“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” - Pablo Picasso

A good number of us have art in our homes. While contemporary art may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there are a lot of people who enjoy the classic art that you can see in the many art galleries around the world. It’s time to enjoy some of the biggest artists in terms of impressionism, symbolism, dadaism, classicism, romanticism, cubism, and expressionism.

From still life to self-portraits via murals and oil on canvas, the history of painting includes many different names and styles.

In this article we're going to look at some of the greatest painters to have ever lived, the best painters currently still plying their trade, the history of art and painting, and the 10 painters that everyone should know about.

Who Are the Greatest Painters of All Time?

The history of art, and painting more precisely, is full of great painters. Even if you know nothing about painting history, a lot of people will know the big names when it comes to painting: Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Dali, Matisse, and Michaelangelo are basically household names at this point.

Who are the most famous artists?
Van Gogh is one of the world's most famous painters. (Source: user1469083764)

There are plenty of museums that allow you to discover great works and oil paintings that have become part of art history.

The UK is home to plenty of famous art galleries. Art lovers can enjoy the National Gallery or the Tate Modern if you prefer contemporary artists.

Art galleries are some of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions. Unsurprisingly, you can find some of the biggest art galleries and museums in the capital. That said, there are other large cities in the UK that also have their own great art galleries and museums. Trips to museums of art and galleries are a great way to learn about the best artists and the different artistic movements.

The national gallery is home to a lot of work from the world’s greatest artists. The Tate has British Rennaissance pieces. The Wallace Collection Manchester Square is home to a lot of Rembrandts. You can enjoy European art from the 16th to 19th centuries in the Dulwich Picture Gallery with famous Rembrandts, Raphaels, Murillo, and works from Joshua Reynolds.

The national portrait gallery obviously includes a lot of portraits of famous British figures. Of course, if this isn’t your thing, you may want to avoid it.

There are also plenty of great galleries outside of London, too. For example, the National Gallery of Scotland has works from Botticelli, Raphael, Vermeer, Monet, Turner, and others.

The Top 10 Painters You Should Know

Sometimes works are more famous than the artists who created them. There are a lot of canvases that almost everyone knows but few can name the artist who actually painted them. Some works are famous for just how strange they are, others are known because of the subject, and some are famous for being a catalyst for an artistic movement.

Which are the most famous paintings?
"Guernica" is one of the most famous pieces ever made. (Source: Almudena_Sanz_Tabernero)

In terms of famous works, the Mona Lisa is as famous as the artist who painted it. Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting is also the star of the Louvre museum in Paris. Thousands of visitors head to this museum to see this artwork. Mona Lisa’s smile has intrigued art lovers for centuries and her gaze seems to follow the viewer. This work continues to interest art historians.

When it comes to famous paintings, we could also mention “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. Painted in 1893, this piece has a human figure who’s as scared as they are scary. Even those who aren’t interested in art will recognise it and it’s still being spoken about by art historians today.

Other works are famous for the subjects they portray. Eugene Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People”, for example. This piece represents the Republic of France with the woman wearing a Phrygian cap (also known as the liberty cap) and is one of the most famous pieces of art.

The same is true for “The Raft of the Medusa” by Théodore Géricault, which portrays a shipwreck, or Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”, where the artist denounced the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.

Finally, there are works that are famous for spurring an entire movement. Claude Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise” gave rise to the impressionist movement. Similarly, the “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” of Hokusai influenced impressionist painters.

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There are canvases that turned the art world on its head. This is especially true with Edouard Manet’s “Déjeuner sur l’herbe” (The Luncheon on the Grass) is one of the first modern paintings, Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon” (The Young Ladies of Avignon) is an early example of cubism, and “The Persistence of Memory” by Dali was one of the first surrealist paintings. These are important pieces in terms of art history.

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Learn More About the History of Painting

Painting was born earlier than you might think. And no, Leonardo da Vinci wasn’t one of the first painters!

When were the first paintings made?
Cave paintings often detailed animal life. (Source: KlausHausmann)

Long before him, prehistoric humans were already painting. Many of these painters would paint the wildlife of the time. There are often examples of mammoths in cave paintings and they regularly used black, yellow, and red tones to paint.

The antiquity was also home to many painters, especially the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, who would decorate walls and ceramics with paintings.

In the Middle Ages in the West, painters would work on manuscripts or planks of wood. There are a lot of religious (especially Christian) painters during this time. Religion would be a recurring theme for many centuries.

The Italian Renaissance gave rise to the greats like Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci. Studying the environment and the sciences changed how they saw art. Similarly, they started to represent perspective and the human form in a realistic way.

Bit by bit, the Renaissance gave way to Baroque works from artists such as Caravaggio. Baroque painters generally painted tragic scenes from the Bible. These pieces made use of chiaroscuro techniques. This is when light and dark were contrasted greatly.

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In the 17th century, painters such as Fragonard were painting using the Rococo manner. These paintings were more joyful, sensual, and sometimes erotic.

Towards the end of the 18th century, painters started heading in a new direction towards the fundamentals of art. Artists were inspired by ancient architecture and began to paint simpler and purer paintings, giving us neoclassical painting. Then came the Romantic movement when artists would paint in a melancholic manner. Courbet also led the Realism movement in the 19th century. These paintings acted as a stand-in for photography before it was invented.

Once photography was invented, there was really no need for paintings to be realistic. Artists didn’t need to paint portraits or events. Paintings were allowed to express their own view of the world.

At this point, new movements like Pop Art and Fauvism were born. Nowadays, painters continue to inspire the whole world while trying to make their mark on art history.

Find out more about the history of art!

Who Are the Most Famous Contemporary Artists?

Painting has evolved a lot since prehistoric cave paintings. Contemporary painters use both the classical techniques and their own personal techniques. While modern art and contemporary art isn't for everyone, there's a certain appeal to abstract painting that photographs can't capture. The most famous people in modern art include:

  • Gerhard Richter
  • Yan Pei Ming
  • Yue Minjun
  • Martial Raysse
  • Anselm Kiefer
  • Philippe Garel
  • Gérard Garouste
  • Miquel Barcelo
  • Vladimir Veličković
  • Georg Baselitz
  • Pierre Soulages
  • Marlene Dumas
Who are the most famous contemporary artists?
With the invention of photography, paintings no longer had to be realistic. (Source: Mondschwinge)

The market has also changed. Once upon a time, kings would commission artists and the market would dictate an artist’s popularity. This is how a painter would become known. Nowadays, you can discover art without needing to involve yourself in the fine art market.

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Whether you like oil painting, landscapes, a self-portrait, abstract art or figurative pieces, acrylic paints, prints, or sculpture, there are plenty of artworks and paintings by different artists to discover and there's something for everyone. You can go to a museum of modern art or a fine art gallery and see work from the masters.

Additionally, you can have a look on Superprof for art history tutors or painting tutors. You can get face-to-face tutors, group tutorials with other students, or even online tutorials which will be taught using a webcam and software such as Skype. You just need to choose the right type of tutorial and the right tutor!

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