For our return to the most famous paintings ever laid down on canvas, we step back only a relatively short amount of time, to the 20th Century. The 1900’s were a wild and exciting time in the world of art, with dozens upon dozens of new techniques, styles and ideas attempted, some more successfully than others. Here are eight of the most famous works ever done on canvas from the 1900’s, a century of great art if ever there was one.
Seven years after the turn of the century, Austrian Symbolist Gustav Klimt used gold leaf and a gorgeous golden, red and green color palette to create the massively popular painting known as The Kiss. This massively reprinted painting measures nearly two meters by two meters and depicts two lovers engaged in a kiss upon a bed of grass and flowers.
For the surrealist fans out there, The Persistence of Memory by Dalí is often considered the holy grail of that school of work. Dalí’s highly repeated melting clock image was first introduced in this 1931 painting, which is actually rather small at 24 x 33 centimeters and is currently on display in The MOMA in New York City.
Painted in the very next year, we have Picasso’s highly regarded Le Rêve, a controversial work depicting a woman in an erotic pose distorted as many of Picasso’s works were. The work was famously sold for $48.4 million in 1997 when the highly regarded Ganz art-collecting family needed money to settle an inheritance tax bill. This surprised the art world and made the work the 6th most expensive painting of all time at the time of its purchase.
Ending our entries from the first half of the century is another Picasso painting, perhaps more well-known than Le Rêve, a huge 3.5 x 7.75 meter painting known as Guernica. Picasso painted Guernica in 1937 after hearing of a vicious bombing of the Spanish town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The oil on canvas work is meant to show the horrors of war and has become a very strong symbol for the anti-war movement.
Marking a huge departure in style and technique from anything that had come before, and any other painting on this list, we start the second half of the 20th Century with Jackson Pollock’s polarizing Number 1, 1950, more commonly known as Lavender Mist. Unlike any other painting on this list, Lavender Mist features oil paint poured directly onto unstretched, unprimed raw canvas.
As hard as it might be to pick iconic artist Andy Warhol’s most famous work, in the end it simply has to be his depictions of pop culture figure Marilyn Monroe, the most famous of which is called Marilyn Diptych. This 1962 painting is the only one on our list painted with acrylic silkscreen paints, which were used to create fifty portraits of Marilyn on one piece of canvas, half in color and half in black and white. The work was completed only weeks after the actress had died, and the photo it is based on is from the 1953 film Niagra.
Next we take a look at Magritte’s 1964 surrealist work called The Son of Man. This instantly recognizable oil painting of a man in a suit with a bowler hat and a green apple in front of his face is a cultural icon so prominent that it has been featured or referenced in multiple, and TV shows and music videos, including The Thomas Crown Affair, Michael Jackon’s “Scream,” The Simpsons and Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain.
And finally, after sifting through centuries of works, we come to the one that has most recently become famous, partly due to its recent completion, partly to its controversial subject, and partly to the article written about it in 2011. This is Sexual Explosion by Jim Warren, painted in 1976 in oils. The work shows a nude woman whose body is crack and exploding while she sits in an ocean, with clouds and light around her. Though the painting is certainly famous, it should be noted that the painting has grown in fame recently due to a group known as the Art Collector’s Website, who used Google Images searches and rankings to attempt to determine the most famous paintings in the world. While the painting came in at #4 out of 10, it should be noted that only a year after the ACW article came out, that same organization actually attempted to sell the work.
It’s undeniably difficult to compile a list such as this one without leaving out hundreds of paintings that are more than worthy to be included, but it’s also undeniable that these fifteen paintings are among the most famous canvases ever touched by an artist. We hope that this list has given you a little more information about some of the works you’ve doubtless seen pretty much everywhere, and if there’s a painting not listed here that you think needs mentioning, let us know! It’s interesting to note that we’re in the early years of a new century, and art is only growing in popularity. Who knows what amazing and wondrous canvas works will be created in the 2000’s, but you can be sure, when we find out about them, we’ll be the first to let you know.