10 Most Famous American Artists And Their Masterpieces


The early style of America artists was based primarily on English painting. Though several American artists became well known in the 19th century, it was only in the 20th century that the United States began to have a major influence on the international art world. The first prominent art movement in the United States was Realism, which depicted contemporary social realities and the lives of ordinary people. Abstract Expressionism was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence. It emphasized on conveying strong emotional or expressive content through abstraction. It was followed by the Pop Art movement, which was characterized by use of recognizable imagery from popular culture like advertisements, celebrities and comic book characters. U.S. also played a major role in Modernism, Neo-Expressionism and Graffiti Art. Many of the best known artists of the modern era come from the United States including the Realist Edward Hopper, the Modernist Georgia O’Keeffe, the Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock, the Pop Artist Andy Warhol and the Graffiti Artist Keith Haring. Know more about visual art of the United States through the 10 most famous American artists and their masterpieces.


#10 Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder
Alexander Calder

Lifespan: July 22, 1898 – November 11, 1976

One of the most influential sculptors of the twentieth century and perhaps the most acclaimed American sculptor, Alexander Calder is famous for his invention of the mobile, an abstract sculpture that moves in response to touch or air currents by taking advantage of the principle of equilibrium. In addition to mobiles, Calder made static sculpture called stabiles, wire sculptures, toys, theatrical sets, paintings in oil and gouache, and even jewelry and numerous household objects. Calder also created monumental sculptures including .125 for JFK Airport in New York City in 1957; Spirale for UNESCO in Paris the following year; and his largest sculpture El Sol Rojo in 1968 outside the Aztec Stadium for the New Mexico Summer Olympic Games. Two months after his death in November 1976, Alexander Calder was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Masterpiece: Calder’s Circus (1926-1931)

Calder's Circus (1931)
Calder’s Circus (1931) – Alexander Calder

Other Famous Works:-

Flamingo (1974)

Lobster Trap and Fish Tail (1939)

#9 Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell

Lifespan: February 3, 1894 – November 8, 1978

Norman Rockwell was a prolific artist, producing more than 4,000 original works in his lifetime. Most of his works were created as cover illustrations of The Saturday Evening Post magazine, and later the Look magazine. Rockwell is most famous for his illustrations of everyday life; for capturing the spirit of small town America; and for his patriotic depictions during World War II. In 1943, he created four paintings corresponding to the four freedoms mentioned by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his famous 1941 speech. The paintings; Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear; are among his best known works. Rockwell did not achieve critical acclaim with art critics not regarding him as a “serious painter”. Still, he was the most widely known and popular commercial artist of mid-20th century America.

Masterpiece: Four Freedoms series (1943)

Freedom from Want (1943) - Norman Rockwell
Freedom from Want (1943) – Norman Rockwell

Other Famous Works:-

The Problem We All Live With (1964)

Rosie the Riveter (1943)

#8 Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat

Lifespan: December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988

Homeless and unemployed, Jean-Michel Basquiat began his career as a graffiti artist. The graffiti art movement reached its peak in the U.S. in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1976, Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz began spray painting graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan. They used the pseudonym SAMO, an acronym for “Same Old Shit”. SAMO soon received media attention but the duo split and the project ended in 1979. In the early 1980s, Basquiat swiftly rose to become one of the most well known artists in the United States. His art focused on “suggestive dichotomies”, such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. Jean-Michel Basquiat is perhaps the most famous American artist of the Neo-expressionism movement, which is characterized by intense subjectivity and rough handling of materials. He died of heroin overdose at the age of only 27.

Masterpiece: Scull (1981)

Scull (1981)
Scull (1981) – Jean-Michel Basquiat

Other Famous Works:-

Trumpet (1984)

Flexible (1982)

#7 Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein

Lifespan: October 27, 1923 – September 29, 1997

Roy Lichtenstein initially worked in Cubism and Abstract Expressionism before moving to Pop Art, the genre in which he made his mark. The first time his work was exhibited, he was called a copycat by many art critics as his works closely resembled the originals. The Life magazine went to the extent of publishing an article whose title asked “Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?” The artists responded by saying, “The closer my work is to the original, the more threatening and critical the content”. With time, Roy Lichtenstein became one of the leading artists of the Pop Art movement, which dominated the American art world. His best known works, usually inspired by popular advertising and comic strips, have become iconic images of the movement.

Masterpiece: Whaam! (1963)

Whaam! by Roy Lichtenstein
Whaam! (1963) – Roy Lichtenstein

Other Famous Works:-

Drowning Girl (1963)

Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But… (1964)

#6 Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper

Lifespan: July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967

The art of Edward Hopper is marked by minimum of action with almost no sign of life and mobility; and the use of dramatic means to suggest the psychological states of his subjects. Hopper’s individuals, usually depicted isolated and disconnected from their environments, revealed the solitude of modern life. Moreover, he forced his viewer to play an active role in completing the narrative of his artworks. This was hugely influential for the art world as it led to art movements in which the major role in understanding the artwork was left for the viewer. The most famous American realist painter, Edward Hopper has been said to have painted a more revealing portrait of twentieth-century America than any other artist. His masterpiece Nighthawks is one of the most recognizable paintings in the history of American art.

Masterpiece: Nighthawks (1942)

Nighthawks (1942)
Nighthawks (1942) – Edward Hopper

Other Famous Works:-

Automat (1927)

New York Movie (1939)

#5 Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko

Lifespan: September 25, 1903 – February 25, 1970

Mark Rothko, or Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz, belonged to a Russian Jewish family which immigrated to the United States when he was a child. He moved through a number of styles in his artistic career including Surrealism, before he developed his own signature style. Rothko is considered a pioneer of Color Field painting, a style within Abstract Expressionism in which color is the main subject itself. Though Rothko is regarded as one of the leading abstract artists, he insisted that he was not an abstractionist as his primary focus was discovering mysticism and esoteric aspects of colors and its combinations. Painting was a method of spiritual expression for Rothko and many viewers have broken down in tears in front of his works. Mark Rothko made a monumental contribution to abstract art and he is regarded as one of the most influential abstract artists in the history of western art.

Masterpiece: Orange, Red, Yellow (1961)

Orange, Red, Yellow (1961)
Orange, Red, Yellow (1961) – Mark Rothko

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

Untitled (Black on Grey) (1970)

No. 10 (1950)

#4 Keith Haring

Keith Haring
Keith Haring

Lifespan: May 4, 1958 – February 16, 1990

Keith Haring was introduced to art at an early age by his father, who did cartooning as a hobby. In 1978, Haring arrived in New York and became aware of the thriving underground graffiti art scene there. He produced thousands of public drawings and became one of the most renowned graffiti artists. He was also arrested for vandalism on numerous occasions. As public interest in his art grew, Haring had his first solo exhibition in 1981. Throughout the 1980s he produced dozens of murals and public works all over the world, including in Europe, South America and Australia. Gradually even the fine art establishment had to acknowledge his talent. Keith Haring brought the elements of what was termed as “low art” into the formerly exclusive “high art” spaces of museums and galleries. His art is known for being deceptively simple while containing deeper themes of birth, death, love, sexuality, war and social harmony.

Masterpiece: Crack is Wack (1986)

Crack is Wack (1986)
Crack is Wack (1986) – Keith Haring

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

Tuttomondo (1989)

Free South Africa (1985)

#3 Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe

Lifespan: November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986

American Modernism was an artistic and cultural movement which peaked between the two World Wars. It was marked by a deliberate departure from tradition and use of innovative forms of expression. Georgia O’Keeffe became the leading figure in American Modernism by challenging the boundaries of artistic style with her paintings, which combined abstraction and representation. She is most famous for her dramatically large, sensual close-up of flowers which essentially made them into abstract works. Georgia O’Keeffe was highly significant in influencing the gender balance in the artistic scene. Known as the Mother of American Modernism“, she is not only the most famous female American artist but also one of the most influential figures of 20th century art. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.

Masterpiece: Black Iris III (1926)

Black Iris III (1926) - Georgia O’Keeffe
Black Iris III (1926) – Georgia O’Keeffe

Other Famous Works:-

Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue (1931)

Radiator Building — Night, New York (1927)

#2 Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock

Lifespan: January 28, 1912 – August 11, 1956

Drip painting is a form of abstract art in which paint is dripped or poured onto the canvas, rather than being carefully applied. Jackson Pollock is the most famous practitioner of drip painting to the extent that he was dubbed “Jack the Dripper” by TIME magazine. Pollock’s technique of pouring and dripping paint popularized the term action painting, a method in which the physical act of painting itself is an essential aspect of the finished work. His most famous works include Blue Poles, which was purchased by the National Gallery of Australia in 1973 for A$1.3 million, a then world record for a contemporary American painting; and No. 5, 1948, which created the world record for the highest price paid for a painting when it was sold for a price of $140 million. Jackson Pollock was the preeminent figure of the Abstract Expressionism movement. He is the most famous American abstract artist and one of the outstanding figures of 20th century art.

Masterpiece: Number 5, 1948

Number 5, 1948 - Jackson Pollock
Number 5, 1948 – Jackson Pollock

Other Famous Works:-

Number 11, 1952 (Blue Poles)

One: Number 31, 1950

#1 Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol

Lifespan: August 6, 1928 – February 22, 1987

Born Andrew Warhola, Andy Warhol is the best known and most influential artist of the Pop Art movement to the extent that he is known as the “Pope of Pop”. The non-painterly style and commercial aspects of his paintings initially caused offense as it affronted the technique and philosophy of abstract expressionism, the then dominant style in the United States. His works created an uproar in the American art world and the resulting controversy made Warhol a household name. Warhol was a prolific artist and he explored a wide variety of media including painting, silkscreening, photography, film and sculpture. His paintings are among the most expensive ever sold. The highest price paid for a Warhol painting is US$105 million for a 1963 canvas titled Silver Car Crash while, if one adjusts for inflation, his most expensive painting is Eight Elvises at US$111.2. Though many still doubt the merit of his work, Andy Warhol is without doubt the most famous American artist.

Masterpiece: Marilyn Diptych (1962)

Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhol
Marilyn Diptych (1962)

Other Famous Works:-

Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962)

Eight Elvises (1963)

11 thoughts on “10 Most Famous American Artists And Their Masterpieces”

    • I respectfully disagree, because there are many American woman who may not be as famous as O’Keefe , nevertheless, America has produced many woman painters.

  1. Winslow Homer nowhere to be found yet you claim it’s the “most famous” painters. I’d bet more people know about Emanuel Leutze’s work than Keith Harring’s “masterpiece”


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