10 Most Famous Artists In The History of Western Art


The earliest Western artists which are well known till today emerged during the Renaissance, a cultural movement in Europe that spanned roughly from the 14th century to the 17th century; and was marked by renewed interest in the culture of the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans. The most famous artists of the Renaissance were Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, the first two of which feature on our list. Romanticism was a movement that began in late 18th century and dominated the Western art world in the first half of the 19th century. Romanticism laid emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of the past and of nature. The best known Romantic artist today is Francisco Goya. Modern Art is a term used to describe the artworks produced in the period from around the 1860s to the 1970s. Primarily, modern artists broke away from the traditions of the past to create artworks which kept challenging the existing notion of art. Prominent Modern Art movements include Realism, Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism and Pop Art. As Modern Art is the most recent major movement in Western art, there are a number of Modern artists on our list including Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo. Here are the 10 best known artists today from the history of Western Art.

#10 Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya
Francisco Goya

Lifespan: March 30, 1746 – April 16, 1828

Movement: Romanticism

Nationality: Spanish

Francisco Goya rose to prominence in the artistic scene through his series of tapestry cartoons and became the court painter to the Spanish Crown. He later developed a penchant for portrayals of a dark nature for which he is most known today. Dubbed as his Black Paintings, they portray intense, haunting themes, reflective of both his fear of insanity and his bleak outlook on humanity. Goya is also renowned for highly imaginative elements in his art and bold use of paint. It was he who, more than anyone else, exemplified the Romantic values of the expression of the artist’s feelings and his personal imaginative world. His art embodies Romanticism’s emphasis on subjectivity, imagination and emotion. Goya has been termed 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”. Francisco Goya is the most famous Romantic artist; and among other things, one of the great portraitists of modern times.

Masterpiece: The Third of May 1808 (1814)

The Third of May 1808 (1814) - Francisco Goya
The Third of May 1808 (1814) – Francisco Goya

Other Famous Works:-

The Nude Maja (1800)

Saturn Devouring His Son (1823)

#9 Rembrandt

Rembrandt van Rijn
Rembrandt van Rijn

Lifespan: July 15, 1606 – October 4, 1669

Movement: Dutch Golden Age

Nationality: Dutch

The Dutch Golden Age was a period in the history of the Netherlands in which, among other things, Dutch art was among the most acclaimed in the world. Rembrandt dominated the Dutch Golden Age and since then he remains the most famous Dutch artist. Rembrandt is known as the master of light and shadow. His paintings are of exceptional realism, which he was able to achieve through his trademark light and shadow effects. Through his prolific career, Rembrandt worked in a number of genres but he is most famous for portraits and for depictions of biblical and mythological scenes. As a portrait artist, he is renowned for capturing the moods of his subjects. Group portraiture flourished in the Netherlands at the time and Rembrandt has created some of the most famous group portraits. He is also considered one of the greatest self-portrait artist, known for not showing any mercy to himself. Rembrandt is ranked by many as the best ever portrait painter and one of the greatest artists of all time.

Masterpiece: The Night Watch (1642)

The Nightwatch by Rembrandt
The Nightwatch (1642) – Rembrandt

Other Famous Works:-

The Abduction of Europa (1632)

Self-Portrait with Beret and Turned-Up Collar (1659)

#8 Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol

Lifespan: August 6, 1928 – February 22, 1987

Movement: Pop Art

Nationality: American

Pop Art was the last prominent modern art movement. Its artists used recognizable imagery from popular culture like advertisements, celebrities and comic book characters. Born Andrew Warhola, Andy Warhol was 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 the 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. Though many still doubt the merit of his work, Andy Warhol is without doubt the most famous American artist and a leading figure of 20th century modern art.

Masterpiece: Marilyn Diptych (1962)

Marilyn Diptych Close Up
One of the Marilyns in the Diptych

Other Famous Works:-

Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962)

Eight Elvises (1963)

#7 Claude Monet

Claude Monet
Claude Monet

Lifespan: November 14, 1840 – December 5, 1926

Movement: Impressionism

Nationality: French

Claude Monet was a founder of the art movement Impressionism; which laid emphasis on vivid colors, candid poses and, most importantly, on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities. Monet was the driving force behind this revolutionary art movement; and its most consistent and prolific practitioner. The name of the movement also comes from his painting Impression, Sunrise; the term being coined in a satirical review. Monet was dedicated to finding improved methods of painterly expression. He broke tradition and thought in terms of colors, light and shapes. Some of his series explored how smoke, steam, mist, rain etc. affected color and visibility. Nympheas (Water Lilies), the most renowned series of Monet which contains around 250 paintings, has been described as “The Sistine Chapel of Impressionism”. Claude Monet is the most famous French artist and he is considered among the greatest painters ever.

Masterpiece: Water Lilies series (1896 – 1926)

Nympheas Series
One of the paintings from the Water Lilies Series

Other Famous Works:-

Impression, Sunrise (1872)

Rouen Cathedral series (1892 – 1893)

#6 Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dali
Salvador Dali

Lifespan: May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989

Movement: Surrealism

Nationality: Spanish

Surrealism was one of the most influential modern art movement of the 20th century. Its artists rejected rationalism and literary realism; and instead focused on channeling the unconscious mind to unveil the power of the imagination. Known for his eccentric manners, Salvador Dali created the most famous masterpieces of Surrealist art. His contribution to Surrealist painting include the paranoiac-critical method; in which the artist attempts to tap into his subconscious through systematic irrational thought and a self-induced paranoid state. Best known for his striking and bizarre images, Dali used extensive symbolism in his work. Recurring images in his paintings include elephants with brittle legs which evoke weightlessness; ants, thought to be his symbol for decay and death; and melting watches, perhaps symbolic of non-linear human perception of time. Salvador Dali was the most renowned Surrealist painter and he is regarded as one of the most influential figures in modern art.

Masterpiece: The Persistence of Memory (1931)

The Persistence of Memory (1931) - Salvador Dali
The Persistence of Memory (1931) – Salvador Dali

Other Famous Works:-

Lobster Telephone (1936)

Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937)

#5 Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo

Lifespan: July 6, 1907 – July 13, 1954

Movement: Surrealism

Nationality: Mexican

On 17th September 1925, Frida Kahlo and her friend Alex were riding in a bus when it crashed into a street trolley car. Due to the grave injuries she suffered in the accident, Frida had to undergo 35 operations in her life, bear with relapses of extreme pain and could not have children. While in hospital, Kahlo began painting and she ultimately abandoned her career in medicine to become an artist. Frida Kahlo is most famous for her self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. She said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Frida Kahlo is ranked among the greatest artists in the genre of self portraiture. Though her influence on art might not be as great as some of the artists in this list, Frida Kahlo is undoubtedly one of the most famous artists and perhaps the most renowned female painter of all time. She also remains a feminist icon for the way she led her life.

Masterpiece: The Two Fridas (1939)

The Two Fridas (1939) - Frida Kahlo
The Two Fridas (1939) – Frida Kahlo

Other Famous Works:-

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940)

The Broken Column (1944)

#4 Michelangelo

Portrait of Michelangelo

Lifespan: March 6, 1475 – February 18, 1564

Movement: Renaissance

Nationality: Italian

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was a “Renaissance man” or “Universal Genius” who excelled in various fields including painting, architecture, poetry and engineering. However, above all, he is widely regarded as the greatest sculptor of all time. In his lifetime, Michelangelo was often called Il Divino (“the divine one”). After his death, subsequent artists tried to imitate his impassioned, highly personal style resulting in Mannerism, the next major movement in Western art. Michelangelo is perhaps the most influential figure in the history of western art whose works in painting, sculpture and architecture have exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of art in the west. His statue of David is one of the most famous sculpture in the west; his frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and The Last Judgement on its altar wall guarantee him a place among the greatest painters; and his St. Peter’s Basilica is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture.

Masterpiece: David (1504)

David - Michelangelo
David (1504) – Michelangelo

Other Famous Works:-

The Creation of Adam (1512)

St. Peter’s Basilica (1626)

#3 Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh

Lifespan: March 30, 1853 – July 29, 1890

Movement: Post-Impressionism

Nationality: Dutch

Vincent Van Gogh was a Post-Impressionist artist who had a difficult life marred by mental instability. He ultimately shot himself in the chest with a revolver and died two days later. Van Gogh rose to fame in the early 20th century, a decade after his death, Ultimately he was credited with being a key figure in the development of modern art. He is now widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the history of Western art. Van Gogh created about 2,100 artworks in just over a decade which include landscapes, still lifes, portraits and self-portraits. He is considered one of the most skilled artists in all these genres. The art of Van Gogh is notable for its bold color; rough beauty; emotional honesty; and impulsive and expressive brushwork. He created some of the best known masterpieces of modern art including The Starry Night; the Sunflower series; and the Irises series.

Masterpiece: The Starry Night (1889)

De sterrennacht
The Starry Night (1889) – Vincent Van Gogh

Other Famous Works:-

Sunflowers series

Irises series

#2 Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci

Lifespan: April 15, 1452 – May 2, 1519

Movement: Renaissance

Nationality: Italian

Leonardo da Vinci was the ideal Renaissance man, the greatest Universal Genius, who, among other things, was a painter, mathematician, engineer, architect, botanist, sculptor and anatomist. However for four centuries after his death his fame rested primarily on his laurels as a painter. His detailed knowledge of anatomy, light, botany and geology helped him in creating some of the most renowned masterpieces in history. Da Vinci is known for capturing subtle expressions due to which his paintings look more alive than others. He made numerous contributions to the field of art including his pioneering of the techniques known as sfumato, the smooth transition from light to shadow; and chiaroscuro, use of strong contrasts between light and dark to achieve a three dimensional effect. Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, world’s most famous painting. Other famous works in art by him include The Last Supper, the most reproduced religious painting; and Vitruvian Man, one of the most reproduced artistic images. Leonardo da Vinci is, without doubt, the most famous artist of the Renaissance.

Masterpiece: Mona Lisa (1517)

Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa (1517) – Leonardo da Vinci

Other Famous Works:-

The Last Supper (1498)

Vitruvian Man (1490)

#1 Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso

Lifespan: October 25, 1881 – April 8, 1973

Movement: Cubism

Nationality: Spanish

Demonstrating extraordinary artistic talent in his early years, Pablo Picasso went on to become the most influential artist of the 20th century. He broke the practices of the past and co-pioneered the art movement Cubism. Cubist artists depicted the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to give it greater context and this made the artwork partially abstract. The movement revolutionized European painting and sculpture. Picasso’s style changed over the course of his career as he experimented with different theories, techniques and ideas. He was a prolific artist and, apart from creating a large volume of work in other media, he made around 1900 paintings in his long career. No artist has been as famous as him during his lifetime. Several of his paintings are among the most expensive ever sold but his most famous works are generally held by museums. Pablo Picasso is undoubtedly the most famous artist and many also regard him as the greatest painter of all time.

Masterpiece: Guernica (1937)

Guernica (1937) - Pablo Picasso
Guernica (1937) – Pablo Picasso

Other Famous Works:-

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907)

The Weeping Woman (1937)

2 thoughts on “10 Most Famous Artists In The History of Western Art”

    • This is the list of the “most famous” artists not the greatest artists. Greatness depends on your perspective while fame is more measurable. We calculate that by using a certain algorithm. Thanks for your comment.


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