Art is expensive. Good art costs quite a lot of money, but great art costs a fortune. Every year, millions of dollars exchange hands as collectors, enthusiasts and art lovers bid and buy at auctions across the world in an effort to own the most prestigious masterpiece available. Great paintings don't just cost a lot, they carve a name for themselves in world history and make a mark, an impression in our minds and hearts that will not fade easily. Not many can aspire to this qualification, but there are a few that can easily be attributed the title of one of the most famous paintings in history. I will attempt to name 10 such paintings that in my opinion make the list.
Few can compete against Italian art. Arguably the jewels of the Renaissance can be found in paintings, sculptures and murals spread throughout Italy; baring names that have become common even to someone who does not follow art. One that stands out from the rest is undoubtedly Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. The painting that is widely referred to as the most written about, most sung about, most visited and best-known work of art in the world. Da Vinci's reluctance to use outlines brings the portrait to life. This unique feature is attributed to its greatness and brilliance. It is said that the Mona Lisa closely resembles the Virgin Mary which in Renaissance times depicted the perfection of womanhood. This is probably why Europe's infatuation in the expression of spirituality through art has given rise to many exquisite works of art that are famed all over the world. No surprise that the next most famous painting in the world bares a similar theme and is painted by the same artist. The Last Supper has become a household name not only amongst Christians due to the significance of the event in the Bible, but also worldwide due to the fame of the mural in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. The detail and variations in the reactions of each apostle upon the revelation of Jesus' betrayal is produced with such elegance and mystery that the painting is able to capture the observer in a trance of curiosity and awe.
From Italy we move to France. The Starry Night is probably the most famous landscape painting of all time. Its creator Vincent van Gogh, who is equally known for his world-renowned self-portraits was battling severe depression when he gazed outside the window of the asylum that housed him and drew inspiration from the beautiful night scenery to paint this masterpiece. The next on the list is also a landscape. The title of the painting was originally used as the name for the exhibition that introduced it to the public, but later its artist Oscar-Claude Monet applied the name Impression, Sunrise due to his vague painting style in terms of detail and color. Incidentally the fame of his creation gave rise to a new meaning for the artistic term 'impression' which thereafter was used to describe a painting that influences its viewer.
Where would the world of art be without the modern era. A modern masterpiece that's known the world over and stands the test of time is one which not only soothes the eye, but also delivers a powerful and passionate message to the heart. Pablo Picaso's Guernica is one such painting that ticks both checkboxes. This is without doubt Picaso's best known work of art and what many revere as the most emotion filled anti-war statement on canvas. Modern art takes a new form in The Persistence of Memory as it gives rise to what we call presently pop-culture since way back in 1931. Evident why its creator Salvador Dalí to be acclaimed as a visionary in the discipline of art. The painting is an interpretation of the world's understanding of Einstein's theory of relativity and possibly the reason behind its fame.
Early American portraits with its attention to detail and light color combinations drew immense fame around the world. James McNeill Whistler's beautiful portrait of his mother seated against a plain wall in profile has been viewed across the globe. This masterpiece, which is creatively known as Whistler's Mother, is widely referred to as an American icon and has even featured in television shows and movies. In 1930 a little-known American painter called Grant Wood was inspired by the gothic architecture of a farmhouse to paint the portrait of the house owners with the house as background. He created on beaverboard what is famously known as American Gothic. The painting was named after the architectural style of the backdropped house. Shortly after it was shown to the public the painting was featured in newspapers and eventually soar to fame through mass media.
The final two paintings in my list, but by no means the least, come to us from the Dutch. The Girl with the Pearl Earring is a 17th century painting that offers many different interpretations in terms of the subject's culture and background as Johannes Vermeer sketched a European girl wearing an oriental turban whilst sporting a large pearl earring. Probably why the portrait was known by many names before it was decided to name it after the pearl that featured in it. The finale is a life-sized painting of Captain Banninck Cocq and seventeen members of his civic militia guards famously known as The Night Watch. The creator is non-other-than the 'Old Master' himself - Rembrandt. It is thought to be the perfect example of skill in balancing light and shadow whilst sketching movement within detail. No surprise that these features and its sheer size have attributed to its worldwide fame.
The vibrance and variation of art are beautifully expressed in each of the above-mentioned paintings. Whether it be portrait or landscape, on canvass or beaverboard or ceiling, modern or traditional, these masterpieces have succeeded in deeply influencing the hearts and minds of millions around the world.
Arun Perera (Aartzy)