How does someone earn the title “greatest of all time”? Is it sheer talent and eye for innovation? Dedication and commitment? Hard work and enthusiasm? In the rich and beautiful history of art, historians and critics consider a handful of painters as some of the greatest of all time. These artistic beings have risen above the rest, and their legacy shall prevail for generations to come.
The greatest painters of all time are technically skilled and have made significant contributions that impacted Western culture. Art historians consider these painters as avant-garde since they broke down boundaries and made astonishing innovations. Some of these remarkable painters were renowned for their brilliance during their lifetimes, enjoying unparalleled fame and success throughout their life and beyond. Others, however, did not receive the recognition they deserved until after their death.
To be one of the greatest painters of all time, the artist must possess a special combination of exceptional creative thinking, technical skills, and determination. Together, these characteristics help create outstanding masterpieces that captivate and impress people from around the world, even after hundreds of years since their initial creation.
10 Greatest Painters of All Time
Here is a list of some of the greatest painters of all time, all of whom have made an undeniable and lasting impact on art and culture as we know it.
- Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci experimented with different mediums, and he also masterminded a myriad of unique compositions. As a matter of fact, contemporary painters still use da Vinci’s signature triangular composition today, and people in the field of art widely consider it as one of the most aesthetically pleasing painting layouts.
Furthermore, da Vinci was an early advocate of learning about anatomical models to perfect his craft, although it was illegal during the time. He “hid all of his anatomical drawings and kept them secret because of the illegal nature of what he was doing,” said The Art | Crime Archive “He was able to identify not only muscles and bones, but also their functions in the body, which was an incredible breakthrough.”
Some of the great da Vinci’s most well-known surviving works of art include Vitruvian Man (c. 1490), the Last Supper (c. 1495–98), and the Mona Lisa (c. 1503–17).
Although Michelangelo regarded himself as a sculptor, his placement on this list shows his true brilliance. Very few Michelangelo paintings are in existence, but they are some of the best in the world.
His talent and expertise in creating Fresco masterpieces took mural painting to new heights, evident in The Last Judgement and the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, both of which continue to inspire modern artists.
The great Rembrandt van Rijn painted everything imaginable, including breathtaking landscapes, genre scenes, historical people and places, as well as mythological creatures. Rembrandt was the leading force in Dutch art for the majority of the 17th century. With his impeccable use of light, as well as his sophisticated, refined, and expressive approach to painting, truly, Rembrandt is one of the greatest painters of all time.
Some of his most famous and most admired paintings include The Night Watch (c. 1642), The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (c. 1633), Bathsheba at Her Bath (c. 1654), and The Return of the Prodigal Son, which may be among the Dutch master’s final works before his death in 1669.
- Artemisia Gentileschi
Artemisia Gentileschi, a master in Baroque painting, is one of the first female painters to achieve immense success. Throughout the 17th century, Gentileschi painted dynamic and explosive masterpieces that showcased her trademark chiaroscuro and beguiling use of rich colors.
Although male artists sometimes overshadowed Gentileschi’s art, over time, people came to appreciate her magnificent talent and role in pioneering female artists.
Susanna and the Elders (c. 1610), Denae (c. 1612), and Judith Slaying Holofernes (c. 1620) are some of her most famous paintings.
- J.M.W. Turner
British Romantic painter Joseph Mallord William Turner is a forerunner of contemporary art. Coming from traditional neoclassical painting, Turner began endeavoring for realism in his work, which was unknown and unpopular during his time. Through thousands of oil paintings and watercolors, he experimented with expressive colorizations, brushwork, and light. Turner even worked on his oil paintings outdoors, something that later influenced the Impressionists.
Some of Turner’s most cherished masterpieces include The Fighting Temeraire (c. 1839), Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (c. 1844), and Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps (c. 1812).
- Vincent van Gogh
Though the entire world now sees him as one of the most accomplished and influential painters in Western art, the illustrious Dutch post-impressionist painter was not commercially successful during his lifetime. However, in the early 20th century, people began praising his masterful paintings for their expressive emotion, dramatic brushstrokes, and bold colors. Truly, van Gogh’s pieces are a roadmap to modern art.
The Starry Night (c. 1889), Sunflowers (c.1888), Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (c. 1889), and Almond Blossoms (c. 1890) are some of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings.
- Edvard Munch
Though the Norwegian painter is an international phenomenon for a single image, he was one of the most innovative and influential people in modern art. The perpetually troubled artist called his masterpieces his children and loathed being separated from them.
Edvard Munch’s The Scream (c. 1893) is one of the most iconic paintings in the world. Some of his other notable works of art include Night in Saint-Cloud (c. 1890) and Puberty (c. 1894–95).
- Claude Monet
French artist Claude Monet is one of the most beloved of all Impressionist painters. His painting Impression, Sunrise (c. 1872) is credited with pioneering the revolutionary art movement. Some of his other well-known paintings include Water Lilies (c. 1896 – 1926) and the Rouen Cathedral series (c. 1892 – 1893).
- Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso, known for his wide-ranging career and use of multiple styles, is inarguably one of the most celebrated painters in Western art. His role in introducing Cubism to the world is more than enough to cement his name and status in the history books, but Picasso achieved so much more. A master in transforming Classical art into something new, fresh, and modern, among his acclaimed pieces include Guernica (c. 1937), The Young Ladies of Avignon (c. 1907), and The Weeping Woman (c. 1937).
- Frida Kahlo
Her deeply personal series of self-portraits and beaming pride for her cultural heritage are some of the many admirable attributes that make Frida Kahlo one of the greatest painters of all time. Today, people consider her a pop culture icon, although this shouldn’t overshadow her incredible talent as a painter and her role in bringing Mexican culture to a wider audience.
Some of Frida Kahlo’s most famous paintings include The Two Fridas (c. 1939), Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (c. 1940), and The Broken Column (c. 1944).
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