Throughout the history of art, Hispanic artists have carved an important position as trailblazers. Unafraid to take risks, they often incorporate symbols and techniques that recall their native cultures. Beyond this, many of the most famous Hispanic artists also use their creativity as a platform to discuss political and social upheaval in an effort to affect change and inspire national pride.
From 17th-century Spanish painter Diego Velázquez, who used brushstrokes reminiscent of 19th-century Impressionist painters, to trailblazer Jean-Michel Basquiat, who brought graffiti into the gallery, these artists set trends rather than follow tradition. Some, like Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, specialized in murals and, in the process, have helped the public connect with their roots. Others, like Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí, didn’t limit themselves to one medium.
Take a look at this timeline of art history, from the Baroque period to today, and discover some of the most prolific Hispanic artists to influence Western culture.
Take a look at some of the great Hispanic artists that have shaped Western art and culture.
Diego Velázquez (1599 – 1660)
Born in Seville, Diego Velázquez had a wildly successful career that made him the leading artist of what's known as the Spanish Golden Age. Much of his artistic output is tied up with his role as court painter for King Philip IV, a position he held for nearly 40 years. His individualistic style stood apart from other Baroque painters and his loose brushstrokes would go on to influence both Realist and Impressionist painters. Great masters like Picasso, Dali, and Francis Bacon all paid homage to Velázquez by recreating some of his most famous artworks like Las Meninas.
Francisco Goya (1746 – 1828)
One of the most influential painters of the 18th century, Francisco Goya enjoyed enormous success during his lifetime. His work is often associated with the Romantic movement and he is considered one of the last great Old Masters. One of Goya's most famous paintings, The Third of May 1808 (Execution of the Defenders of Madrid), is a politically charged masterpiece that honors the Spanish resistance during the country's occupation by Napoleon. This groundbreaking work set a new precedent for how the horrors of war were depicted in art.
José Clemente Orozco (1883 – 1949)
Mexican caricaturist and painter José Clemente Orozco helped usher in an important era of Mexican muralism that encouraged unity in the country after the Mexican Revolution. Many of his murals, which often speak to the plight of peasants and workers, are still visible throughout the country. His powerful artwork can often be macabre and tinged with anger at the social injustices happening in Mexico. Many of his best murals are found in Guadalajara. His 57 frescoes at the city's Instituto Cultural Cabañas were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954)
With her deeply personal and symbolic work, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo has become one of the most famous artists of the 20th century. For much of her career, she was often overlooked as simply the wife of Diego Rivera, but the appreciation of her paintings has only grown from the 1970s onward. Fiercely proud of her Mexican identity, she often incorporated pre-Colombian symbols in her paintings and is known for her colorful Mexican dress. Kahlo, who suffered health issues throughout her life due to a bus accident in her youth, saw her flourishing career cut short due to her untimely death at 47. Her legacy continues to live on and she remains an icon of many feminist and political movements.
Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957)
Along with José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera was considered one of “the big three” painters of the Mexican mural movement. Rivera's frescos established Mexican art on an international level as he helped forge a national identity based on Mexicanidad. This pride in the Mexican identity is visible in Rivera's art through his bold color palette and use of simplified shapes influenced by Mayan and Aztec art. While some of his most well-known works are in Mexico City, Rivera also painted extensively in the United States. His mural Man at the Crossroads, was famously removed from Rockefeller Center in New York due to an image of Lenin in the work.
Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)
It's impossible to create a list of influential Hispanic painters without including Pablo Picasso. As an artist who changed the face of modern art, his contributions to Western culture are undeniable. Whether we look at his groundbreaking Cubist works or study the incredible development of his style through different, distinct periods, there is so much to say about the Spanish painter. He was a child prodigy who first mastered classical techniques before breaking out on his own to shatter the traditional way of creating art. His oeuvre is impressive, as he produced an estimated 50,000 artworks during his lifetime between paintings, sculptures, ceramics, drawings, and prints.
Joan Miró (1893 – 1983)
Catalan artist Joan Miró was an unstoppable force in the art world, enjoying success throughout his life. His early paintings are grouped with the Surrealist movement and rely on automatism—when the unconscious mind is allowed to take control of the painting. A true multi-media artist, Miró often took breaks from painting to focus on sculpture, ceramics, set design, and printmaking. His work was highly influential for many modern artists, with his abstraction influencing later generations like the Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock. Keen to help young artists, in 1975 he established the Joan Miró Foundation and Center of Contemporary Art Studies in his native Barcelona.
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960 – 1988)
Though he lived to just age 27, American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat made an indelible mark on the art world. Of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, Basquiat first made a name for himself when the graffiti tag SAMO appeared across New York City in the late 1970s. Basquiat was one of the first graffiti artists from the underground scene to transition to the fine art market, with his neo-expressionist paintings being exhibited around the world. His art is filled with commentaries on social injustices and class struggles, often in relation to the black community. In 2017, he set a record for an American artist at auction when his 1982 painting of a black skull with red and black rivulets sold for $110.5 million.
Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989)
With a career that spanned more than six decades, Salvador Dalí is one of the most influential artists in modern art. Famous for his surreal paintings like The Persistence of Memory, Dalí was also a prolific sculptor, filmmaker, photographer, and illustrator. He even created a cookbook based on the legendary dinner parties he and his wife Gala would throw. With an eclectic, eccentric personality that matched his artistic output, he continues to capture the public imagination 30 years after his death.
Fernando Botero (1932 – )
Colombian painter and sculptor Fernando Botero is known for his unique, signature style. Known as Boterism, this style features paintings and sculptures of figures with curvy, exaggerated proportions. As one of the most recognized artists from Latin America, Botero is deeply influenced by his roots. His use of strong outlines and flat, vibrant color is a nod to Latin American folk art. More recently, his work has concentrated on political themes. His 2005 series Abu Ghraib, which is based on reports of American military abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq War, garnered international attention when exhibited.