Personal taste has a lot to do, of course, with what we each think makes a painting great. There are, however, some paintings that have stood the test of time, and are considered today to be among the world's greatest paintings. Here are just a few...
1. The Last Supper (1495) – Leonardo da Vinci
This mural painting, located in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy, was part of a renovation begun in 1495. Although considered to be one of the most recognizable paintings in the Western world, it has not held up well over the centuries. In part, due to degrading materials, environmental corrosion, and even some intentional damage, little of the original remains.
2. The Mona Lisa (1503) – Leonardo da Vinci
Mona Lisa, aka Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, Italian La Gioconda, or French La Joconde, by Leonardo da Vinci. It was painted sometime between 1503 and 1519. Leonardo was living in Florence, and it now hangs in the Louvre Museum, in Paris, where it remains one of the world's most viewed and beloved paintings.
3. The Creation Of Adam (1508) – Michelangelo
Michelangelo’s famous masterpiece, 'The Creation of Adam', on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, was begun in 1508. Up until then, God had always been depicted in an imperial, king-like fashion. Here, Michelangelo depicts God as a simply-clothed, but elderly, muscular man. He reaches out to touch the hand of Adam. This gesture towards Adam, who appears in the image of God, symbolizes God giving birth to the human race. With its compelling, neo-classic geometry, and sheer size, it is a deeply evocative work of art.
4. The Night Watch (1642) – Rembrandt van Rijn.
Completed in 1642, this famous painting of the Dutch Golden Age is remarkable for three important reason. First, is its impressive size, more than 11 by 14 feet. Second, its dramatic contrast of light and dark, called chiasosucro, a dominant Rembrandt trademark. Also notable is Rembrandt's ability to inject a perception of motion in what might otherwise have been depicted, like portraiture, in a typically static manner. Rembrandt's masterpiece can be seen on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
5. Girl With A Pearl Earring (1665) – Johannes Vermeer
In 2006, the Dutch public chose 'Girl With A Pearl Earring' as the most beautiful painting in the Netherlands. This famous painting was completed around 1665 and is on display in the Mauritshuis Gallery in the Hague, The Netherlands.
6. Starry Night (1889) – Vincent van Gogh
This popular Vincent van Gogh classic was painted in 1889. Starry Night is one of the most famous paintings in modern culture. It is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The painting features a symbolic cypress tree yearning towards a night sky filled with exploding stars. Van Gogh's painting breaks with the typical Impressionistic tendency to decipher an underlying reality. With its emphasis on pure emotional impact, Starry Night is the harbinger of the new style to come... Expressionism.
7. Self-Portrait Without Beard (1889) – Vincent van Gogh.
Also painted in 1889, 'Self-portrait Without Beard' was Vincent van Gogh's last self-portrait. A painting awash in melancholy introspection, it was painted during the time of Van Gogh's ending friendship with his friend, Paul Gaugin. It is one of the most expensive paintings of all time, selling for $71.5 million in 1998 at a New York City art auction.
8. The Scream (1893) – Edvard Munch
The most famous work by Edvard Munch, 'The Scream' was painted in 1893. Child-like in its simplicity, the painting is so highly emotionally charged, that it has seared itself in the consciousness of the modern world. The agonized face in the painting has become one of the most iconic images of art, seen as symbolizing the anxiety of modern man. This incredibly unsettling painting is on display at The National Gallery, Oslo, Norway.
9. The Persistence Of Memory (1931) – Salvador Dali
'The Persistence of Memory', painted by Salvador Dali in 1931, is one of the most recognizable paintings of the modern era. This work of art is known to make people ponder life. While the true meaning of this famous painting remains subject to conjecture, it is thought to have been inspired by Einstein’s 'Theory of Relativity'.
10. Guernica (1937) – Pablo Picasso.
Painted as a reaction to the Nazi bombing of this Basque town during the Spanish Civil War, Guernica is perhaps Picasso's most famous painting. Monumental in size, it is also monumental in its emotional impact as a devastating reminder of the tragedies of war. Dispensing with color, this blue, black and white painting stands 11 x 25 feet. While living in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II, a German officer allegedly asked Picasso, upon seeing a photo of the painting, "Did you do that?" Picasso responded, "No, you did." Guernica is on permanent display in Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain.
This is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg of the world's greatest paintings. Visit your local galleries often, and acquaint yourself with the amazing quality works produced by Vancouver's local artists.