The foundation of famous artists can be traced back tens of thousands of years to when artists in ancient civilizations used available techniques to depict art.
Since these early paradigms, there has been a surfeit of artists who have followed.
Each of their work bears a distinctive style and characteristic.
The reason why art today is as it should be is because of the influence of these famous painters.
From the 13th Century till the 21st, some famous artists pioneered art culture by drawing their subjects in a new way and inventing new painting techniques.
Their dedication laid the foundation for the artists worldwide, and their influence still lives on today.
Whether you’re a fan of ancient art or modern art, you can’t help but be impressed by these ingenious painters and their timeless works.
Art enthusiast or not, I’m assured these leading contributors will surely inspire you!
So here we are with a detailed list of some of the best and most famous painters throughout the history of Art.
Artist Of Renaissance Period
Dating between the 14th and 17th centuries, the artistic period of the Renaissance was possibly the biggest period of cultural development to happen in Europe after the Middle Ages.
Renaissance art sought to capture the experience of the individual and the splendor and mystery of the natural world.
Thus, the renaissance was a period that gave birth to several prolific artists whose influences and artworks are still spoken about and admired today.
1. Leonardo da Vinci
The Italian polymath who delivered one of the most famous paintings in the world had excellence even beyond a painter.
An engineer, scientist, draughtsman, theorist, sculptor, and architect this guy influenced art history like anything!
Not only did he experiment with mediums, but he also innovated ways to create astonishing compositions.
Leonardo was ambidextrous, meaning he could draw and write with both hands simultaneously.
Being one of the best artists of all time, he perfected the sfumato technique and gave the world the “Mona Lisa”
Some of his other remarkable paintings included The Last Supper and Salvator Mundi.
And guess what? His love for art let him make designs of automobiles, tanks, and aircraft that were 500 years into the future!
Michelangelo wasn’t known only as one of the best painters; he was a polymath: a painter, sculptor, architect, and poet who defined fresco.
The highly influential Italian Renaissance artist mastered the mural technique fresco and gave us The Creation of Adam.
His other remarkable works include the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment.
Michelangelo is also famous for sculpting a marble sculpture of the biblical figure David.
The famous sculpture of David was supposed to be Hercules, but Michelangelo cut the time by 3 years and made a “David” statue instead.
Love him or hate him – there’s no denying that Raphael was one of the famous painters of the renaissance with a specialty in drawing and colors.
He is best known for creating Madonnas and large figure compositions in the Vatican, apart from being good at drawing, printmaking, and being an architect; .
Raphael’s work is cherished due to its easy composition, clarity, and visual achievement.
The Transfiguration and The School of Athens are paintings famous for their unique stylization.
His work made him influential and he was admired for the clarity of form, and ease of composition of his artwork.
Although Raphael died young at the age of 37, he packed a lot of living in his short life. Apart from his artworks, he was considered one of the masters of the high renaissance.
4. Sandro Botticelli
Sandro Botticelli, an Italian artist, was one of the popular painters of the Early Renaissance.
The revival of Greek and Roman in Florence influenced him so much that he became the first western artist (since classical times) to paint non-religious subjects.
His ideas like “Art could be created for pleasure, not just for religion” brought a breakthrough in western art.
During his time, the portrayal of religious subjects was iconographical. But with his skills, he brilliantly put religious subjects in a way that was relatable to a human.
His famous painting “Madonna and Child” is a great exhibit of this thought.
Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, popularly known as Donatello, was born in Florence around 1386.
The powerful expressivity that translated into his art made him one of the most influential sculptors of the Italian Renaissance.
His work was majorly inspired by ancient visual examples, which he often daringly transformed.
He also played a key role in differentiating Renaissance sculptures from the late Gothic style which preceded them.
In the early 1440s CE, Donatello was commissioned to produce a statue of the Biblical hero David, by the Medici family in Florence which is now considered to be amongst his greatest works.
In the sixteenth century Titian was the greatest Venetian artist, who eventually gained international fame.
He was known for his remarkable use of color and he achieved this by seeking out rare pigments and using them in their richest and most saturated form.
He had a huge impact on his contemporaries and his canvases can be seen as forerunners of the emotional drama of Baroque art.
Popularly recognized by his contemporaries as “The Sun Amidst Small Stars” he was counted to be one of the most versatile Italian painters.
Assumption of the Virgin, located on the high altar in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa Dei Frari, was the first commission of Titian in Venice and it established him as a lead painter of the city.
Artists from Baroque to Neoclassicism Period
Around the post-renaissance period, most artists wanted their artwork and architecture to mirror, and carry the same set of standards, as the idealized works of the Greeks and Romans.
This was an artistic period wherein many dominant styles were originated by numerous artists.
The paintings of this period became the signature of the era and were created in celebration of grandiose ideas.
1. Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini dominated the Roman art world of the seventeenth century while also challenging contemporary artistic traditions.
His sculptural and architectural projects reveal an innovative interpretation of subjects, use of forms, and combination of media.
He forged a path for future artists and played an instrumental role in establishing the dramatic and eloquent vocabulary of the Baroque style.
Apart from being a painter, sculptor, and architect, Bernini also had another passion which was the theatre.
His most distinctive sculptures include multiple ornamented fountains on various squares all across Rome.
2. Diego Velázquez
Diego Rivera, although a less famous painter, was the greatest Mexican painter of the twentieth century and had a profound effect on the international art world.
Rivera is credited to begin a mural movement in Mexican and international art. He is well known for reintroducing fresco painting into architecture and modern art.
Due to his importance in the country’s art history, the government of Mexico declared Rivera’s works as “monumentos historicos” which means “historical monuments”.
Rivera had many marriages and affairs. His fourth wife was the famous painter Frida Kahlo, with whom he shared a volatile relationship till she passed away.
3. Jean-Antoine Watteau
Antoine Watteau was one of the most brilliant artists of the eighteenth century.
He had an impact on the development of Rococo art in France and throughout Europe lasting well beyond his lifetime.
Living only thirty-six years, and plagued by frequent illness, Watteau nonetheless rose from an obscure provincial background to achieve fame in the French capital.
Watteau’s compositions were indebted to close observation of nature and life, which he initially rendered in countless drawings that later informed his paintings.
4. Jacques-Louis David
The art of Jacques Louis David embodies the style known as Neoclassicism, which flourished in France during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
David later became an active supporter of the French Revolution and was effectively a dictator of the arts under the French Republic.
With the fall of Robespierre, David was imprisoned and he narrowly escaped the guillotine.
David was the first French artist to unite classical subjects with linear precision and minimalist composition.
Caravaggio was one of the most revolutionary figures of European art.
His practice of painting directly from posed models violated the idealizing premise of Renaissance theory and promoted a new relationship between painting and viewer.
The Fortune Teller was his first major piece; it showed Mario being cheated on by a gypsy girl.
Caravaggio led an extremely notorious life; he was well known for constantly brawling and getting into arguments.
He can be said almost single-handedly to have created the Baroque style.
6. Rembrandt Van Rijn
One of the most famous painters in art history and an important icon in Dutch Art, Rembrandt Van Rijn was regarded as the master of self-portraits.
His love for art made him paint a wide array of paintings including landscapes, genre scenes, historical scenes, biblical and mythological themes, and realistic self-portraits.
His mastery over the use of light and expressive approaches in paintings made him popular among artists.
Some of his prominent works include The Night Watch, The Anatomy… Tulp and Danaë.
Artist of Romanticism Period
Romanticism was a movement that dominated all genres; including literature, music, art, and architecture; in Europe and the United States in the first half of the 19th century.
Romanticism emphasized emotion and individualism as well as the glorification of the past and nature.
Know more about romanticism through these artists who created works that highlighted that both sense and emotions were as important in experiencing the world.
1. Caspar David Friedrich
Caspar David Friedrich developed a significant reputation in his early career.
However, his reputation declined in his later years as critics, who failed to understand his work, severely attacked it.
He is viewed as a figure of great psychological complexity, “a celebrator of beauty haunted by darkness”.
He is best known for his mid-period landscapes, which typically feature pensive figures against night skies, morning mists, barren trees, or Gothic ruins.
Friedrich was an artist who took landscape art and infused it with deep religious and spiritual significance.
2. Francisco Goya
Francisco Goya rose to prominence through his series of tapestry cartoons and became the court painter to the Spanish Crown.
Goya is also renowned for highly imaginative elements in his art and his bold use of colors.
His art embodies various characteristics of the Romanticism period such as subjectivity, imagination, and emotion.
Goya is popularly known as both the last of the Old Masters and the first of the Moderns.
He has also been called “the last great painter in whose art thought and observation were balanced and combined to form a faultless unity”.
3. Eugene Delacroix
Eugene Delacroix is widely regarded as the leader of the Romantic movement in France.
Delacroix’s use of expressive brushstrokes and his study of the optical effects of color profoundly shaped the work of the Impressionists.
The Death of Sardanapalus is considered to be Delacroix’s Romantic masterpiece which was inspired by another Byron poem.
There were about 9140 works that were attributed to Delacroix, including 853 paintings, 1525 pastels and watercolors, 6629 drawings, 109 lithographs, and over 60 sketchbooks.
4. Gustave Courbet
Courbet was a French painter and leader of the Realist movement who was also considered the father of European Realism.
His democratic eye revolutionized Western Art and paved a path for the modern movement.
Courbet was against the Romantic painting of his day and instead had a vision of making everyday events the subject matter for his paintings.
It was in the year 1849 when Courbet obtained his first Salon success with his masterpiece entitled “After Dinner at Ornans”.
5. Joseph Mallord William Turner
J.M.W. Turner or known in his time as William Turner was a famous painter of Western painting who excelled in landscape painting.
Known as a forerunner of modern art, JMW turner excelled at romantic painting, printmaking, and water coloring.
He strived to achieve realism in his artwork—which was unheard of at his time.
Experimenting with light, colors, and brushwork on thousands of oil and watercolor paintings; Tuner mastered his art and later painted outside—which influenced Impressionists.
His artworks speak of vibrant colors, creative sceneries, and turbulent marine paintings.
Artist of Modernism
Modernism was a global movement in the early decades of the twentieth century that sought a new arrangement with the reality and values of modern industrial life.
During this period most artists around the world used new imagery, materials, and techniques to construct artworks that better portrayed the realities and hopes of modern societies.
1. Pablo Picasso
One of the best artists in the world, Picasso remains one of the most recognized names in western art history.
23 words. That’s how long Picasso’s Full Name was: Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruíz y Picasso.
Looking back on his 80 years career, Picasso practiced many styles and gave the world more than 20,000 artworks including paintings, costumes, ceramics, and prints.
To create a modern, fresh style, he didn’t just practice painting styles; rather, he mastered one and showed the world that classical art can be manipulated.
He, along with Georges Braque, came up with Cubism (paintings that appeared fragmented and abstract), an artistic movement that influenced artists around the globe.
2. Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol, the leader behind the visual art movement known as pop art, was a controversial pop artist.
He used irony and popular elements in the art, and mixed art with celebrities and advertisements that lead to people criticizing that he did this for making money, rather than for the love of art.
Andy’s artworks display the relationship between artistic expression, advertising, and celebrity culture. Apart from being a painter, Andy was a film director and producer.
He also had a major role in normalizing the drag queen culture.
Drag queens were in the periphery, but it was Andy who brought them from the outskirts into artistic movement. Drag queens were no longer seen as freaks after this.
3. Claude Monet
Claude Monet: an iconic French Impressionist who mastered open-air landscape painting (Plein air painting) was one of the most famous painters in the world.
At the age of 15 before becoming a painter, Claude Monet was a famous caricaturist who sold charcoal caricatures of the locals of Le Havre.
He studied the effect of time and light on the painting and captured the varying intensities of light in his paintings.
“Water Lilies” is one of his famous art series with about 250 oil paintings iterations of the subject.
His painting “Impression, Sunrise” led to the start of the Impressionism art movement in the 1870s.
4. Frida Kahlo
The intimate self-portraits and being an embodiment of Mexico’s cultural heritage are a few reasons that make Frida Kahlo one of the most famous female painters in history.
Her life was remarked with severe health issues, yet her self-portraits remained silent but powerful.
Frida’s famous self-portraits were surrealistically painted that depicted her state of mind.
Frida painted her injuries and disabilities in them. It was symbolic of her wounds from her life with themes of pain, ailment, injury, and fragility.
She influenced modern artists with these portraits, as she believed that art is about expressing inner emotion rather than attempting to please someone.
5. Jackson Pollock
One of the most famous artists in the world, Jackson Pollock contributed to the creation of the Abstract Expressionism movement that influenced artists in the 1940s.
Abstract Expressionism was based on spontaneous and personal emotional expression to create paintings.
Pollock was famous for inventing a spontaneous painting technique called drip painting (that is a type of action painting.)
Jackson’s masterpiece “No. 5, 1948” in the year 2006 became the world’s most expensive painting when it was sold for $140 million.
He was hindered by addiction, self-doubt, and awkwardness, but his spontaneous drip artwork got him fame between 1947 and 1950.
6. Salvador Dalí
“I’m Surrealism,” Dali quoted when André Breton expelled him from the surrealist movement.
Little did anyone know that Dali’s paintings were to become one of the most famous paintings of the surrealist movement.
With the paintings that look anything but a weird dream, Dali painted surrealistic paintings that had melting watches, flying animals, and settings far from reality.
He even painted while half-asleep and called those artworks “hand-painted dream photographs”
This guy influenced “surrealism” in a way that nobody could.
Salvador was one of the few Surrealist artists, who contributed immensely to the movement’s development.
7. Vincent van Gogh
Although he is one of the most famous painters of all time, Vincent Van Gogh wasn’t appreciated in his lifetime.
The Dutch Post-Impressionist artist was claimed to be a psychologically unstable persona, but his artworks made him one of the most popular and famous painters of all time.
His artworks are composed of dramatic brushstrokes and bold color that makes the paintings reflect raw emotions.
His famous painting Starry Night is a depiction of the town that he saw from the windows of the Psychiatric hospital where he was treated for his mental illness.
Some Other Major Contributors To The Modernism Period
1. Edgar Degas
His experiments with painting mediums and techniques led him to create vivid and expressive paintings that made him one of the most popular painters of his time.
2. Gustav Klimt
He became a key member of the Vienna Art Nouveau movement. This Art movement supported the ornament style of art that proposed to create a new style, which is free from historicism.
3. Grant Wood
He was an integral member of the Regionalist art movement that included paintings, lithographs, and illustrations depicting realistic scenes of rural and small-town America.
4. Henri Matisse
Matisse was considered the founding father of Fauvism along with André Derain.
5. René Magritte
Often he is regarded as one of the leading figures of surrealism whose paintings spoke of bizarre concepts with a twist of fantasy, comedy, mystery, and horror.
6. Georgia O’Keeffe
Being one of the early abstract painters, she helped to start the American modernism movement. Her zoomed-in depiction of flowers with a punch of abstraction made her a unique artist.
7. Georges Seurat
Having the mastery over the use of light, and by using tiny brushstrokes of contrasting paints, he invented pointillism (Divisionism).
8. Diego Rivera
Rivera is credited to begin a mural movement in Mexican and international art. He is well known for reintroducing fresco painting into architecture and modern art.
Art is a creative endeavor that is evolving as new artists emerge and leave a profound effect on the course of art with their talents.
These artists not only leave an irreplaceable imprint but they drive a strong force of wisdom for the future generations with their body of work!
There are so many of us who look for inspiration in art as it has the true power to transport your being to think outside the box
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Writing on art history is challenging as there can be a lot of discrepancies on the topic, but I tried my best to deliver!
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