Most Famous Artists of all time
What makes an artist great? It takes talent, of course, and a genius for innovation. Also, having some sort of vision helps. But a truly great artist is distinguished by a unique ability to take his or her moment in time and distill its essence so that resulting work becomes timeless. Limited to dress and hairstyle, for example, the Mona Lisa is just a woman from the Renaissance. But her expression—subtle, ambiguous—has given her a mystique that will survive the ages. And so it goes, not only for her creator, Leonardo Da Vinci, but also for the other artists (many of them included in New York museums such as The Met, MoMA and the Guggenheim) on our list of the most famous artists of all time.
The original Renaissance Man, Leonardo is identified with genius, not only for masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa (the title for which has entered the language as a superlative), The Last Supper and The Lady with an Ermine, but also for his drawings of technologies (aircraft, tanks, automobile) that were five hundred years in the future.
Michelangelo was a triple threat: A painter (the Sistine Ceiling), a sculptor (the David and Pietà) and architect (St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome). Make that a quadruple threat since he also wrote poetry. Though he bounced between Florence, Bologna and Venice, his greatest commissions were for the Medici Popes (including Julian II and Leo X, among others) in Rome. Aside from the aforementioned Sistine Ceiling, St. Peter’s Basilica and Pietà, there was his tomb for Pope Julian II (which includes his iconic carving of Moses) and the design for the Laurentian Library at at San Lorenzo’s Church. Twenty years after painting the Sistine Ceiling, he returned to the Chapel to create one of the greatest frescoes of the Renaissance: The Last Judgment.
One the greatest artists in history, this Dutch Master is responsible for masterworks such as The Night Watch and Doctor Nicolaes Tulp’s Demonstration of the Anatomy of the Arm. But he is particularly know for portraits in which he demonstrated an uncanny ability to evoke the innermost thoughts of his subjects (including himself through the play of facial expression and the fall of light across the sitter’s features.
Watteau (1684–1721) was arguably the greatest French painter of the 18th-century, a transitional figure between Baroque art and the Roccoco style that followed. He emphasized color and movement, structuring his compositions so that they almost resembled theater scenes, but it was the atmospheric quality of his work that would become highly influential for artists like J.M.W Turner and the Impressionists.
Born in Málaga, Spain, Pablo Picasso is undoubtedly one of the most famous artists ever. His name is virtually synonymous with modern art, and it doesn’t hurt that he fits the commonly held image of the outlaw genius whose ambitions are matched by an appetite for living large. He changed the course of art history with revolutionary innovations that include collage and, of course, Cubism, which broke the stranglehold of representational subject matter on art, and set the tempo for other 20th-century artists. He utterly transformed multiple mediums, making so many works that it’s hard to grasp his achievement.
Dalí was effectively Warhol before there was a Warhol. Like Andy, Dalí courted celebrity almost as an adjunct to his work. With their melting watches and eerie blasted landscapes, Dalí’s paintings were the epitome of Surrealism, and he cultivated an equally outlandish appearance, wearing a long waxed mustache that resembled cat whiskers. Ever the consummate showman, Dalí once declared, “I am not strange. I am just not normal.”