful.

A Seaside Garden

A Seaside Garden
A Seaside Garden

I Agree

"Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing." Salvador Dali

Favorites

When making a list of favorites, I'm tempted to start listing "the greatest". I tried to avoid that to share an intimate inside look at what strikes the chords of my heart.

Old Portraits - The incredible detail of Renaissance period portraiture

Simply for the sake of the beautiful patterns and colors, the serene visages and the interesting history I hold a place for such portraits as those of Queen Elizabeth I and the Italian Renaissance portraits. They really are quite grand and imposing, but with all that detail your time is taken up just admiring every little pearl and ruby.

Queen Elizabeth I...


Elizabeth I Portrait via Wikipedia

Do you share my tastes? - Which is your favorite work of art?

Which painting/ artist do you love most? If not these tell us your favorite

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