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Rembrandt Paintings in the Rijksmuseum

Posted by Susan Benford

Rembrandt paintings are the most famous artwork in (and the indisputable pride of) Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, dedicated to showcasing the best of the Dutch Golden Age. It's fascinating to see which Rembrandt paintings the art museum has chosen to display during its multi-year renovation that restricts exhibition space.  

I think these are four of the most memorable Rembrandt paintings there:

Self Portrait at an Early Age

It's no surprise that Night Watch is shown in this pared down collection, but other Rembrandt paintings were less anticipated, 

rembrandt self portrait 1628 resized 600like Self Portrait at an Early Age.

Completed at about age 22, Rembrandt portrays himself in raking light (light which glances diagonally, producing strong shadow).  Here, only

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait at an Early Age.  Oil on panel, c. 1628.  Approx. 9" by 7.5".  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

his ear lobe and part of his cheek, neck and nose are in the light, producing a highly unconventional portrait.  The crispness and definition of his curly hair were obtained by incising into wet paint, producing three-dimensional locks and exposing the underlying colors.

The same year Rembrandt painted this self-portrait - one of over 50 he'd create in his lifetime - he began teaching students.  One of the first of these was Gerrit Dou, who would become a highly respected Dutch Golden Age painter.

Jeremia Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem

One of the earliest Rembrandt paintings to be deemed a masterpiece, Jeremia is based on the Biblical story in which Jeremia warned his king that Jerusalem would be annihilated if the king didn't acquiesce to his opponents' wishes.  After this grim prophecy went unheeded, the king was blinded and Jerusalem was set on fire.  

rembrandt jeremia


Rembrandt van Rijn. Jeremia Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1630.  Oil on panel, appox. 23" by 18".  Rijksmusem, Amsterdam.

Rembrandt illuminates the grieving Jeremia and surrounding objects in intricate detail. The tufts of fur on Jeremia's robe and his beard hair are individually discernible; the hammered metal shows textured dimples; the floral pattern on his rug is convincingly three-dimensional.  The background in which Jeremia sits is non-descript and hazy. Behind him, one can barely see Jerusalem in flames and the newly-blinded king massaging his eyes. 

Isaac and Rebecca (The Jewish Bride) 

This nondescript background recurs in another of the best known Rembrandt paintings, Isaac and Rebecca, or The Jewish Bride, and produces the same effect -- a heightened focus on the painting's subjects. The thickly applied paint on the couple's clothing brilliantly reflects incoming light, but to me, the brilliance here is the pure tenderness of her hand resting on his. The lightness of her touch is palpable tenderness; the serenity of their faces conveys the captivating power of touching a loved one. 

rembrandt isaac and rebecca resized 600Rembrandt van Rijn. Isaac and Rebecca, c. 1665.  Oil on canvas, approx. 48" by 65 1/2". Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Because 17th century people sometimes opted to have their portraits painted as Biblical people, it's not possible to know the precise history behind Isaac and Rebecca.  Perhaps this is a portrait or perhaps a wedding portrait. That history doesn't diminish the power of this work, as noted by Vincent van Gogh in 1885: 

What an intimate, what an infinitely sympathetic painting.  Believe me, and I mean this sincerely, I would give ten years of my life to be allowed to sit before this painting for fourteen days with just a crust of bread to eat. 

The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

Relatively late in his career, Rembrandt was commissioned to paint the portrait of the Amsterdam drapers' guild.  This group was responsible for insuring the quality of laken, a popular and profitable felt-like wool; they took random samples of laken for comparison, thereby earning their nickname of "sampling officials". 

The red haired man in the center is gesticulating with his hand and looking at the man rising from his chair, as if to question where he's going. You're fairly certain that this man is rembrandt syndicsstanding because someone improperly entered the syndics' private chamber.  It's part of Rembrandt's genius that you believe it's you.

Rembrandt van Rijn. The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild, 1662. Oil on canvas, Approx. 6' 3" by by 9'2".  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

This Rembrandt painting, like Night Watch, was designed for a specific place. Because Syndics was to be hung high up on the wall, Rembrandt adjusted the perspective on the table accordingly. When seen at eye level, as Syndics is now shown, the front side of the table looms oddly large.  

That's an error by the Rijksmuseum curator.  It doesn't detract from Rembrandt's brilliance, apparent at age 22 in Self Portrait at an Early Age.  Can you think of a more mesmerizing and mysterious self-portrait? If so, please advise!

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Tags: famous paintings, history of art, Rembrandt paintings

Rembrandt Paintings: Night Watch

Posted by Susan Benford

Night Watch is not only one of most acclaimed Rembrandt paintings but also one of the most famous artworks in Europe.

Officially given the unwieldy title Militia Company of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, Night Watch is one of 125 surviving civic guard portraits, the most prestigious commission a portraitist could obtain.  When Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) painted it in 1642, he had been in Amsterdam for over a decade and was considered the most famous painter of the Dutch Golden Age. Rembrandt paintings were in great demand during rembrandt night watchthis era, unlike those of countryman Johann Vermeer, now viewed as the other most prominent painter of the Golden Age. 

Rembrandt van Rijn.  Militia Company of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq (Night Watch), 1642.  Oil on canvas, approx. 12' by 14'.   Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Militia Company was originally believed to portray a nocturnal guard, earning it the enduring 19th century nickname, Night Watch.  After the recent cleaning of Night Watch and Phillips' installation of LED lighting to illuminate it, one can handily see the guardsman standing in dim but daylight spaces.

The nickname isn't going anywhere, though. 

Night Watch portrays the company of kloveniers commanded by Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, who is in the black attire in the left foreground, and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch, who is distinguished by his partisan, a weapon carried only by officers.  The company derived its name from the "klover", a firearm superseded by a musket known as an arquebus. Rembrandt provides other clues that these are kloveniers - under the belt of the brightly illuminated young girl, for instance, is a dead bird whose claws are an attribute  of the company. 

Night Watch was a revolutionary civic guard portrait.  Unlike like the static lineup typical of preceding guard portraits, these guards are in motion. As in other Rembrandt paintings, he uses dramatic light-dark contrasts; here they heighten this sense of activity and accentuate the portraits.  

Cocq, whose lips are parted, issues an order and the company springs into action:

  • the drummer (right foreground) starts drumming;

  • the ensign raises the standard; and

  • the guards hoist their weapons.

lundens night watchThe musket is dominant - three guards model how it works; the guard in red (left foreground) is re-loading his; the guard behind the Lieutenant is blowing away residual powder after firing; and the guard behind the Captain is shooting his.

Attributed to Gerrit Lundens. Night Watch, c. 1655. Oil on panel, 2' 2" by 2' 10".  National Gallery, London.  

Records indicate the guards were pleased with Night Watch, and that the 16 guards each paid Rembrandt about 100 guilders, depending upon their prominence in the portrait.  A decade after its completion, Rembrandt added a shield (center top) with the names of all 18 people (16 guards, the young girl, and the drummer, hired for the occasion) whose portraits comprise Night Watch

Night Watch was commissioned and designed for the Great Hall of the Kloveniersdoelen, where it hung until it was moved in 1715 to the Amsterdam town hall.  After discovering it was too large for its new space, Night Watch was trimmed on all sides to fit into these tighter quarters.  Luckily, Captain Cocq had been so enthralled with his portrait that he commissioned a copy of Night Watch for his personal use.  Zoom around this Night Watch copy to gain a sense of what the original Night Watch looked like.  

rembrandt self portrait as paul resized 600I learned of new speculation about Rembrandt's Night Watch.  Some art historians speculate that Rembrandt included his own self-portrait - he may be the one eyed man sporting a beret and peeking over the right shoulder of the man n the top hat. 

With all the self-portraits in Rembrandt paintings, he is one of the most recognized figures of the 17th century.  

Are you persuaded that this is, or might be, him?

Rembrandt van Rijn.  Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul.  Oil on canvas, 1661.  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. 

Survey of the History of Art

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Each of the 250 famous paintings in the set is reproduced on a 4" by 6" Card; on its reverse are facts and an art historian's commentary about the work. Explore sample Masterpiece Cards, a set of art history flashcards to teach and learn the history of painting! 


Tags: history of art, Rembrandt paintings, Night Watch

Art History Welcomes Robert Seldon Duncanson

Posted by Susan Benford

Art history is welcoming into its canon another American painter, the 19th century African-American artist Robert Seldon Duncanson (often erroneously and mysteriously called "Robert Scott Duncanson").  Duncanson was recently introduced into the collection of the National Gallery of Art with robert seldon duncanson resized 600his stunning still life painting, Still Life with Fruit and Nuts. Although the National Gallery has some 400 works of art by African American painters, this is its first Duncanson work.  Congratulations are in order -- this is a beauty.

But first a bit about Robert Seldon Duncanson (1821-1872), left.

Born to mulatto parents, Duncanson was a self-taught artist whose still life paintings shown in the 1840s prompted one critic of the Detroit Free Press to comment,

"the paintings of fruit, etc. by Duncanson are beautiful, and as they deserve, have elicited universal admiration."

Duncanson was then living in Cincinatti, a major abolitionist center considered to be the center of American art and culture west of the Appalachian Mountains, and painting portraits of prosperous Cincinattians and abolitionists. Art history experts believe that Duncanson saw a Cincinatti exhibition of Thomas Cole paintings, including his series The Voyage of Life (1842); whether Duncanson did or didn't attend this art exhibition, the influence duncanson still life fruit nutsof 

Robert Seldon Duncanson. Still Life with Fruit and Nuts, 1848. Oil on board, 12 x 16 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Ann and Mark Kington/The Kington Foundation and the Avalon Fund.

Thomas Cole and the American painters of the Hudson River School was formidable. Duncanson subsequently shifted from still life paintings to landscape paintings. 

In 1850, Duncanson was commissioned by vintner Nicholas Longworth (1783-1863) to create eight landscape paintings in trompe l'oeil for his private Cincinatti residence, Belmont (now the home of Cincinatti's Taft Museum of Art).  Duncanson subsequently toured Europe, where he was exposed to Neoclassical works and 17th century landscape paintings by Claude Lorrain, among others. Duncanson incorporated these classical motifs into his landscape paintings. He spent the Civil War era in England and Scotland, tragically dying in 1872 from a breakdown that may have been fueled by exposure to lead-based paintings.

So back to Duncanson's still life paintings, of which fewer than a dozen exist. Still Life with Fruit and Nuts is a diminutive 12" by 16" but packs a hefty punch.  This classical composition is a study of textures, juxtapositing velvety smooth fruits with pockmarked nuts and wrinkled currants.  The contrasts among these objects are brilliantly executed.

duncanson landscape with rainbowAn excellent example of Duncanson's mature work - when he had fully shifted to landscape

Robert Seldon Duncanson.  Landscape with Rainbow, 1859.  Oil on canvas, 30 x 52 1/4 in. (76.3 x 132.7 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of Leonard and Paula Granoff.

paintings - is his Landscape with Rainbow.  Claude Lorrain's influence upon Duncanson (and countless other American painters) is seen in the hazy atmosphere and classical composition. Diagonals are carved by mountain slopes and rock outcroppings in this idyllic, bucolic scene that belies the oncoming Civil War.

It's curious to me that so many painters are forgotten in the history of art, only to be discovered centuries later.  These "lost souls" include non-mainstream artists like African-American painters (think Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jacob Lawrence and Duncanson, for starters) and female artists (an exhaustively long list), but also famous painters like Caravaggio and Vermeer.

Any ideas why? Do paintings need to have constant "champions" to be remembered in the history of art? 






Tags: history of art, still life paintings, Robert Seldon Duncanson

Famous Painters: More Manet

Posted by Susan Benford

Although now one of the most famous painters in the history of art, Edouard Manet (1832-1883) was scorned and dismissed during his lifetime -- and for nearly a century after it ended.  As Jack Flam (ArtNews, Summer 2011) notes:

What was long considered incompetence we now take to be at the core of Manet's genius: his ability to invent new ways of capturing and holding in uneasy equilibrium the ambiguities - even the absurdities - of modern life. 

manet street singer


Edouard Manet.  Street Singer, 1862.  Oil on canvas, 67 3/8" by 41 5/8".  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

No where is this uneasy equilibrium more apparent than in one of the lesser known Manet paintings, Street Singer.  

Edouard Manet, one of the first painters to chronicle modern urban life, portrays a young woman exiting a debatablely tasteful Paris night club or cafe.  Although one of its doors is open, the interior is murky and vague. The directness of the singer's gaze and her hand full of cherries draw the viewer to her eyes, which reveal deep thoughts unknowable to the viewer: did something untoward happen in the cafe? Is she hurrying to another unspecified engagement? Who provided her cherries? Manet captures a moment in time, one akin to a snapshot.  

As in so many Manet paintings, the viewer is left to draw conclusions.

We've seen how Manet painted Olympia after one of the Titian paintings he saw in Paris, Venus of Urbino.  His comparison of himself to Titian, was, by many standards, an act of bravado. But he was to make another bold comparison in one of the best known Manet paintings, The Luncheon, or Luncheon in the Studio

Luncheon is intriguingly inconclusive.  What may initially appear to be a dining room is instead an artist's studio: the shucked but uneaten oysters, the dangling knife, and partially peeled lemon are frequent subjects of Dutch still life paintings.  The armor in the chair is also a still life subject, although lesser so.  

manet luncheon in studio

Edouard Manet.  Luncheon in the Studio, 1868.  Oil on canvas, approx. 4' by 5'. Bavarian State Paintings Collections, Neue Pinakothek. 

Above the bearded man's head is a framed map, an allusion to the maps found in Vermeer paintings.  I would've missed this detail without Flam's guidance -- the letter "M" appears in the coffee pot reflection, an echo of the "M" by which Vermeer sometimes signed his paintings.  

Was Manet intimating that he was a painter of the same caliber as Vermeer? I vote yes -- an artist who compared himself to Titian would have no hesitation with comparision to another of the most famous painters, Vermeer!

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Tags: famous painters, history of art, Manet paintings

World Famous Paintings: Can You Name Them?

Posted by Susan Benford

What a bold question -- and a foolhardy one, too, if identifying "the" world famous paintings is merely one person's opinion. 

But this list of 250 famous paintings is derived from multiple opinions and from many pros - it's a consensus from over forty art historians who've written prominent art history textbooks (for details, see "Methodology" and "References" below).  According to them, the world famous paintings in Western art (from the Renaissance to the 1960s) are these:

Albers, Homage to the Square: Ascending// Altdorfer, Alexander's Victory (Battle of Alexander at Issus)// Angelico, Annunciation// Bacon, Figure with Meat// Baldung Grien,The Three Ages of Man and Death// Balthus, Nude Before a Mirror// Beckmann, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery// Bellini, Saint Francis in the Desert & The Doge Leonardo Loredan// Bierstadt,The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak// Boccioni, Dynamism of a Human Body// Bonheur,The Horse Fair// Bonnard,The Open Window// Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights//Botticelli,The Birth of Venus & Mystical Nativity// Boucher, The Toilet of Venus// Braque, Fishing Boats// Bronzino, An Allegory with Venus and Cupid// Brueghel the Elder, Peasant Wedding & The Return of the Hunters// Campin (Master of Flémalle), The Annunciation Triptych (Mérode Altarpiece)// Canaletto, Venice: Campo San Vidal and Santa Maria della Carità (The Stonemason's Yard)// Caravaggio,The Conversion of St. Paul & The Musicians// Carracci,Loves of the Gods// Cassatt, Boating Party// Castagno, David with the Head of Goliath// Cézanne, Valley of the Arc & The Large Bathers// Chagall, I and the Village// Chardin, The Kitchen Maid// Chirico, The Soothsayer's Recompense// Church, Niagara// Close, Big Self Portrait// Clouet, A Lady in her Bath// Cole, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm - The Oxbow// Constable, The Hay Wain// Copley,The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781// Corot, Le Port de la Rochelle (The Harbor of La Rochelle)// Correggio,The Assumption of the Virgin & Jupiter and Io// Cortona, Triumph of Divine Providence// Courbet, Burial at Ornans & The Painter's Studio: An Allegory// Cranach, Rest on the Flight into Egypt// Cuyp,The Maas at Dordrecht// da Vinci, The Last Supper & The Mona Lisa// Dalí,The Persistence of Memory// Daumier,The Third-Class Carriage// Gerard David,The Wedding at Cana// Jacques Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii between the Hands of Their Father & The Death of Marat// Davis, Swing Landscape// de Kooning,Woman I// Degas, In a Café (L'Absinthe) & Dancing Lesson// Delacroix, Dante and Virgil & Death of Sardanapalus// Derain, Mountains at Collioure// Dubuffet, Le Métafisyx// Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2// Dufy, Street with Flags// Dürer, Self -Portrait// Eakins,The Gross Clinic// El Greco, View of Toledo// Elsheimer,The Flight to Egypt// Ensor, Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889// Ernst,The Attirement of the Bride (La Toilette de la mariée)// Fabriano, Adoration of the Magi// Fabritius,The Goldfinch// Fragonard,The Swing// Francesca, Battista Sforza and Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino & The Baptism of Christ// Frankenthaler, Mountains and Sea// Friedrich, Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog// Fuseli, The Nightmare// Gainsborough, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews// Gauguin, Spirit of the Dead Watching & Where Do We Come From? What are We? Where are We Going?// Gaulli, Triumph of the Name of Jesus and the Fall of the Damned// Gentileschi, Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes// Géricault, Raft of the "Medusa"// Ghirlandaio, Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni// Giorgione, La Tempesta (The Tempest)// Gorky, The Liver is the Cock's Comb// Goya, The Duchess of Alba, Executions of the Third of May, 1808, & The Family of Charles IV// Gozzoli, The Adoration of the Magi// Greuze, Betrothal in the Village// Gris, Le Déjeuner// Gros, Napoleon Bonaparte Visiting the Victims of the Plague at Jaffa, 11 March 1799// Grosz,The Funeral - Dedicated to Oskar Panizza// Grüenewald,The Isenheim Altar// Guardi, Gala Concert in Honour of Princess Maria Fedorowna in Venice// Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the Civic Guard of St. George// Hartley, Portrait of a German Officer// Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom// Hockney, American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman)// Hodler,The Stockhorn Group on the Lake of Thun// Hofmann, The Gate// Hogarth, Marriage à la Mode: The Tête à Tête// Holbein the Younger, Henry VIII & Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve ('The Ambassadors')// Homer, Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)// Hooch, Courtyard of a House in Delft// Hopper, Nighthawks// Hunt, The Awakening Conscience// Indiana,The Figure Five// Ingres, Valpinçon Bather & Oedipus and the Sphinx// Johns, Three Flags// Jordaens, Portrait of the Artist's Family in the Garden// Kahlo,Self-Portrait with Monkey// Kalf, Still Life with Lobster, Drinking Horn and Glasses// Kandinsky, Improvisation No. 30 (Cannons)// Kauffmann, Cornelia Pointing to Her Children as Her Treasures// Kelly, Red Blue Green// Kirchner, Two Women in the Street// Klee, Senecio// Klimt, The Kiss// Kokoschka,The Bride of the Wind (Windsbraut)// La Tour, The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame// Lam, Initiation// Léger,The City// Leibl, Three Women in a Church// Leyster, Self-Portrait// Lichtenstein, Whaam!// Limbourg Brothers, Les Très Riches du Duc de Berry, February// Lippi,The Coronation of the Virgin// Lorrain, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba// Lotto, Portrait of a Young Man// Louis, Alpha-Pi// Mabuse, Saint Luke Painting the Virgin// Magritte, The Menaced Assassin// Malevich, Black Square// Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère & Olympia// Mantegna, Camera degli Sposi (Room of the Newlyweds)// Marc, Large Blue Horses // Masaccio, Holy Trinity// Matisse, The Dance & The Red Room (Harmony in Red)// Matta, Je m'honte// Memling, Maria Portinari (Maria Maddalena Baroncelli) and Tommaso di Folco Portinari// Michelangelo, Holy Family (Doni Tondo) & The Sistine Chapel ceiling// Millais, Ophelia// Millet, The Gleaners// Miró, Painting// Modersohn-Becker, Seated Nude with Flowers// Modigliani, Nude on a Blue Cushion// Monet, Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (In Sun) & Impressionism: Sunrise// Moreau, The Apparition// Morisot, Summer's Day// Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 34// Munch, The Scream// Murillo, The Immaculate Conception of the Escorial// Newman, Vir Heroicus Sublimus// Noland, Gift// Nolde, Masks// O'Keeffe, City Night// Panini, Modern Rome// Parmigianino, Madonna of the Long Neck// Perugino, Delivery of the Keys to Saint Peter// Picasso, Les Desmoiselles, Guernica & Three Dancers// Pippin, Domino Players// Pissarro, La Place Du Théâtre Français// Pollock, Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)// Pontormo, Entombment// Poussin, Landscape with Saint John on Patmos & A Dance to the Music of Time// Prud'hon, Empress Josephine// Puvis De Chavannes, The Sacred Grove, Beloved of the Arts and the Muses// Quarton, Pieta de Villeneuve d'Avignon// Raphael, Madonna of the Meadow & Philosophy (School of Athens)// Rauschenberg, Reservoir// Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, Blue// Rembrandt, Return of the Prodigal Son & Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq ("Night Watch")// Reni, Aurora// Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party// Reynolds, Mrs. Elisha Mathew// Ribera, The Club-footed Boy// Rigaud, Portrait of Louis XIV// Rivera, Controller of the Universe// Romano, Fall of the Giants from Mount Olympus// Rossetti, Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation)// Rothko, No. 61 (Rust and Blue) [Brown Blue, Brown on Blue]// Rouault,The Old King// Henri Rousseau, The Snake Charmer (Le Douanier)// Theodore Rousseau, The Forest of Fontainebleau, Morning// Rubens, The Disembarkation of Maria de' Medici at the Port of Marseilles on November 3, 1600 & The Judgement of Paris// Ruysch, Flower Still Life// Ruysdael, Two Watermills and an Open Sluice at Singraven, Netherlands// Sánchez Cotán, Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber// Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit// Schiele, Portrait of Paris von Gütersloh// Schlemmer, Bauhaus Stairway// Schmidt-Rottluff, Manor in Dangast, Gramberg Houses// Schongauer, Madonna of the Rose Bower// School of Fontainebleau, Diana the Huntress// Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884// Signorelli, Damned Cast into Hell// Soutine, The Little Pastry Cook// Stael, Musicians// Steen, The Christening Feast// Stella, Tahkt-i-Sulayman I// Stuart, George Washington// Tanguy, The Five Strangers// Tanner, Annunciation// Teniers, The Archduke Leopold's Gallery// ter Borch, The Letter// Tiepolo, Rinaldo Under the spell of Armida//Tintoretto, The Last Supper// Titian, Venus of Urbino, Le Concert champêtre (Pastoral Concert), & Madonna of the Pesaro Family// Toulouse-Lautrec, At The Moulin Rouge// Turner, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On)// Uccello, The Battle of San Romano (1423)// van der Weyden, The Escorial Deposition (or Descent from the Cross)//van Dyck, Equestrian Portrait of Charles I// van Eyck, Madonna adored by the Canonicus Van der Paell & Man in a Red Turban// van Gogh, Bedroom at Arles, The Starry Night & The Night Café// van Goyen, The Pelkus Gate near Utrecht// Vasarély, Arcturus II// Velázquez, Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) & Surrender at Breda (The Lances)// Vermeer, View of Delft, Netherlands, After the Fire & Woman Holding a Balance// Veronese, Last Supper (Christ in the House of Levi)// Vigée-Lebrun, Marie-Antoinette and her Children// Vuillard, Interior with Work Table (The Suitor)// Warhol, Marilyn Diptych// Watteau, Embarkation for Cythera// Wesselmann, Great American Nude No. 57// West, Penn's Treaty with the Indians// Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold - The Falling Rocket, & Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl// Witte, Interior of a Church// Witz, The Calling of St. Peter (The Miraculous Draught of Fishes)// Wood, American Gothic// Wright of Derby, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump// Zurbarán, Saint Serapion.


  • Laurie Schneider Adams, Art Across Time.
  • Carol Strickland, Ph.D. and John Boswell, The Annotated Mona Lisa.
  • H. H. Arnason and Peter Kalb, History of Modern Art.
  • Robert Cumming, Annotated Art.
  • Jonathan Fineberg, Art Since 1940.
  • Richard G. Tansey and Fred S. Kleiner, Gardner's Art Through the Ages.
  • Frederick Hartt, Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.
  • Hugh Honour and John Fleming, The Visual Arts: A History.
  • H. W. Janson, History of Art.
  • H. W. Janson and Anthony F. Janson, A Short History of Art.
  • Martin Kemp, The Oxford History of Western Art.
  • Penelope J. E. Davies et al, Janson's History of Art: Western Tradition.
  • Marilyn Stokstad, Art History.
  • Sister Wendy Beckett and Patricia Wright, The Story of Painting.
  • The Art Book.  Phaidon
  • Dr. Robert Belton, Art: The World of Art, from Aboriginal to American Pop, Renaissance Masters to Postmodernism.
  • E. H. Gombrich. The Story of Art.
  • Thomas Hoving. Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization.
  • Herbert Read.  A Concise History of Modern Painting
  • M. Therese Southgate, M. D. The Art of JAMA: One Hundred Covers and Essays from The Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • Ingo F. Walther. Art of the 20th Century and Masterpieces of Western Art.


Using the reference books above (some 17,000 pages of art history), I recorded which famous paintings were reproduced in each text.  From this database, I counted the number of citations for each work and generated a list of 250 masterpiece paintings. Presto!

Addendum: To ensure that the list represented diverse famous painters (Picasso, Goya, Titian and van Gogh alone could create a list of 250 masterpiece paintings!), I limited to three the number of paintings from each. 

Questions? Comments? Wondering what happened with all this great data? Visit

Susan Benford

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Famous Painters Blogroll

Anguissola, Three Sisters Playing Chess and Phillip II of Spain

Beckmann, Blind Man's Buff

Beckmann, Departure; Self-Portrait in Tuxedo; Sinking of Titanic

Bingham, Fur Traders Descending the Missouri

BonheurPlowing in the Nivernais

Bonheur, The Horse Fair

Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights

Botticelli, Primavera

Caillebotte, Gustave, The Floor Scrapers; The House Painters; Pont de l'Europe; Paris Street, Rainy Day; Fruit Displayed on a Stand

Caravaggio, Fashion and Art History

CaravaggioConversion of St. Paul

Caravaggio, Young, Sick Bacchus and Basket of Fruit

Caravaggio, Cardsharps and Fortune Teller

Caravaggio, St. Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Caravaggio, Taking of Christ (Kiss of Judas)

Caravaggio Paintings at the Villa Borghese

Cave Paintings

Cezanne, Bathers 

Cezanne, Card Players

Cezanne, Madame Cezanne Paintings

Cezanne, Most Famous Paintings

Cezanne, Red Dress series

Copley, Paul Revere

David, Death of Marat 

David, Death of Socrates

David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

de Kooning, Retrospective at MoMA (Part I)

de Kooning,Excavation and Painting, 1948 

de KooningWoman I

Degas, The Bellilli Family, The Dance Class, In a Cafe (Absinthe Drinker)

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People  

Diebenkorn, The Ocean Park Series

Duncanson, Robert Seldon.  Art History Welcomes Duncanson 

Durer, The Four Apostles

El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz

El Greco, View of Toledo

FontanaPortrait of a Noblewoman

Frankenthaler, Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea

Gainsborough, The Blue Boy

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Judith Beheading Holofernes

Gentileschi, Artemisia.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting 

Ghent Altarpiece.  

GiorgioneThree Philosophers 

Goya, Duchess of Alba

Goya, Family of Charles IV

Goya, Self-Portrait with Dr. Arrieta

Goya, The Third of May 1808 

Goya, Duchess of Alba; Saturn Devouring his Son; Two Old Men; Half-Submerged Dog; Black Paintings

Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece

Hals, Banquet of the Officers of the St. George Civic Guard

Hals, The Laughing Cavalier

Hals, Regents of St. Elizabeth's Hospital

Hopper, Nighthawks

Ingres, Grande Odalisque and Portrait of Madame Moissetier

Ingres, Oedipus and the Sphinx

Isenheim Altarpiece

Kahlo, Renowned Frida Kahlo Paintings.  

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting and David Garrick.  

Klimt, The Kiss and Adele Bloch-Bauer

Lawrence, Great Migration Series

Leonardo, Lady with an Ermine

Leonardo, Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery, London 

Leonardo, La Bella Principessa 

Leonardo, New Mona Lisa

Leonardo, Benois Madonna and Madonna Litta 

Leonardo, Savior of the World(Salvator Mundi) 

Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne

Leyster, Famous Female Painters

20 Louvre Paintings not to Miss 

ManetA Bar at the Folies-Bergere

Manet, Luncheon in the Studio

Manet, The Old Musician

Manet, Street Singer

MantegnaDead Christ

Matisse Paintings, In Search of True Painting

Matisse, The DanceThe Music

Matisse, The Cone Collection

Matisse, The Red Studio

Matisse, The Yellow Dress

Michelangelo, Crucifixion with the Madonna

Michelangelo, Famous Paintings

Michelangelo, La Pieta with Two Angels (latest attribution?)

Michelangelo, St. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

Modersohn-Becker, Famous Female Painters

Monet, Impression, Sunrise

Monet, Nymphaes, Le Pont de l'Europe

Monet Paintings at the Marmottan Monet Museum

Monet, Waterlilies

Morisot, Famous Paintings

MorisotMore Famous Paintings

Munch, The Scream

O'Keeffe, Jack in the Pulpit

Peeters, Clara

Picasso, Girl Before a Mirror

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

Picasso, Portrait of Gertrude Stein

Picasso, Las Meninas

Piero della Francesca, The Baptism of Christ

Pippin, Domino Players and Cabin in the Cotton

Poussin, Assumption of the Virgin

Raphael, Sistine Madonna

Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer 

Rembrandt, Night Watch

Rembrandt paintings at Frick Show

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait at an Early AgeJeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, The Jewish Bride

Rembrandt, The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild

Rubens, Venus and Adonis

Sanchez Cotan, Spanish Still-life

Sargent, El Jaleo

Sargent, Madame X

Sargent, Smoke of Ambergris

Steen, The Christening Feast 

Steen paintings at Frick Show

Tanner, The Banjo Lesson and The Thankful Poor

Titian, Assumption of the Virgin

Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne

Titian, Man with a Glove

Titian, Nymph and Shepherd, Allegory of Prudence, Jacopa Strada, St. Jerome, Slaying of Marysas

Titian, Rape of Europa

Turner, J. M. W, The Fighting Temeraire

Uccello, Battle of San Romano

van der Weyden, St. Luke Drawing the Virgin

van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait

van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb

van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece

van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

van GoghMemory of Garden at Etten; Tatched Cottages; White House

van Gogh,  Portrait of Madam Trabuc; Morning: Going Out

van Gogh, Starry Night

van Gogh, Three Pairs of Shoes

Vincent van Gogh paintings up to 1889

Vincent van Gogh paintings, 1888-1890

Vigee-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette and Her Children, Self Portrait, Self-Portrait with Julie

Velazquez, Juan de Pareja

Velazquez, Pope Innocent X

Velazquez, Overview of Famous Paintings

Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring

Vermeer, Saint Praxedis

Vermeer, The Kitchen Maid

Vermeer, The Allegory of Painting

VermeerGirl with the Red Hat

Vigee-LeBrun, Marie Antoinette and Her ChildrenSelf PortraitSelf-Portrait with Julie

Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans

Warhol, Marilyn Diptych and Gold Marilyn 

Warhol, Mao 

Whistler, Whistler's Mother

Anders Zorn

Famous Paintings by Art Museums

Learn about famous paintings to see in these art museums:

Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY). One of those intimate, small art museums with a stellar collectionExplore famous paintings at the Albright-Knox. 

Art Institute of Chicago: Plan to see these famous paintings at the Art Institute -- and download an ebook about them.

Louvre Museum, (Paris): one of the largest art museums in the world! Know which Louvre paintings not to miss in this sortable ebook. 

Mauritshuis Museum: explore works by renowned Dutch painters

Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City): download the ebook, Famous-Paintings-Metropolitan-Museum, to learn its must-see masterpieces. Or read the blog post, "Famous Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum". 

National Gallery (London): with 2300 famous paintings alone in its European painting section, discover highlights to see!  Art Paintings to See at the National Gallery.

Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam): 10 famous paintings not to miss

Washington, D.C. Art Museums: Explore forty famous paintings in Washington, DC in this article.

Whitney Museum of American Art.  Don't miss these 10 famous paintings at the Whitney.

Most Popular Posts

Michelangelo PaintingsThe Torment of Saint Anthony; The Manchester Madonna;Holy Family (Doni Tondo); and Entombment

Cave Paintings: explore this prehistoric art in Spain and France.

Picasso's Las Meninas: 58 Picasso paintings inspired by Velazquez's Las Meninas

Ghent Altarpiece: the van Eyck masterpiece, one of the most famous artworks ever made. 

10 Famous Paintings at the Prado. Don't miss a one of these.

Survey of Renaissance Paintings: want to know what Renaissance paintings were all about? Start with 20 of its most famous painters in this sweeping survey! 

Discover more of readers' favorite art history blog posts. 

Female Artists

While we long for the time when artists are artists and genderless, that time isn't yet here.

These are a few of the female artists who've left lasting legacies in the history of painting:

Sofonisba AnguissolaThree Sisters Playing ChessPhillip II of Spain

Rosa Bonheur.  Plowing in the Nivernais.  Horse Fair.

Lavinia Fontana. Portrait of a Noblewoman.

Helen Frankenthaler. Color Field Painting and Mountains and Sea. 

Artemisia Gentileschi.  Judith Beheading Holofernes.  Self-Portrait as an Allegory of Painting.

Frida Kahlo.  Frida and Diego Rivera.  The Two Fridas.  The Love Embrace of the Universe. 

Angelica Kauffmann.  Self-Portrait Torn Between Music and Painting.  David Garrick.

Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun.  Self-Portrait; Marie Antoinette and Her Children; Self-Portrait with Julie

Judith Leyster.  Self-Portrait.  The Proposition. 

Paula Modersohn-Becker. Self-Portrait with an Amber Necklace. Still Life with Goldfish. 

Berthe Morisot.  Refuge in Normandy.  The Cradle. 

Georgia O'Keeffe. Jack in the Pulpit Series. 

Survey of Female Artists

Art History Beyond Europe

A few forays into art outside Europe:

African Art and Bocio

African Mask of Idia


Japanese Woodblock Prints: The Great Wave

The Terracotta Warriors