12 of The Most Famous & Most Viewed Pieces of Art In The World

FUN FACTS December 15, 2017 By Vincent

Art. From reflections of, and on, humanity itself to a creation of absurd and surreal landscapes that have never been seen before except in the mind's eye of its creator, it can be hard to define and impossible to appeal to all as it remains subjective in all its forms but it offers us a glimpse at something we do not see in the day to day, either of great ugliness or great beauty.Some pieces have stirred the imagination and the souls of people across the globe, and here we take a look at a few of the most famous and most viewed pieces in the world and why they've reached such iconic status.

12. The Great Wave off Kanagawa - Katsushika Hokusai

Such is the domination of European art on global culture that the majority of this list is made up of European masters. However, Hokusai's Great Wave has managed to permeate through this Western bias and become an icon of his nation as well.

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A woodblock print of an enormous wave threatening fishing boats, it shows the prefecture of Kanagawa with the famous Mount Fuji in the background. Using a new ink for the water, the blues remain very vivid, but the yellows and other colors are from vegetable dyes and so have faded over time. There are impressions of the print are in many Western collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and in Claude Monet's house in Giverny, France, among many other collections but some have had to be put into indefinite storage due to conservation reasons

11. American Gothic - Grant Wood

Currently, in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, this is one of the most familiar images in 20th-century American art and has been widely parodied in American popular culture. Being driven around Iowa in 1930, Wood saw the house in Eldon and decided to paint it, and the people he fancied would live there.

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Often now seen as an iconic depiction of the American Midwest, it is considered an authentically American scene and as such has become part of the national psyche down the years. 

10. Guernica - Pablo Picasso

Picasso's 1937 painting Guernica is about the bombing of Guernica, a Basque village in northern Spain, by German warplanes at the instigation of the Spanish Nationalists, who won the civil war in 1937 and ruled Spain for the next 36 years.

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 Now on display at the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, prominent in the composition are a gored horse, a bull, and flames and it was this piece that brought global attention to the Spanish civil war, such was the jarring, violent and disjointed feel that it inspired.

9. Water Lilies - Claude Monet

A series of around 250 oil paintings by Claude Monet, the inspiration for them was Monet's own garden as he peered out onto the flora and recreated them on canvas. Gloriously simple to the untrained eye, the technical difficulty of the piece is what elevates it to such a high status in the art world.

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The blending and blurry nature of the series are thought to be down to the fact that Monet suffered from cataracts at the time he created them, which was in the last 30 years of his life. Separate pieces from the series can be found in major collections across the globe.

8. The Nightwatch - Rembrandt Van Rijn

Officially titled Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq but known more commonly as The Nightwatch,  this painting depicts a company moving out and is notable for its massive size and effective use of low night light.

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One of the most famous Dutch Golden Age paintings, it has layers of meaning and representation in it and is in the collection of the Amsterdam Museum but is prominently displayed in the Rijksmuseum as the best-known painting in its collection.

7. Girl With A Pearl Earring - Johannes Vermeer

Depicting a European girl wearing an exotic dress, an oriental turban, and an improbably large pearl earring, the 17th-century painting is noted for its subtle coloration, enhanced by the piercingly dark background, alongside the complex and mysterious look of the subject.

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Permeating throughout pop-culture, recent novels and films have focussed on the creation of the piece whilst contemporary street artist Banksy has parodied the piece. The painting has been in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague since 1902.

6. The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

Surrealist imagery of melting clocks on a beach scene, this was said to be inspired by Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity supposedly revolves around the significance of time in one's life. Dali often played with the concept of 'softness' and hardness' and the melting watches play with the notion of a fixed order as they begin to collapse.

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The ants also signal decay whilst the strange monster-like being is a representation of Dali himself, possibly in a dream state. The look of the watches came from a surrealist perception of Camembert melting in the sun.

5. The Scream - Edvard Munch

Like all your best kindergarten creations, this masterpiece uses pastels, paints, and cardboard to create its eerie, layered effects as in the foreground, a character is wrought with unmitigated distress for unknown reasons.

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The Norwegian artist created four versions of this piece in various media with The National Gallery in Oslo, Norway, holding one of two painted versions, The Munch Museum holding the other painted version and a pastel version from 1893 whilst the fourth is owned by a private collector.

4. The Creation of Adam - Leonardo Da Vinci

Many historians and scholars regard Leonardo as the prime exemplar of the "Universal Genius" or "Renaissance Man", an individual of "unquenchable curiosity" and "feverishly inventive imagination" as he was a keen inventor, painter, sculptor, architect and science amongst other things. One of the prime examples of his genius is 'The Creation of Adam' fresco that adorns the ceiling ofSistinestine Chapel in The Vatican.

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The image of the near-touching hands of God and Adam has become iconic of humanity and supposedly signifies the spark of life provided by the divine whilst the mirroring poses represent the biblical belief that humanity was created in God's image.

3. The Last Supper- Leonardo Da Vinci

Another biblical scene from Leonardo, this one sitting on the dining hall wall of the Santa Maria Delle Grazie in the city of Milan. One of the most popular depictions of Christ, it shows Jesus and his twelve disciples eating their last meal together before the crucifixion of Christ.

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Supposedly showing the consternation amongst the disciples after Jesus announced one would betray him, with an array of reactions and emotion. Sadly, little of the original painting remains despite several restoration attempts.

2. Starry Night - Vincent Van Gough

Now considered a master, Van Gough only sold one painting in his lifetime as his style was reviled for not being realistic enough. Now, the way he picked out light and swirled his patterns is lauded for its inventive and creative visions of his surroundings.

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Starry night is the most visually unique of this effect as it shows the night sky over a quaint village in Saint Remy. It has been in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1941


1. Mona Lisa - Leonardo Da Vinci

Arguably the most famous piece of art in the world, the Mona Lisa has captured people's attention with her piercing brown eyes and enigmatic half-smile that suggests a mischievous side to the model sitting for the portrait.

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Many would argue that a price could not be put on such a masterpiece but in 1962 the Louvre, the French museum where it currently hangs, insured it for $100m USD. By today's prices that equates to around $700m USD thus making it, by far, the most expensive painting in the world.


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