54 Famous Paintings Made by Famous Artists

Being a famous artist in your lifetime is no guarantee that other artists will remember you. Have you heard of the French painter Ernest Meissonier?

He was contemporary with Edouard Manet and by far the more successful artist concerning critical acclaim and sales. The reverse is also true, with Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh relied on his brother, Theo, to provide him with paint and canvas, yet today his paintings fetch record prices whenever they come up at an art auction, and he's a household name.

Looking at famous paintings past and present can teach you many things, including composition and handling of paint. Though probably the most important lesson is that you should ultimately paint for yourself, not for a market or posterity.

"Night Watch" - Rembrandt

Night Watch - Rembrandt
"Night Watch" by Rembrandt. Oil on canvas. In the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Rijksmuseum / Amsterdam

The "Night Watch" painting by Rembrandt is in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. As the photo shows, it's a huge painting: 363x437cm (143x172"). Rembrandt finished it in 1642. Its true title is "The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch," but it's better known just as the Night Watch. (A company being a militia guard).

The composition of the painting was very different for the period. Instead of showing the figures in a neat, orderly fashion, where everyone was given the same prominence and space on the canvas, Rembrandt has painted them as a busy group in action.

Around 1715 a shield was painted onto the "Night Watch" containing the names of 18 people, but only some of the names had ever been identified. (So remember if you paint a group portrait: draw a diagram on the back to go with the names of everyone so future generations will know!) In March 2009 Dutch historian Bas Dudok van Heel finally unraveled the mystery of who's who in the painting. His research even found items of clothing and accessories depicted in the "Night Watch" mentioned in inventories of family estates, which he then collated with the age of the various militiamen in 1642, the year the painting was completed.

Dudok van Heel also discovered that in the hall where Rembrandt's "Night Watch" was first hung, there were six group portraits of a militia originally displayed in a continuous series, not six separate paintings as has long been thought. Rather the six group portraits by Rembrandt, Pickenoy, Bakker, Van der Helst, Van Sandrart, and Flinck formed an unbroken frieze each matching the other and fixed in the wooden paneling of the room. Or, that was the intention. Rembrandt’s "Night Watch" doesn't fit with the other paintings in either composition or color. It seems Rembrandt did not adhere to the terms of his commission. But then, if he had, we'd never have had this strikingly different 17th-century group portrait.

"Hare" - Albrecht Dürer

Rabbit or Hare - Albrecht Dürer
Albrecht Dürer, Hare, 1502. Watercolor and gouache, brush, heightened with white gouache. Albertina Museum

Commonly referred to as Dürer's rabbit, the official title of this painting calls it a hare. The painting is in the permanent collection of the Batliner Collection of the Albertina Museum in Vienna, Austria.

It was painted using watercolor and gouache, with the white highlights done in gouache (rather than being the unpainted white of the paper).

It's a spectacular example of how fur can be painted. To emulate it, the approach you'd take depends on how much patience you've got. If you have oodles, you will paint using a thin brush, one hair at a time. Otherwise, use a dry brush technique or split the hairs on a brush. Patience and endurance are essential. Work too quickly onto wet paint, and the individual strokes risk blending. Don't continue for long enough and the fur will seem threadbare.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling Fresco - Michelangelo

Sistine Chapel
Seen as a whole, the Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco is overwhelming; there's simply too much to take in and it seems inconceivable that the fresco was designed by one artist. Franco Origlia / Getty Images

The painting by Michelangelo of the Sistine Chapel ceiling is one of the most famous frescoes in the world.

The Sistine Chapel is a large chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope (the leader of the Catholic Church) in Vatican City. It has many frescoes painted in it, by some of the biggest names of the Renaissance, including wall frescoes by Bernini and Raphael, yet is most famous for the frescoes on the ceiling by Michelangelo.

Michelangelo was born on 6 March 1475 and died on 18 February 1564. Commissioned by Pope Julius II, Michelangelo worked on ​the Sistine Chapel ceiling from May 1508 to October 1512 (no work was done between September 1510 and August 1511). The chapel was inaugurated on 1 November 1512, on the Feast of All Saints.

The chapel is 40.23 meters long, 13.40 meters wide, and the ceiling 20.70 meters above the ground at its highest point1. Michelangelo painted a series of Biblical scenes, prophets, and Christ's ancestors, as well as trompe l'oeil or architecture features. The main area of the ceiling depicts stories from stories of the book of Genesis, including the creation of humankind, the fall of man from grace, the flood, and Noah.

Sistine Chapel Ceiling: A Detail

Sistine Chapel Ceiling - Michelangelo
The creation of Adam is perhaps the best known panel in the famous Sistine Chapel. Notice that the composition is off-center. Fotopress / Getty Images

The panel showing the creation of man is probably the best-known scene in the famous fresco by Michelangelo on the ceiling the Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican has many frescoes painted in it, yet is most famous for the frescoes on the ceiling by Michelangelo. Extensive restoration was done between 1980 and 1994 by Vatican art experts, removing centuries' worth of smoke from candles and previous restoration work. This revealed colors much brighter than previously thought.

Pigments Michelangelo used included ochre for reds and yellows, iron silicates for greens, lapis lazuli for blues, and charcoal for black.1 Not everything is painted in as much detail it first appears. For instance figures in the foreground are painted in more detail than those in the background, adding to the sense of depth in the ceiling.

More on the Sistine Chapel:

• Vatican Museums: Sistine Chapel
• Virtual Tour of the Sistine Chapel

1 Vatican Museums: The Sistine Chapel, Vatican City State website, accessed 9 September 2010.

Leonardo da Vinci Notebook

Leonardo da Vinci Notebook in the V&A Museum in London
This small notebook by Leonardo da Vinci (officially identified as Codex Forster III) is in the V&A Museum in London. Marion Boddy-Evans / Licensed to About.com, Inc.

The Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci is famous not only for his paintings but also his notebooks. This photo shows one in the V&A Museum in London.

The V&A Museum in London has five of Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks in its collection. This one, known as Codex Forster III, was used by Leonardo da Vinci between 1490 and 1493 when he was working in Milan for Duke Ludovico Sforza.

It's a small notebook, the kind of size you could easily keep in a coat pocket. It's filled with all sorts of ideas, notes, and sketches, including "sketches of a horse’s legs, drawings of hats and clothes that may have been ideas for costumes at balls, and an account of the anatomy of the human head."1 While you can't turn the pages of the notebook in the museum, you can page through it online.

Reading his handwriting is not easy, between the calligraphic style and his use of mirror-writing (backward, from right to left) but some find it fascinating to see how he puts all sorts into one notebook. It's a working notebook, not a showpiece. If you ever worried that your creativity journal wasn't somehow correctly done or organized, take your lead from this master: do it as you need.

1. Explore the Forster Codices, V&A Museum. (Accessed 8 August 2010.)

"The Mona Lisa" - Leonardo da Vinci

Mona Lisa - Leonardo da Vinci
"The Mona Lisa" by Leonardo da Vinci. Painted c.1503-19. Oil paint on wood. Size: 30x20" (77x53cm). This famous painting is now in the collection of the Louvre in Paris. Stuart Gregory / Getty Images

Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" painting, in the Louvre in Paris, is arguably the most famous painting in the world. It is probably also the best-known example of sfumato, a painting technique partly responsible for her enigmatic smile.

There's been a lot of speculation about who the woman in the painting was. It's thought to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine cloth merchant called Francesco del Giocondo. (The 16th-century art writer Vasari was among the first to suggest this, in his "Lives of the Artists"). It's also been suggested the reason for her smile was that she was pregnant.

Art historians know Leonardo had begun the "Mona Lisa" by 1503, as a record of it was made in that year by a senior Florentine official, Agostino Vespucci. When he finished, it is less certain. The Louvre originally dated the painting to 1503-06, but discoveries made in 2012 suggest it may have been as much as a decade later before it was finished based on the background being based on a drawing of rocks he is known to have done in 1510-15.1 The Louvre changed the dates to 1503-19 in March 2012.

1. Mona Lisa could have been completed a decade later than thought in The Art Newspaper, by Martin Bailey, 7 March 2012 (accessed 10 March 2012)

Famous Painters: Monet at Giverny

Monet sitting next to the waterlily pond in his garden at Giverny in France. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Reference Photos for Painting: Monet's "Garden at Giverny."

Part of the reason the impressionist painter Claude Monet is so famous is his paintings of the reflections in the lily ponds he created in his large garden at Giverny. It inspired for many years, right until the end of his life. He sketched ideas for paintings inspired by the ponds, and he created small and large paintings both as individual works and series.

Claude Monet’s Signature

Claude Monet’s Signature
Claude Monet’s signature on his 1904 Nympheas painting. Bruno Vincent / Getty Images

This example of how Monet signed his paintings is from one of his water lily paintings. You can see he's signed it with a name and surname (Claude Monet) and the year (1904). It's in the bottom right-hand corner, far in enough so it would not be cut off by the frame.

Monet's full name was Claude Oscar Monet.

"Impression Sunrise" - Monet

Sunrise - Monet (1872)
"Impression Sunrise" by Monet (1872). Oil on canvas. Approx 18x25 inches or 48x63cm. Currently in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. Buyenlarge / Getty Images

This painting by Monet gave the name to the impressionist style of art. He exhibited it in 1874 in Paris in what became known as the First Impressionist Exhibition.

In his review of the exhibition which he titled "Exhibition of Impressionists," the art critic Louis Leroy said:

"Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape."

1. "L'Exposition des Impressionnistes" by Louis Leroy, Le Charivari, 25 April 1874, Paris. Translated by John Rewald in The History of Impressionism, Moma, 1946, p256-61; quoted in Salon to Biennial: Exhibitions that Made Art History by Bruce Altshuler, Phaidon, p42-43.

"Haystacks" Series - Monet

Haystack Series - Monet - Art Institute of Chicago
A collection of famous paintings to inspire you and expand your art knowledge. Mysticchildz / Nadia / Flickr

Monet often painted a series of the same subject to capture the changing effects of the light, swapping canvases as the day progressed.

Monet painted many subjects again and again, but every one of his series paintings is different, whether it's a painting of a water lily or a haystack. As Monet's paintings are scattered in collections around the world, it's usually only in special exhibitions that his series paintings are seen as a group. Fortunately, the Art Institute in Chicago has several of Monet's haystacks paintings in its collection, as they make impressive viewing together:

In October 1890 Monet wrote a letter to the art critic Gustave Geffroy about the haystacks series he was painting, saying:

"I'm hard at it, working stubbornly on a series of different effects, but at this time of year the sun sets so fast that it's impossible to keep up with it ... the further I get, the more I see that a lot of work has to be done in order to render what I'm looking for: 'instantaneity', the 'envelope' above all, the same light spread over everything ... I'm increasingly obsessed by the need to render what I experience, and I'm praying that I'll have a few more good years left to me because I think I may make some progress in that direction..." 1

1. Monet by Himself, p172, edited by Richard Kendall, MacDonald & Co, London, 1989.

"Water Lilies" - Claude Monet

Famous Paintings -- Monet
Gallery of Famous Paintings by Famous Artists. Photo: © davebluedevil (Creative Commons Some Rights Reserved)

Claude Monet, "Water Lilies," c. 19140-17, oil on canvas. Size 65 3/8 x 56 inches (166.1 x 142.2 cm). In the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Monet is perhaps the most famous of the Impressionists, especially for his paintings of the reflections in the lily pond at his Giverny garden. This particular painting shows a tiny bit of cloud in the top right-hand corner, and the mottled blues of the sky as reflected in the water.

If you study photos of Monet's garden, such as this one of Monet's lily pond and this one of lily flowers, and compare them to this painting, you'll get a feeling for how Monet reduced detail in his art, including only the essence of the scene, or the impression of the reflection, water, and lily flower. Click on the "View full size" link below the photo above for a larger version in which it's easier to get a feel for Monet's brushwork.

The French poet Paul Claudel said:

"Thanks to water, [Monet] has become the painter of what we cannot see. He addresses that invisible spiritual surface that separates light from reflection. Airy azure captive of liquid azure ... Color rises from the bottom of the water in clouds, in whirlpools."

Page 262 Art of Our Century, by Jean-Louis Ferrier and Yann Le Pichon

Camille Pissarro's Signature

Signature of Famous Impressionist Artist Camille Pissarro
Signature of the Impressionist artist Camille Pissarro on his 1870 painting "Landscape in the Vicinity of Louveciennes (Autumn)". Ian Waldie / Getty Images

The painter Camille Pissarro tends to be less well known than many of his contemporaries (such as Monet) but has a unique spot in the art timeline. He worked as both an Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist, as well as influencing now-famous artists such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin. He was the only artist to exhibit at all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions in Paris from 1874 to 1886.

Van Gogh Self Portrait (1886/1887)

Van Gogh Self Portrait
Self Portrait by Vincent van Gogh (1886/1887). 41x32.5cm, oil on artist's board, mounted on panel. In the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Jimcchou ​/ Flickr 

This portrait by Vincent van Gogh is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was painted using a style similar to Pointillism but doesn't stick strictly to dots only.

In the two years he lived in Paris, from 1886 to 1888, Van Gogh painted 24 self-portraits. The Art Institute of Chicago described this one as employing Seurat's "dot technique" not as a scientific method, but "an intense emotional language" in which "the red and green dots are disturbing and totally in keeping with the nervous tension evident in van Gogh's gaze."

In a letter a few years later to his sister, Wilhelmina, Van Gogh wrote:

"I painted two pictures of myself lately, one of which has rather the true character, I think, although in Holland they would probably scoff at the ideas about portrait painting that are germinating here. ... I always think photographs abominable, and I don't like to have them around, particularly not those of persons I know and love .... photographic portraits wither much sooner than we ourselves do, whereas the painted portrait is a thing which is felt, done with love or respect for the human being that is portrayed."

Letter to Wilhelmina van Gogh, 19 September 1889

Vincent van Gogh's Signature

Vincent van Gogh Signature on The Night Cafe
"The Night Cafe" by Vincent van Gogh (1888). Teresa Veramendi / Vincent's Yellow

The Night Cafe by Van Gogh is now in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. It's known Van Gogh signed only those paintings he was particularly satisfied with, but what is unusual in the case of this painting is that he added a title below his signature, "Le café de Nuit."

Notice Van Gogh signed his paintings simply "Vincent," not "Vincent van Gogh" nor "Van Gogh."

In a letter to his brother Theo, written on 24 March 1888, he said: 

"In the future my name ought to be put in the catalogue as I sign it on the canvas, namely Vincent and not Van Gogh, for the simple reason that they do not know how to pronounce the latter name here."

"Here" being Arles, in the south of France.

If you've wondered how you pronounce Van Gogh, remember it's a Dutch surname, not French or English. So the "Gogh" is pronounced, so it rhymes with the Scottish "loch." It's not "goff" nor "go."

The Starry Night - Vincent van Gogh

The Starry Night - Vincent van Gogh
The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh (1889). Oil on canvas, 29x36 1/4" (73.7x92.1 cm). In the collection of Moma, New York. Jean-Francois Richard

This painting, which is possibly the most famous painting by Vincent van Gogh, is in the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Van Gogh painted The Starry Night in June 1889, having mentioned the morning star in a letter to his brother Theo written around the 2nd of June 1889: "This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big." The morning star (actually the planet Venus, not a star) is generally taken to be the large white one painted just left of the center of the painting.

Earlier letters of Van Gogh's also mention the stars and night sky, and his desire to paint them:

1. "When shall I ever get round to doing the starry sky, that picture which is always in my mind?" (Letter to Emile Bernard, c.18 June 1888)
2. "As for the starry sky, I keep hoping very much to paint it, and perhaps I will one of these days" (Letter to Theo van Gogh, c.26 September 1888).
3. "At present I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me that night is still more richly colored than the day; having hues of the most intense violets, blues, and greens. If only you pay attention to it you will see that certain stars are lemon-yellow, others pink or a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. ... it is obvious that putting little white dots on the blue-black is not enough to paint a starry sky." (Letter to Wilhelmina van Gogh, 16 September 1888)

The Restaurant de la Sirene, at Asnieres - Vincent van Gogh

"The Restaurant de la Sirene, at Asnieres" - Vincent van Gogh
"The Restaurant de la Sirene, at Asnieres" by Vincent van Gogh. Marion Boddy-Evans (2007) / Licensed to About.com, Inc.

This painting by Vincent van Gogh is in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, UK. Van Gogh painted it soon after he arrived in Paris in 1887 to live with his brother Theo in Montmartre, where Theo was managing an art gallery.

For the first time, Vincent was exposed to the paintings of the Impressionists (particularly Monet) and met artists such as Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Emile Bernard, and Pissarro. Compared to his previous work, which was dominated by dark earth tones typical of northern European painters such as Rembrandt, this painting shows the influence of these artists on him.

The colors he used have lightened and brightened, and his brushwork has become looser and more apparent. Look at these details from the painting, and you'll see how he's used small strokes of pure color, set apart. He's not blending colors on the canvas but allowing this to happen in the eye of the viewer. He's trying out the broken color approach of the Impressionists.

Compared to his later paintings, the strips of color are spaced apart, with a neutral background showing between them. He's not yet covering the entire canvas with saturated color, nor exploiting possibilities of using brushes to create texture in the paint itself.

The Restaurant de la Sirene, at Asnieres by Vincent van Gogh (Detail)

Vincent van Gogh (Ashmolean Museum)
Details from "The Restaurant de la Sirene, at Asnieres" by Vincent van Gogh (oil on canvas, Ashmolean Museum). Marion Boddy-Evans (2007) / Licensed to About.com, Inc.

These details from Van Gogh's painting The Restaurant de la Sirene, at Asnieres (in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum), show how he experimented with his brushwork and brushmarks after exposure to the paintings of the Impressionists and other contemporary Parisian artists.

"Four Dancers" - Edgar Degas

"Four Dancers" - Edgar Degas
MikeandKim / Flickr

Edgar Degas, Four Dancers, c. 1899. Oil on canvas. Size 59 1/2 x 71 inches (151.1 x 180.2 cm). In the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

"Portrait of the Artist's Mother" - Whistler

Painting of Whistler's Mother
"Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, Portrait of the Artist's Mother" by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). 1871. 144.3x162.5cm. Oil on canvas. In the collection of the Musee d'Orsay, Paris. Bill Pugliano / Getty Images / Musee d'Orsay / Paris / France

This is possibly Whistler's most famous painting. Its full title is "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1, Portrait of the Artist's Mother". His mother agreed to pose for the painting when the model Whistler had been using fell ill. He initially asked her to pose standing, but as you can see he gave in and let her sit down.

On the wall is an etching by Whistler, "Black Lion Wharf." If you look very carefully on the curtain to the top left of the etching's frame, you'll see a lighter smudge, that's the butterfly symbol Whistler used to sign his paintings. The symbol wasn't always the same, but it changed, and its shape is used to date his artwork. It's known he'd started using it by 1869.

"Hope II" - Gustav Klimt

"Hope II" - Gustav Klimt
"Hope II" - Gustav Klimt. Jessica Jeanne / Flickr
​"Whoever wants to know something about me -- as an artist, the only notable thing -- ought to look carefully at my pictures and try to see in them what I am and what I want to do." Klimt

Gustav Klimt painted Hope II on canvas in 1907/8 using oil paints, gold, and platinum. It's 43.5x43.5" (110.5 x 110.5 cm) in size. The painting is part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Hope II is a beautiful example of Klimt's use of gold leaf in paintings and his rich ornamental style. Look at the way he's painted the garment worn by the main figure, how it's an abstracted shape decorated with circles yet we still 'read' it as a cloak or dress. How at the bottom it melds into the three other faces.

In his illustrated biography of Klimt, art critic Frank Whitford said:

Klimt "applied real gold and silver leaf in order to heighten still further the impression that the painting is a precious object, not remotely a mirror in which nature can be glimpsed but a carefully wrought artefact." 2

It's a symbolism that's still considered valid nowadays given that gold is still regarded as a valuable commodity.

Klimt lived in Vienna in Austria and drew his inspiration more from the East than the West, from "such sources as Byzantine art, Mycenean metalwork, Persian rugs and miniatures, the mosaics of the Ravenna churches, and Japanese screens." 3

1. Artists in Context: Gustav Klimt by Frank Whitford (Collins & Brown, London, 1993), back cover.
2. Ibid. p82.
3. MoMA Highlights (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2004), p. 54

Picasso's Signature

Picasso's Signature
Picasso's signature on his 1903 painting "Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto" (or "The Absinthe Drinker"). Oli Scarff / Getty Images

This is the signature of Picasso on his 1903 painting (from his Blue Period) titled "The Absinthe Drinker."

Picasso experimented with various shortened versions of his name as his painting signature, including circled initials, before setting on "Pablo Picasso." Today we generally hear him referred to as simply "Picasso."

His full name was: Pablo, Digo, Jose, Francisco de Paula, Juan Nepomuceno, Maria de los Remedios, Cipriano, de la Santisima Trinidad, Ruiz Picasso1.

1. "A Sum of Destructions: Picasso's Cultures and the Creation of Cubism," by Natasha Staller. Yale University Press. Page p209.

"The Absinthe Drinker" - Picasso

"The Absinthe Drinker" - Picasso
Picasso's 1903 painting "Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto" (or "The Absinthe Drinker"). Oli Scarff / Getty Images

This painting was created by Picasso in 1903, during his Blue Period (a time when tones of blue dominated Picasso's paintings; when he was in his twenties). It features the artist Angel Fernandez de Soto, who was more enthusiastic about partying and drinking than his painting1, and who shared a studio with Picasso in Barcelona on two occasions.

The painting was put up for auction in June 2010 by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation after an out-of-court settlement had been reached in the USA on ownership, following a claim by descendants of the German-Jewish banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy that the painting had been under duress in the 1930s during the Nazi regime in Germany.

1. Christie's auction house press release, "Christie's to Offer Picasso Masterpiece," 17 March 2010.

"The Tragedy" - Picasso

"The Tragedy" - Picasso
"The Tragedy" - Picasso. MikeandKim / Flickr

Pablo Picasso, The Tragedy, 1903. Oil on wood. Size 41 7/16 x 27 3/16 inches (105.3 x 69 cm). In the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

It's from his Blue Period, when his paintings were, as the name suggests, all dominated by blues.

Sketch by Picasso for his Famous "Guernica" Painting

Picasso Sketch for His Painting Guernica
Picasso's sketch for his painting "Guernica.". Gotor / Cover / Getty Images

While planning and working on his enormous painting Guernica, Picasso did many sketches and studies. The photo shows one of his composition sketches, which by itself it doesn't look like much, a collection of scribbled lines.

Instead of trying to decipher what the various things might be and where it is in the final painting, think of it as Picasso shorthand. Simple mark making for images he held in his mind. Focus on the how he's using this to decide where to place elements in the painting, on the interaction between these elements.

"Guernica" - Picasso

"Guernica" - Picasso
"Guernica" - Picasso. Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

This famous painting by Picasso is enormous: 11 feet 6 inches high and 25 feet 8 inches wide (3,5 x 7,76 meters). Picasso painted it on commission for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 World Fair in Paris. It's in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain.

"Portrait de Mr Minguell" - Picasso

Picasso Portrait Painting of Minguell From 1901
"Portrait de Mr Minguell" by Pablo Picasso (1901). Oil paint on paper laid on canvas. Size: 52x31.5cm (20 1/2 x 12 3/8in). Oli Scarff / Getty Images

Picasso did this portrait painting in 1901 when he was 20. The subject a Catalan tailor, Mr. Minguell, who it is believed Picasso was introduced to by his art dealer and friend Pedro Manach1. The style shows the training Picasso had in traditional painting, and how far his painting style developed during his career. That it's painted on paper is a sign that it was done at a time when Picasso was broke, not yet earning enough money from his art to paint on canvas.

Picasso gave Minguell the painting as a gift, but later bought it back and still had it when he died in 1973. The painting was put on canvas and likely also restored under Picasso's guidance " sometime before 1969"2, when it was photographed for a book by Christian Zervos on Picasso.

Next time you're in one of those dinner-party arguments about how all non-realist painters only paint abstract, cubist, fauvist, impressionist, choose your style because they can't make "real paintings," ask the person if they put Picasso in this category (most do), then mention this painting.

1 & 2. Bonhams Sale 17802 Lot Details Impressionist and Modern Art Sale 22 June 2010. (Accessed 3 June 2010.)

"Dora Maar" or "Tête De Femme" - Picasso

"Dora Maar" or "Tête De Femme" - Picasso
"Dora Maar" or "Tête De Femme" - Picasso. Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

When sold at auction in June 2008, this painting by Picasso was sold for £7,881,250 (US$15,509,512). The auction estimate had been three to five million pounds.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon - Picasso

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon - Picasso
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Pablo Picasso, 1907. Oil on canvas, 8 x7' 8" (244 x 234 cm). Museum of Modern Art (Moma) New York. Davina DeVries / Flickr 

This enormous painting (nearly eight square feet) by Picasso is heralded as the one of the most important pieces of modern art ever created, if not the most important, a crucial painting in the development of modern art. The painting depicts five women -- prostitutes in a brothel -- but there's much debate about what it all means and all the references and influences in it.

Art critic Jonathan Jones1 says: ​

"What struck Picasso about African masks [evident in the faces of the figures on the right] was the most obvious thing: that they disguise you, turn you into something else - an animal, a demon, a god. Modernism is an art that wears a mask. It does not say what it means; it is not a window but a wall. Picasso picked his subject matter precisely because it was a cliche: he wanted to show that originality in art does not lie in narrative, or morality, but in formal invention. This is why it's misguided to see Les Demoiselles d'Avignon as a painting 'about' brothels, prostitutes or colonialism."

1. Pablo's Punks by Jonathan Jones, The Guardian, 9 January 2007.

"Woman with a Guitar" - Georges Braque

"Woman with a Guitar" - Georges Braque
"Woman with a Guitar" - Georges Braque. Independentman / Flickr

Georges Braque, Woman with a Guitar, 1913. Oil and charcoal on canvas. 51 1/4 x 28 3/4 inches (130 x 73 cm). In the Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

The Red Studio - Henri Matisse

The Red Studio - Henri Matisse
The Red Studio - Henri Matisse. Liane / Lil'bear / Flickr

This painting is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (Moma) in New York. It shows the interior of Matisse's painting studio, with flattened perspective or a single picture plane. The walls of his studio weren't actually red, they were white; he used red in his painting for effect.

On display in his studio are various of his artworks and bits of studio furniture. The outlines of the furniture in his studio are lines in the paint revealing color from a lower, yellow and blue layer, not painted on top of the red.

1. "Angled lines suggest depth, and the blue-green light of the window intensifies the sense of interior space, but the expanse of red flattens the image. Matisse heightens this effect by, for example, omitting the vertical line of the corner of the room."
-- MoMA Highlights, published by Moma, 2004, page 77.
2. "All the elements... sink their individual identities in what became a prolonged meditation on art and life, space, time, perception and the nature of reality itself... a crossroad for Western painting, where the classic outward-looking, predominantly representational art of the past met the provisional, internalised and self-referential ethos of the future..."
- Hilary Spurling, , page 81.

The Dance - Henri Matisse

Matisse dancer paintings
Gallery of Famous Paintings by Famous Artists "The Dance" by Henri Matisse (top) and the oil sketch he did for it (bottom). Photos © Cate Gillon (top) and Sean Gallup (bottom) / Getty Images

The top photo shows Matisse's finished painting titled The Dance, completed in 1910 and now in the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia. The bottom photo shows the full-size, compositional study he made for the painting, now in MOMA in New York, USA. Matisse painted it on commission from the Russian art collector Sergei Shchukin.

It's a huge painting, nearly four meters wide and two-and-a-half-meters tall (12' 9 1/2" x 8' 6 1/2"), and is painted with a palette limited to three colors: red, green, and blue. I think it's a painting that shows why Matisse has such a reputation as a colorist, particularly when you compare the study to the final painting with its glowing figures.

In her biography of Matisse (on page 30), Hilary Spurling says:

"Those who saw the first version of Dance described it as pale, delicate, even dreamlike, painted in colours that were heightened... in the second version into a fierce, flat frieze of vermilion figures vibrating against bands of bright green and sky. Contemporaries saw the painting as pagan and Dionysian."

Note the flattened perspective, how the figures are the same size rather than the ones further away from being smaller as would occur in perspective or foreshortening for representational paintings. How the line between the blue and green behind the figures is curved, echoing the circle of figures.

"The surface was coloured to saturation, to the point where blue, the idea of absolute blue, was conclusively present. A bright green for the earth and a vibrant vermilion for the bodies. With these three colours I had my harmony of light and also purity of tone." -- Matisse

"Introduction to the From Russian exhibition for teachers and students" by Greg Harris, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2008.  

Famous Painters: Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning painting in his studio in Easthampton, Long Island, New York, in 1967. Ben Van Meerondonk / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The painter Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam in the Netherlands on 24 August 1904, and died in Long Island, New York, on 19 March 1997. De Kooning was apprenticed to commercial art and decorating firm when he was 12 and attended evening classes at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques for eight years. He emigrated to the USA in 1926 and began painting full time in 1936.

De Kooning's painting style was Abstract Expressionism. He had his first solo exhibition at the Charles Egan Gallery in New York in 1948, with a body of work in black-and-white enamel paint. (He started using enamel paint as he couldn't afford artist's pigments.) By the 1950s he was recognized as one of the leaders of Abstract Expressionism, though some purists of the style thought his paintings (such as his Woman series) included include too much of the human form.

His paintings contain many layers, elements overlapped and hidden as he reworked and reworked a painting. Changes are allowed to show. He drew on his canvases in charcoal extensively, for the initial composition and while painting. His brushwork is gestural, expressive, wild, with a sense of energy behind the strokes. The final paintings glance done but weren't.

De Kooning's artistic output spanned nearly seven decades and included paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints. His final paintings Source in the late 1980s. His most famous paintings are Pink Angels (c. 1945), Excavation (1950), and his third Woman series (1950–53) done in a more painterly style and improvisational approach. In the 1940s he worked simultaneously in abstract and representational styles. His breakthrough came with his black-and-white abstract compositions of 1948–49. In the mid-1950s he painted the urban abstractions, returning to figuration in the 1960s, then to the large gestural abstractions in the 1970s. In the 1980s, de Kooning changed to working on smooth surfaces, glazing with bright, transparent colors over fragments of gestural drawings.

American Gothic - Grant Wood

American Gothic - Grant Wood
Curator Jane Milosch at the Smithsonian American Art Museum alongside the famous painting by Grant Wood called "American Gothic". Size of painting: 78x65 cm (30 3/4 x 25 3/4 in). Oil paint on Beaver Board. Shealah Craighead / White House / Getty Images

American Gothic is probably the most famous of all the paintings American artist Grant Wood ever created. It is now in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Grant Wood painted "American Gothic" in 1930. It depicts a man and his daughter (not his wife1) standing in front of their house. Grant saw the building which inspired the painting in Eldon, Iowa. The architectural style is American Gothic, which is where the painting gets its title. The models for the painting were Wood's sister and their dentist.2. The painting is signed on near the bottom edge, on the man's overalls, with the artist's name and the year (Grant Wood 1930).

What does the painting mean? Wood intended it to be a dignified rendering of the character of Midwestern Americans, showing their Puritan ethics. But it could be regarded as a comment (satire) on the intolerance of rural populations to outsiders. The symbolism in the painting includes hard labor (the pitchfork) and domesticity (flower pots and colonial-print apron). If you look closely, you'll see the three prongs of the pitchfork echoed in the stitching on the man's overalls, continuing up the stripes on his shirt.

American Gothic, Art Institute of Chicago, retrieved 23 March 2011.

"Christ of St John of The Cross" - Salvador Dali

Christ of St John of The Cross by Salvador Dali, collection of Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow.
Christ of St John of The Cross by Salvador Dali, collection of Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow. Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

This painting by Salvador Dali is in the collection of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland. It first went on show at the gallery on 23 June 1952. The painting was bought for £8,200, which was regarded as a high price even though it included the copyright which has enabled the gallery to earn reproduction fees (and sell countless postcards!).

It was unusual for Dali to sell the copyright to a painting, but he needed the money. (Copyright remains with the artist unless it's signed over, see Artist's Copyright FAQ.)

"Apparently in financial difficulties, Dali initially asked for £12,000 but after some hard bargaining ... he sold it for nearly a third less and signed a letter to the city [of Glasgow] in 1952 ceding copyright.

The title of the painting is a reference to the drawing that inspired Dali. The pen and ink drawing was done after a vision Saint John of the Cross (a Spanish Carmelite friar, 1542–1591) had in which he saw the crucifixion of Christ as if he were looking at it from above. The composition is striking for its unusual viewpoint of the crucifixion of Christ, the lighting is dramatic throwing strong shadows, and great use made of foreshortening in the figure. The landscape at the bottom of the painting is the harbor of Dali's hometown, Port Lligat in Spain.
The painting has been controversial in many ways: the amount that was paid for it; the subject matter; the style (which appeared retro rather than modern). Read more about the painting on the gallery's website.

"Surreal Case of the Dali Images and a Battle Over Artistic License" by Severin Carrell, The Guardian, 27 January 2009

Campbell's Soup Cans - Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol's Soup Tin Paintings
Andy Warhol's Soup Tin Paintings. © Tjeerd Wiersma / Flickr

Detail from Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup Cans. Acrylic on canvas. 32 paintings each 20x16" (50.8x40.6cm). In the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

Warhol first exhibited his series of Campbell's soup can paintings in 1962, with the bottom of each painting resting on a shelf like a can would in a supermarket. There are 32 paintings in the series, the number of varieties of soup sold at the time by Campbell's.

If you'd imagined Warhol stocking his pantry with cans of soup, then eating a can as he'd finished painting, well it seems not. According to Moma's website, Warhol used a product list from Campbell's to assign a different flavor to each painting.

When asked about it, Warhol said:

"I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for twenty years, I guess, the same thing over and over again."1

Warhol also apparently didn't have an order he wanted the paintings displayed in. Moma displays the paintings "in rows that reflect the chronological order in which [the soups] were introduced, beginning with 'Tomato' in the upper left, which debuted in 1897."

So if you paint a series and want them displayed in a particular order, make sure you make a note of this somewhere. The back edge of the canvases is probably the best as then it'll not get separated from the painting (though it may get hidden if the paintings are framed).

Warhol is an artist who often gets mentioned by painters wanting to make derivative works. Two things are worth noting before doing similar things:

  1. On Moma's website, there's an indication of a license from Campbell's Soup Co (i.e., a licensing agreement between the soup company and the artist's estate).
  2. Copyright enforcement seems to have been less of an issue in Warhol's day. Don't make copyright assumptions based on Warhol's work. Do your research and decide what your level of concern is about a possible copyright violation case.

Campbell did not commission Warhol to do the paintings (though they did subsequently commission one for a retiring board chairman in 1964) and had concerns when the brand appeared in Warhol's paintings in 1962, adopting a wait-and-see approach to judge what the response was to the paintings. In 2004, 2006, and 2012 Campbell's sold tins with special Warhol commemorative labels.

1. As quoted on Moma, accessed 31 August 2012.

Bigger Trees Near Warter - David Hockney

David Hockney Bigger Trees Near Warter
David Hockney Bigger Trees Near Warter. Top: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images.Bottom: Photo by Bruno Vincent / Getty Images

Top: Artist David Hockney standing alongside part of his oil painting "Bigger Trees Near Warter", which he donated to the Tate Britain in April 2008.

Bottom: The painting was first exhibited in the 2007 Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, taking up on entire wall.

David Hockney's oil painting "Bigger Trees Near Warter" (also called Peinture en Plein Air pour l'age Post-Photographique) depicts a scene near Bridlington in Yorkshire. The painting made from 50 canvases arranged alongside one another. Added together, the overall size of the painting is 40x15 feet (4.6x12 meters).

At the time Hockney painted it, it was the largest piece he'd ever completed, though not the first he'd created using multiple canvases.

" I did this because I realized I could do it without a ladder. When you are painting you need to be able to step back. Well, there are artists who have been killed stepping back from ladders, aren't there?"
-- Hockney quoted in a Reuter news report, 7 April 2008.

Hockney used drawings and a computer to help with the composition and painting. After a section was completed, a photo was taken so he could see the whole painting on computer.

"First, Hockney sketched a grid showing how the scene would fit together over 50 panels. Then he began to work on individual panels in situ. As he worked on them, they were photographed and made into a computer mosaic so that he could chart his progress, since he could have only six panels on the wall at any one time."

Charlotte Higgins, Guardian arts correspondent, Hockney donates huge work to Tate, 7 April 2008.

Henry Moore's War Paintings

Henry Moore War Painting
Tube Shelter Perspective Liverpool Street Extension by Henry Moore 1941. Ink, watercolor, wax, and pencil on paper. Tate © Reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation

The Henry Moore Exhibition at the Tate Britain Gallery in London ran from 24 February to 8 August 2010. 

The British artist Henry Moore is most famous for his sculptures, but also known for his ink, wax, and watercolor paintings of people sheltering in London's Underground stations during the Second World War. Moore was an Official War Artist, and the 2010 Henry Moore Exhibition at the Tate Britain Gallery has a room devoted to these. Made between the autumn of 1940 and the summer of 1941, his depictions of sleeping figures huddled in the train tunnels captured a sense of anguish that transformed his reputation and influenced the popular perception of the Blitz. His work of the 1950s reflected the aftermath of war and the prospect of further conflict.

Moore was born in Yorkshire and studied at Leeds School of Art in 1919, after serving in the First World War. In 1921 he won a scholarship to the Royal College in London. He later taught at the Royal College as well as the Chelsea School of Art. From 1940 Moore lived at Perry Green in Hertfordshire, now home to the Henry Moore Foundation. At the 1948 Venice Biennale, Moore won the International Sculpture Award.

"Frank" - Chuck Close

"Frank" - Chuck Close
"Frank" - Chuck Close. Tim Wilson / Flickr

"Frank" by Chuck Close, 1969. Acrylic on canvas. Size 108 x 84 x 3 inches (274.3 x 213.4 x 7.6 cm). In the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Lucian Freud Self-Portrait and Photo Portrait

Lucian Freud Self Portrait Painting
Left: "Self-Portrait: Reflection" by Lucian Freud (2002) 26x20" (66x50.8cm). Oil on Canvas. Right: Photo portrait taken December 2007. Scott Wintrow / Getty Images

The artist Lucian Freud is renowned for his intense, unforgiving gaze but as this self-portrait shows, he turns it on himself, not just his models.

1. "I think a great portrait has to do with ... the feeling and individuality and the intensity of the regard and the focus on the specific." 1
2. "...you've got to try to paint yourself as another person. With self-portraits 'likeness' becomes a different thing. I have to do what I feel without be an expressionist." 2

1. Lucian Freud, quoted in Freud at Work p32-3. 2. Lucian Freud quoted in Lucian Freud by William Feaver (Tate Publishing, London 2002), p43.

"The Father Of Mona Lisa" - Man Ray

"The Father Of Mona Lisa" by Man Ray
"The Father Of Mona Lisa" by Man Ray. Neologism / Flickr

"The Father Of Mona Lisa" by Man Ray, 1967. Reproduction of drawing mounted on fiberboard, with cigar added. Size 18 x 13 5/8 x 2 5/8 inches (45.7 x 34.6 x 6.7 cm). In the collection of the Hirshorn Museum.

Many people associate Man Ray only with photography, but he was also an artist and painter. He was friends with the artist Marcel Duchamp and worked in collaboration with him.

In May 1999, Art News magazine included Man Ray in their list of the 25 most influential artists of the 20th century, for his photography and "explorations of film, painting, sculpture, collage, assemblage. These prototypes would eventually be called performance art and conceptual art." 

Art News said: 

"Man Ray offered artists in all media an example of creative intelligence that, in its 'pursuit of pleasure and liberty' [ Man Ray's stated guiding principles] unlocked every door it came to and walked freely where it would."(Quote Source: Art News, May 1999, "Willful Provocateur" by AD Coleman.)

This piece, "The Father of Mona Lisa", shows how a relatively simple idea can be effective. The hard part is coming up with the idea in the first place; sometimes they come as a flash of inspiration; sometimes as part of brainstorming of ideas; sometimes by developing and pursuing a concept or thought.

Famous Painters: Yves Klein

Yves Klein
 Charles Wilp / Smithsonian Institution / Hirshhorn Museum

Retrospective: Yves Klein Exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, USA, from 20 May 2010 to 12 September 2010.

The artist Yves Klein is probably most famous for his monochromatic artworks featuring his special blue (see "Living Paintbrush" for instance). IKB or International Klein Blue is an ultramarine blue he formulated.

Calling himself "the painter of space," Klein "sought to achieve immaterial spirituality through pure color" and concerned himself with the "contemporary notions of the conceptual nature of art"1.

Klein had a relatively short career, less than ten years. His first public work was an artist's book Yves Peintures ("Yves Paintings"), published in 1954. His first public exhibition was in 1955. He died from a heart attack in 1962, aged 34. (Timeline of Klein's Life from the Yves Klein Archives.)

1. Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, Hirshhorn Museum, http://hirshhorn.si.edu/exhibitions/view.asp?key=21&subkey=252, accessed 13 May 2010.

"Living Paintbrush" - Yves Klein

"Living Paintbrush" - Yves Klein
Untitled (ANT154) by Yves Klein. Pigment and synthetic resin on paper, on canvas. 102x70in (259x178cm). In the Collection of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). David Marwick / Flickr

This painting by the French artist Yves Klein (1928-1962) is one of the series he did use "living paintbrushes." He covered nude women models with his signature blue paint (International Klein Blue, IKB) and then in a piece of performance art in front of an audience "painted" with them on large sheets of paper by directing them verbally.

The title "ANT154" is derived from a comment made by an art critic, Pierre Restany, describing the paintings produced as "anthropometries of the blue period." Klein used the acronym ANT as a series title.

Black Painting - Ad Reinhardt

Ad Reinhardt's Black Painting
Ad Reinhardt's Black Painting. Amy Sia / Flickr
"There is something wrong, irresponsible and mindless about color; something impossible to control. Control and rationality are part of my morality." -- Ad Reinhard in 1960 1

This monochrome painting by American artist Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967) is in the Museum of Modern Art (Moma) in New York. It's 60x60" (152.4x152.4cm), oil on canvas, and was painted 1960-61. For the last decade and a bit of his life (he died in 1967), Reinhardt used just black in his paintings.

Amy Sia, who took the photo, says the usher is pointing out how the painting is split up into nine squares, each a different shade of black.

Don't worry if you can't see it in the photo. It's hard to see even when you're in front of the painting. In her essay on Reinhardt for the Guggenheim, Nancy Spector describes Reinhardt's canvases as "muted black squares containing barely discernible cruciform shapes [that] challenge the limits of visibility" 2.

1. Colour in Art by John Gage, p205
2. Reinhardt by Nancy Spector, Guggenheim Museum (Accessed 5 August 2013)

John Virtue's London Painting

John Virtue's Painting
White acrylic paint, black ink, and shellac on canvas. In the collection of the National Gallery in London. Jacob Appelbaum / Flickr

The British artist John Virtue has painted abstracted landscapes with just black and white since 1978. On a DVD produced by the London National Gallery, Virtue says working in black and white forces him "to be inventive … to reinvent." Eschewing color "deepens my sense of what color there is … The sense of the actually of what I see … is best and more accurately and more conveyed by not having a palette of oil paint. The color would be a cul de sac."

This is one of John Virtue's London paintings, done while he was an associate artist at the National Gallery (from 2003 to 2005). The National Gallery's website describes Virtue's paintings as having "affinities with oriental brush-painting and American abstract expressionism" and relating closely to "the great English landscape painters, Turner and Constable, whom Virtue admires enormously" as well as being influenced by the " Dutch and Flemish landscapes of Ruisdael, Koninck and Rubens".

Virtue doesn't give titles to his paintings, just numbers. In an interview in the April 2005 issue of Artist's and Illustrators magazine, Virtue says he began to number his work chronologically back in 1978 when he started to work in monochrome:

"There's no hierarchy. It doesn't matter whether it's 28 feet or three inches. It's a non-verbal diary of my existence."

His paintings are merely called "Landscape No.45" or "Landscape No.630" and so on.

The Art Bin - Michael Landy

Michael Landy Art Bin Exhibition at South London Gallery
Photos of exhibitions and famous paintings to expand your art knowledge. Photos from "The Art Bin" an exhibition by Michael Landy at the South London Gallery. Top: Standing next to the bin really gives a sense of scale. Bottom left: Part of the art in the bin. Bottom right: A heavy framed painting about to become trash. Photo © 2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

The Art Bin exhibition by artist Michael Landy took place at the South London Gallery from 29 January to 14 March 2010. The concept is an enormous (600m3) waste-bin built into the gallery space, in which art is thrown away, "a monument to creative failure"1.

But not just any old art; you had to apply to throw your art into the bin, either online or at the gallery, with Michael Landy or one of his representatives deciding whether it could be included or not. If accepted, it was thrown into the bin from a tower at the one end.

When I was at the exhibition, several pieces were thrown in, and the person doing the tossing had had lots of practice from the way he was able to make one painting glide right to the other side of the container.

The art interpretation heads down the path of when/why art is regarded as good (or rubbish), the subjectivity in the value attributed to art, the act of art collecting, the power of art collectors and galleries to make or break artist's careers.

It was certainly interesting to walk along the sides looking at what had been thrown in, what had broken (lots of polystyrene pieces), and what hadn't (most paintings on canvas were whole). Somewhere at the bottom, there was a large skull print decorated with glass by Damien Hirst and a piece by Tracey Emin. Ultimately, what could be would be recycled (for example paper and canvas stretchers) and the rest destined to go to landfill. Buried as rubbish, unlikely to be dug up centuries from now by an archaeologist.

1&2. #Michael Landy: Art Bin (http://www.southlondongallery.org/docs/exh/exhibition.jsp?id=164), South London Gallery website, accessed 13 March 2010.

Barack Obama - Shepard Fairey

Barack Obama - Shepard Fairey
"Barack Obama" by Shepard Fairey (2008). Stencil, collage, and acrylic on paper. 60x44 inches.National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC. Gift of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection in honor of Mary K Podesta. Shepard Fairey / ObeyGiant.com

This painting of US politican Barack Obama, mixed-media stenciled collage, was created by Los Angeles-based street artist, Shepard Fairey. It was the central portrait image used in Obama's 2008 presidential election campaign, and distributed as a limited-edition print and free download. It is now in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.

1. "To create his Obama poster (which he did in less than a week), Fairey grabbed a news photograph of the candidate off the Internet. He sought an Obama that looked presidential. ... The artist then simplified the lines and geometry, employing a red, white and blue patriotic palette (which he plays with by making the white a beige and the blue a pastel shade)... boldface words...
2. "His Obama posters (and lots of his commercial and fine art work) are reworkings of the techniques of revolutionary propagandists -- the bright colors, bold lettering, geometric simplicity, heroic poses."

Source: ​
"Obama's On-the-Wall Endorsement" by William Booth, Washington Post 18 May 2008. 

"Requiem, White Roses and Butterflies" - Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst No Love Lost Oil Paintings at the Wallace Collection
"Requiem, White Roses and Butterflies" by Damien Hirst (2008). 1500 x 2300 mm. Oil on canvas. Courtesy Damien Hirst and The Wallace Collection. Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd / Damien Hirst

British artist Damien Hirst is most famous for his animals preserved in formaldehyde, but in his early 40s returned to oil painting. In October 2009 he exhibited paintings created between 2006 to 2008 for the first time in London. This an example of a not-yet-famous painting by a famous artist comes from his exhibition at the Wallace Collection in London entitled "No Love Lost." (Dates: 12 October 2009 to 24 January 2010.)

BBC News quoted Hirst as saying 

"He is now solely painting by hand", that for two years his "paintings were embarrassing and I didn't want anyone to come in." and that he "had to re-learn to paint for the first time since he was a teenage art student."1

The press release accompanying the Wallace exhibition said: 

"'Blue Paintings' bear witness to a bold new direction in his work; a series of paintings that, in the artist’s words are 'deeply connected to the past.'"

Putting paint on canvas is certainly a new direction for Hirst and, where Hirst goes, art students are likely to follow. Oil painting could become trendy again.

About.com's Guide to London Travel, Laura Porter, went to the press preview of Hirst's exhibition and got an answer to the one question I was keen to know: What blue pigments was he using?

Laura was told it was "Prussian blue for all except one of the 25 paintings, which is black." No wonder it's such a dark, smoldering blue!

Art critic Adrian Searle of The Guardian wasn't very favorable about Hirst's paintings:

"At its worst, Hirst's drawing just looks amateurish and adolescent. His brushwork lacks that oomph and panache that makes you believe in the painter's lies. He can't yet carry it off."2

1 Hirst 'Gives Up Pickled Animals', BBC News, 1 October 2009
2. "Damien Hirst's Paintings are Deadly Dull," Adrian Searle, Guardian, 14 October 2009.

Famous Artists: Antony Gormley

Famous Artists Antony Gormley, creator of the Angel of the North
Artist Antony Gormley (in the foreground) at the first day of his Fourth Plinth installation artwork in Trafalgar Square in London. Jim Dyson / Getty Images

Antony Gormley is a British artist perhaps most famous for his sculpture Angel of the North, unveiled in 1998. It stands in Tyneside, northeast England, on a site that was once a colliery, welcoming you with its 54-meter wide wings.

In July 2009 Gormley's installation artwork on the Fourth Plinth on Trafalgar Square in London saw a volunteer standing for an hour on the plinth, 24 hours a day, for 100 days. Unlike the other plinths on Trafalgar Square, the fourth plinth directly outside the National Gallery, doesn't have a permanent statue on it. Some of the participants were artists themselves, and sketched their unusual viewpoint (photo).

Antony Gormley was born in 1950, in London. He studied in various colleges in the UK and Buddhism in to India and Sri Lanka, before focusing on sculpture at the Slade School of Art in London between 1977 and 1979. His first solo exhibition was at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1981. In 1994 Gormley won the Turner Prize with his "Field for the British Isles".

His biography on his website says:

...Antony Gormley has revitalised the human image in sculpture through a radical investigation of the body as a place of memory and transformation, using his own body as subject, tool and material. Since 1990 he has expanded his concern with the human condition to explore the collective body and the relationship between self and other in large-scale installations ...

Gormley isn't creating the type of figure he does because he can't do traditional-style statues. Rather he takes pleasure from the difference and the ability they give us to interpret them. In an interview with The Times 1, he said:

"Traditional statues are not about potential, but about something that’s already complete. They have a moral authority that is oppressive rather than collaborative. My works acknowledge their emptiness."

Antony Gormley, the Man Who Broke the Mould by John-Paul Flintoff, The Times, 2 March 2008.

Famous Contemporary British Painters

Contemporary Painters
Contemporary Painters. Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

From left to right, artists Bob and Roberta Smith, Bill Woodrow, Paula Rego, Michael Craig-Martin, Maggi Hambling, Brian Clarke, Cathy de Moncheaux, Tom Phillips, Ben Johnson, Tom Hunter, Peter Blake, and Alison Watt.

The occasion was a viewing of the painting Diana and Actaeon by Titian (unseen, off to the left) at the National Gallery in London, with the aim of raising funds to buy the painting for the gallery.

Famous Artists: Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock

Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock
Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock in east Hampton, ca. 1946. Photo 10x7 cm. Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner papers, ca. 1905-1984. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Ronald Stein / Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner Papers

Of these two painters, Jackson Pollock is more famous than Lee Krasner, but without her support and promotion of his artwork, he may well not have the place in the art timeline he does. Both painted in an abstract expressionist style. Krasner struggled for critical acclaim in her own right, rather than merely being regarded as Pollock's wife. Krasner left a legacy to establish the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, which gives grants to visual artists.

Ladder Easel of Louis Aston Knight

Louis Aston Knight and His Ladder Easel
Louis Aston Knight and his ladder easel. c.1890 (Unidentified photographer. Black-and-white photographic print. Dimensions: 18cmx13cm. Collection: Charles Scribner's Sons Art Reference Department Records, c. 1865-1957). Archives of American Art / Smithsonian Institution

Louis Aston Knight (1873--1948) was a Paris-born American artist known for his landscape paintings. He initially trained under his artist father, Daniel Ridgway Knight. He exhibited at the French Salon for the first time in 1894 and continued to do so throughout his life while also gaining acclaim in America. His painting The Afterglow was purchased in 1922 by the USA President Warren Harding for the White House.

This photo from the Archives of American Art, unfortunately, doesn't give us a location, but you have to think that any artist willing to wade into the water with his easel-ladder and paints was either very dedicated to observing nature or quite the showman.

1897: A Women's Art Class

William Merritt Chase Art Class
A women's art class with instructor William Merritt Chase. Archives of American Art / Smithsonian Institution.

This photo from 1897 from the Archives of American Art shows a women's art class with instructor William Merritt Chase. In that era, men and women attended art classes separately, where, due to the times, women were lucky enough to be able to get an art education at all.

Art Summer School c.1900

Summer Art School in 1900
Summer Art School in 1900. Archives of American Art / Smithsonian Institute

Art students at the St Paul School of Fine Arts' summer classes, Mendota, Minnesota, were photographed in c.1900 with teacher Burt Harwood.

Fashion aside, big sunhats are very practical for painting outdoors as it keeps the sun out of your eyes and stops your face getting sunburnt (as does a long-sleeved top).

"Nelson's Ship in a Bottle" - Yinka Shonibar

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square - Yinka Shonibar
Nelson's Ship in a Bottle on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square by Yinka Shonibar. Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Sometimes it's an artwork's scale that gives it dramatic impact, far more than the subject. "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle" by Yinka Shonibar is such a piece.

"Nelson's Ship in a Bottle" by Yinka Shonibar is a ship of 2.35 meters tall inside an even taller bottle. It's a 1:29 scale replica of Vice Admiral Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory.

"Nelson's Ship in a Bottle" appeared on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square in London on 24 May 2010. The Fourth Plinth stood empty from 1841 until 1999, when the first of an ongoing series of contemporary artworks, commissioned specifically for the plinth by the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group.

The artwork before "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle" was One & Other by Antony Gormley, in which a different person stood on the plinth for an hour, around the clock, for 100 days.

From 2005 to 2007 you could see a sculpture by Marc Quinn, Alison Lapper Pregnant, and from November 2007 it was Model for a Hotel 2007 by Thomas Schutte.

The batik designs on the sails of "Nelson's Ship in a Bottle" were handprinted by the artist on canvas, inspired by cloth from Africa and the history thereof. The bottle is 5x2.8 meters, made from perspex not glass, and the bottle opening large enough to climb inside to construct the ship.

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Boddy-Evans, Marion. "54 Famous Paintings Made by Famous Artists." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/photo-gallery-of-famous-paintings-by-famous-artists-4126829. Boddy-Evans, Marion. (2023, April 5). 54 Famous Paintings Made by Famous Artists. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/photo-gallery-of-famous-paintings-by-famous-artists-4126829 Boddy-Evans, Marion. "54 Famous Paintings Made by Famous Artists." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/photo-gallery-of-famous-paintings-by-famous-artists-4126829 (accessed June 2, 2023).