Vincent van Gogh painted "The Starry Night" in 1889 while he was staying at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France. Van Gogh suffered from mental illness and admitted himself to the asylum to seek treatment. During his stay, he painted many of his most famous works, including "The Starry Night."
The painting depicts the view from his window at the asylum, looking out at the village of Saint-Rémy and the Alpilles mountains beyond. Van Gogh's interpretation of the scene is highly expressive and emotional, featuring swirling brushstrokes and bold colors that convey his feelings of isolation and despair.
2. Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci painted the "Mona Lisa" between 1503 and 1506, during the Italian Renaissance. The painting is believed to have been commissioned by Francesco del Giocondo, a wealthy Florentine merchant, to commemorate the birth of his son. Some believe that the subject of the painting, Lisa Gherardini, was pregnant or had just given birth when she sat for da Vinci.
Da Vinci's masterful technique is on full display in the painting, particularly in his use of sfumato, a technique in which the edges of forms are gradually softened to create a hazy effect. The painting is also notable for its use of chiaroscuro, or the contrast between light and shadow, which gives the figure a three-dimensional quality.
3. Gustav Klimt
Gustav Klimt painted "The Kiss" in 1907-1908, during the height of the Art Nouveau movement in Vienna, Austria. The painting was commissioned by a wealthy patron named Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, who was an avid supporter of Klimt's work.
The painting depicts a couple locked in a tender embrace, surrounded by ornate patterns and motifs inspired by Klimt's obsession with Byzantine mosaics and Japanese art. The gold leaf (similar to that used in the much older Byzantine art he was so fond of) gives the painting a shimmering, ethereal quality.
4. Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper painted "Nighthawks" in 1942, during the height of World War II. The painting depicts a late-night scene at a diner in Greenwich Village, New York City, one that is based on a real-life diner he was said to frequent. However, the figures in the painting are not based on any specific individuals.
The painting has been interpreted as a commentary on the loneliness and alienation of modern life, as well as a reflection of the wartime mood of uncertainty and anxiety, though Hopper has said in the past that he didn't initially intend to paint a work that tackled loneliness so bluntly. He later stated he probably included that theme subconsciously and agreed with viewers' interpretations.
5. Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch painted "The Scream" in 1893, during a period of personal and artistic turmoil. The painting depicts a figure with a distorted face, standing on a bridge and screaming out into the void.
Munch was inspired to create the painting after experiencing a powerful sense of anxiety and dread while walking along a path overlooking the Oslofjord in Norway. The figure in the painting is meant to represent the artist himself, as well as the human condition of angst and despair.
6. Katsushika Hokusai
Katsushika Hokusai painted "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" in 1831 as part of a series of prints titled "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji." The painting depicts a giant wave towering over a fishing boat with Mount Fuji in the background.
The painting was created during Japan's Edo period, a time of relative stability and prosperity that saw a flourishing of art and culture. The painting was created using the ukiyo-e technique, a type of woodblock printing that was popular in Japan during the Edo period. The technique allowed for the creation of multiple copies of a print, making it possible for Hokusai's works to reach a wide audience.
7. Johannes Vermeer
Johannes Vermeer painted "Girl with a Pearl Earring" in 1665, during the Dutch Golden Age. The painting depicts a young woman wearing a blue and gold turban and a large pearl earring.
It is an example of a Dutch "tronie", which is a painting that doesn't depict any particular person, but instead the face of a fictional person, often with an exaggerated expression. Despite its fame and enduring popularity, the painting remains shrouded in mystery, with little known about the identity of the sitter or the circumstances surrounding its creation.
8. Raphael Sanzio
Raphael painted "The School of Athens" between 1509 and 1511 as part of a series of frescoes for the Vatican Palace in Rome. The painting depicts a group of philosophers and scholars gathered in an imagined ancient Greek setting, with figures such as Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates prominently featured. The figures in the painting are depicted with a remarkable degree of realism and expressiveness.
"The School of Athens" is housed in the Stanza della Segnatura, a room in the Vatican Palace that was used by the pope for meetings and receptions.
9. Grant Wood
Grant Wood painted "American Gothic" in 1930, during the Great Depression. The painting depicts a farmer and his daughter (not his wife) standing in front of their house, with the man holding a pitchfork and the woman wearing a distinctive apron.
Wood painted "American Gothic" in his studio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, using his sister and his dentist as models for the two figures in the painting. The house in the background of the painting is based on a real house in Eldon, Iowa, that Wood saw while driving through the countryside.
10. Edgar Degas
It is believed that Edgar Degas painted "The Dancing Class" sometime around 1870, during the height of the Impressionist movement in France. The figures in the painting are depicted with an incredible degree of realism and detail, with critics commenting positively on the grace and fluidity of the figures' movements.
Degas was known for his fascination with the world of dance, and he produced a large number of works that depict dancers and ballet scenes.