Early American paintings were primarily portraits, landscapes and depictions of historical events. The first prominent art movement in the United States was Realism, which originated in France in the 1850s and became important in America by early 20th century. American Realists depicted contemporary social realities and the lives and everyday activities of ordinary people. The best known paintings of the movement include Hopper’s Nighthawks and Wyeth’s Christina’s World. Abstract Expressionism was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence. It incorporated a variety of styles and emphasized on conveying strong emotional or expressive content through abstraction. The best known figure of the movement was Jackson Pollock. Another major American art movement of the 20th century was the Pop Art movement which focused on popular culture. Its most famous works include Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych and Lichtenstein’s Whaam! Know more about the contribution of American artists to the art world through there 10 most famous paintings.
Artist: Roy Lichtenstein
Pop Art appreciates popular culture as opposed to elitist culture. It is characterized by bright colors and use of recognizable imagery from popular culture like advertisements, celebrities and comic book characters. Roy Lichtenstein is the most famous American Pop Art artist after Andy Warhol and Whaam! is his most renowned work. The painting is one among several works by the artist which depict aerial combat. Lichtenstein had a three year stint in the United States army from 1943 to 1946 and Whaam! is inspired by an illustration of comic-book illustrator Irv Novick, whom he met during this period. Inspired by images of comic books, the painting shows a fighter plane firing a rocket which hits another plane to blow it up in flames. Whaam! is noted for combining brilliant color and narrative situation. It “documents while it gently parodies the familiar hero images of modern America.”
#9 Freedom from Want
Alternate Title: The Thanksgiving Picture
Artist: Norman Rockwell
In 1943, Norman Rockwell created four paintings corresponding to the four freedoms mentioned by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his famous 1941 speech. Freedom from Want is the third and most renowned painting of the series. It depicts a multi-generational family gathered around a dinner table for a holiday meal. The grandmother is about to set the turkey down while the grandfather looks on with fondness and is ready to carve it. The people in the picture are friends and family of Rockwell, who were photographed individually and painted into the scene. Freedom from Want became a symbol of “family togetherness, peace, and plenty”. Artistically, it is highly regarded as an example of mastery of the challenges of white-on-white painting. Freedom from Want has become the most famous representation of Thanksgiving in America and it has been adapted and parodied numerous times. However, it is not exclusively associated with Thanksgiving and is also known as I’ll Be Home for Christmas.
#8 Number 5, 1948
Artist: Jackson Pollock
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, perhaps the best known abstract artist after the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, is the most famous practitioner of drip painting. He was named “Jack the Dripper” by TIME magazine. Created on eight by four feet fiberboard, No. 5, 1948 is the most famous as well as the most expensive painting by Jackson Pollock. In November 2006, it created the world record for the highest price paid for a painting when it was sold to an undisclosed buyer for a price of $140 million. As of July 2017, it ranks ninth on the inflation adjusted list of the most expensive paintings ever sold. No. 5, 1948 is considered a prime example of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and an epitome of Abstract Expressionism, one of the most important movements in abstract art.
#7 Campbell’s Soup Cans
Artist: Andy Warhol
One of the most famous works of Pop Art, Campbell’s Soup Cans consist of thirty-two canvases, one of each of the 32 varieties offered by the company at the time. It is the work of art that led to Pop Art becoming a major art movement in the U.S. The non-painterly style and the commercial subject of the painting initially caused offense as it affronted the technique and philosophy of Abstract Expressionism, the then dominant style in America. The resulting debates on the merits and ethics of such a painting which lacked the aesthetics and mystical inclination of Abstract Expressionist works created an uproar in the American art world. It made Andy Warhol the leading and the most well-known artist of the Pop Art movement, which went to have a huge influence on the western art world.
#6 Whistler’s Mother
Alternate Title: Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1
Artist: James McNeill Whistler
James McNeill Whistler, though primarily active in the United Kingdom, was an influential American artist of the late 19th century. He was against sentimentality and moral allusion in painting and believed that true art is “complete in itself” and divorced from such attachments. The subject of this painting is his mother Anna McNeill Whistler. The artwork was originally titled Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 and the artist was annoyed by the insistence of others to view it as a portrait. The painting ultimately became an icon in America for motherhood, affection for parents and family values. In 1934, the U.S. Post office issued a stamp engraved with a stylized image of Whistler’s Mother with the slogan “In Memory and In Honor of the Mothers of America.” Whistler’s Mother has been called a Victorian Mona Lisa and it remains one of the most famous portraits by an American artist.
#5 American Gothic
Artist: Grant Wood
The American Gothic House, also known as the Dibble House, is a house in Eldon, Iowa, U.S. The house is designed in the Rural Gothic style. In August 1930, Grant Wood, a painter known for his depictions of rural American Midwest, noticed the Dibble House and sketched it on the back of an envelope. The next day he made a sketch of the house on paperboard after obtaining permission from its residents. He then painted the house along with “the kind of people I fancied should live in that house.” His dentist Dr. Byron McKeeby posed as the gentleman while his sister Nan Wood Graham posed as the lady. The painting was submitted to the 1930 annual exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it won a bronze medal. It was acquired by the museum where it still resides. American Gothic is among the most recognized paintings in 20th century American art and it has been widely parodied in popular culture.
#4 Portrait of Madame X
Artist: John Singer Sargent
John Singer Sargent was an American artist residing in Paris at the time he created this painting. He was in his late 20s and trying to make a name for himself. Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau was an American expatriate who married a French banker and was well known in Parisian society for her beauty. After a couple of years of persuasion, the glamorous Mme Gautreau agreed to pose for Sargent. When the portrait was first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1884, it caused an uproar. It was considered too provocative by some while critics compared its model to a corpse and used words like hideous and atrocious in relation to it. Newspapers published cartoons and satirical poetry mocking both the artist and the model, as Sargent’s attempt to hide her name proved futile. Such was the scandal that Sargent had to leave Paris and move to London. Portrait of Madame X would eventually become one of the most admired and renowned portraits in western art. It is the work for which Sargent is most known.
#3 Christina’s World
Artist: Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth was one of the best-known U.S. artists of the middle 20th century. His precise realistic views of rural life became icons of American culture and challenged the nature of modern art in the nation, which was primarily abstract. His masterpiece, Christina’s World, is among the most famous American paintings of the middle 20th century. It depicts a woman lying on the field looking at a gray house on the horizon. The woman in the painting is Anna Christina Olson. She was Wyeth’s neighbor in South Cushing, Maine and she suffered from a degenerative muscular disorder that prevented her from walking. Wyeth was inspired to create the masterpiece when he saw her crawling across a field from his window. Though it received little attention on first being displayed, Christina’s World grew in popularity over the years. It is now regarded as an icon of American art and one of the most important works of American realism.
Artist: Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper, the most famous American realist, is best known for revealing the solitude of modern life and forcing the viewer to play a more active role in completing the narrative of artworks. His art 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. This painting, which portrays people in a downtown diner late at night, was inspired by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue, the artist’s neighborhood in Manhattan. It has been interpreted as an illustration of the chilling effects of the Second World War and as a portrayal of the isolation of an individual amid the bustle of New York City. The most famous work of Hopper, Nighthawks is one of the most recognizable paintings in American art. It influenced many future American artists and has been widely referenced and parodied in popular culture.
#1 Marilyn Diptych
Artist: Andy Warhol
Legendary American actress Marilyn Monroe died in August 1962. In the following weeks, Andy Warhol, acclaimed as the Pope of Pop Art, made this masterpiece which contains fifty images of the actress. All the images are based on the same publicity photograph from the 1953 film Niagara. The 25 images on the left side of the work are vividly colored while the 25 on the right are in black and white with an effect of fading. Critics suggest that the contrast is suggestive of the star’s mortality. Marilyn Diptych is an iconic work of the Pop Art movement; the best known masterpiece of Andy Warhol; and the most famous painting by an American artist. In 2004, it was named the third most influential piece of modern art in a survey of 500 artists, curators, critics and dealers which was commissioned by the sponsor of the Turner prize.