Monday, 2 November 2015


Frequent readers will know that this blog is named after my signature class is called "Paint a Masterpiece". It is totally acceptable, in fact, it is encouraged by Art Schools to copy famous works of art in order to learn composition and technique. In designing my first class I knew that this was the best way to encourage students to overcome their fear of the white canvas.

My classes have a fair smattering of novices, but also include artists that have no or very little experience with acrylics. First we select the painting by a vote and then I teach how to choose a base, prepare it and create a unique version of a famous painting. In six hours every student takes home their own amazing work of art, varnished and framed, which is ready to hang.

Because of this class I often paint small versions of masterpieces. Last year I even created a series of 4" x 4" miniatures of famous paintings. However, I would really like to paint a series of larger masterpieces and that is how I started this research to discover the most famous paintings in the world. What I found is that there is no definitive list. Art cannot be removed from emotion and bias. It seems that every country has it's own take on the most famous, most valuable or most popular artworks in the world, not to mention the personal preferences of the Art Historian compiling the list.

It took me longer than I imagined, to compile my list. Many suggestions go beyond traditional painting with sculptures, buildings, cave paintings, carvings, pottery etc. , but for these purposes I was only interested in traditional painting. Except for indigenous art, the  very idea of painting seems to be largely European. I considered the fairness of including several works of art from one artist, but how do you choose between Sunflowers, Starry Night and Night Cafe? In the end I decided that part of the process was considering the amount of exposure and influence a painting had on my life.

That having been said, my list focuses mainly on European art. There is little representation from Museums that are off the beaten track like my favourite Art Gallery in Sydney, Australia. Neither is there representation from galleries in Asia, Africa or for that matter, Russia. Many traditional lists also don't include the massive effect of modern art in our world but I couldn't agree with that. So bearing in mind the difficulties involved, this is my list of Top 24 most famous and influential paintings in the world.

1. 1665 - The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer - Mauritshuis Gallery, The Hague
2. 1503 - 1519 - Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci - The Louvre, Paris
3. 1508 to 1511 - The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo - Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome
4. 1888 - Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh (Series) - Various Collections
5. 1893 to 1910 - The Scream by Eduard Munsch (Series) - 3 at National Gallery, Oslo
6. 1897 to 1926 - Water Lilies by Claude Monet (over 250 Versions) - Various Collections
7. 1839 - The Fighting Temeraire by John Turner - National Gallery, London
8. 1665 to 1669 Self Portrait with Two Circles by Rembrandt van Rijn - Kenwood House, London
9. 1889 - Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh - MOMA. New York
10. 1949 - Dove of Peace by Picasso - Private Collection
11. 1937 - Guernica by Pablo Picasso - Reina Sofia, Madrid
12. 1821 - The Haywain by John Constable - National Gallery, London
13. 1964 - The Son of Man by Renee Magritte - Private Collection
14. 1931 The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali- MOMA, New York
15. 1888 - Cafe Terrace at Night by Vincent Van Gogh - Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
16. 1902 to 1904 - Mont Sainte Victoire by Paul Cezanne - Philadelphia Museum of Art - 1
17. 1908 - The Kiss by Gustav Klimt - The Belvedere Museum, Vienna

18. 1892 - Nafea Faa Ipoipo by Paul Gaugin - Fondation Beyeler, Riehen,
19. 1952 - Blue Poles (Number 11) Jackson Pollock - National Gallery, Canberra
20. 1871 - Whistlers Mother by James Whistler - Musee D'Orsay, Paris 
21. 1884 - Madame X by John Singer Sargent -  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
22. 1962 - Campbells Soup Can by Andy Warhol - (Series) Various
23. 1963 - Man's Head Self Portrait by Lucien Freud - Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester 
24. 1954. No. 1 by Mark Rothko - Private Collection

What I find most interesting is that 14 of the 24 chosen paintings include figures.What are your top 3 paintings from this selection? Are there any pivotal paintings that you think I've missed? Please leave a comment on this blog.