10 Most Famous Modern Art Artists And Their Masterpieces


Modern art is a term used to describe the artworks produced in the period from around the 1860s to the 1970s. Art after the 1970s is often called contemporary art or postmodern art. Primarily, modern artists broke away from the traditions of the past to create artworks which kept challenging the existing notion of art. Realism is recognized as the first modern movement in art. It began in France in the 1850s and later spread to other nations. The Realists portrayed, with uncompromising truth and accuracy, the people and situations of the present. This was in contrast to the religious or exotic subject matter and exaggerated drama prevalent in artworks at the time. Realism was followed by Impressionism, another French movement, which focused on capturing the momentary effect of a scene rather than accurately depicting it. The Post-Impressionists then extended Impressionism in various ways like intensifying its already vibrant colors or distorting form for expressive effects. This was followed by various innovations in the 20th century including abstraction in which the artwork bears no trace of anything recognizable in the natural world. Prominent 20th century modern art movements include Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. Here are the 10 most famous modern art artists including Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol.


#10 Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe

Lifespan: November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986

Movement: Modernism

Nationality: American

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. In 1977, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

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)

#9 Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock

Lifespan: January 28, 1912 – August 11, 1956

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Nationality: American

Abstract Expressionism was a post World War II art movement which was the first specifically American movement to gain international prominence and one of the most influential movements in abstract art. It incorporated a variety of styles and emphasized on conveying strong emotional or expressive content through abstraction. Drip painting is a technique in Abstract Expressionism 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. 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 modern 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

#8 Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse

Lifespan: December 31, 1869 – November 3, 1954

Movement: Fauvism

Nationality: French

Along with Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse is considered one of the figures who laid the foundations of 20th century modern art. Matisse worked in a variety of media including sculpture and paper cut-outs but is most famous for the masterpieces he created as a painter. He is considered the greatest colorist of the 20th century and was the leading figure of the art movement Fauvism, which was characterized by vivid expressionistic and non-naturalistic use of color. Matisse had a lifelong rivalry and friendship with Pablo Picasso. Their works were a source of inspiration to each other and they excelled on each others brilliance. Matisse invented a new medium famous as the paper cut-out, in which he cut forms from colored paper and arranged them as collages. He worked solely in this new medium during his later years and these works are considered his final artistic triumph.

Masterpiece: Dance (1910)

La Danse (1910) - Henri Matisse
La Danse (1910) – Henri Matisse

Other Famous Works:-

The Joy of Life (1906)

The Red Studio (1911)

#7 Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky

Lifespan: December 16,1866 – December 13, 1944

Movement: Expressionism, Abstract Art

Nationality: Russian

Initially a teacher of law and economics, Wassily Kandinsky gave up his promising career to pursue his interests in art. He rose to prominence in the 1910s to become one of the leading figures in modern art. Kandinsky was a pioneer of abstract art and he painted some of the earliest works in the genre including what is known as the First Abstract Watercolor. Music, being abstract in nature, was an inherent part of his art and he named some of his spontaneous works as “improvisations” and elaborate ones as “compositions”. Apart from being a painter, Kandinsky was also a prominent art theorist whose books had an enormous and profound influence on future artists. For his tremendous contribution in moving the art world away from representational traditions and towards abstraction, Wassily Kandinsky is considered by many as the “Father of Abstract Art”.

Masterpiece: Composition VII (1913)

Composition VII (1913) - Kandinsky Wassily
Composition VII (1913) – Wassily Kandinsky

Other Famous Abstract Works:-

On White II (1923)

Farbstudie Quadrate (1913)

#6 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 by Andy Warhol
Marilyn Diptych (1962) – Andy Warhol

Other Famous Works:-

Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962)

Eight Elvises (1963)

#5 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 was 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 by Claude Monet

Other Famous Works:-

Impression, Sunrise (1872)

Rouen Cathedral series (1892 – 1893)

#4 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)

#3 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 modern art might not be as great as some of the artists in this list, Frida Kahlo is undoubtedly one of the most famous modern artists and perhaps the most renowned female painter. 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)

#2 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

#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 modern artist and many 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)

14 thoughts on “10 Most Famous Modern Art Artists And Their Masterpieces”

  1. I fell down the rabbit hole with this thread but since I’m here…I would have to echo Sara.
    What about Basquiat; since Warhol is on this list. More than one of his more interesting pieces sprung from Basquiat.


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