17 of the Greatest Painters of All Time Whose Influences Live On Today

Who are the greatest painters of all time?

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When we think about the “greatest” of all time, what does that really mean? What earns someone that title? Is it sheer genius and innovation? Hard work and perseverance? In the history of art, there are a lot of incredible painters. But there are some who stand just a hair above the rest and have created a lasting legacy that endures well beyond their lifetime.

So who are the greatest painters of all time? Not only are they technically skilled, but these artists have all made important contributions that have changed Western culture. Many of these artists were considered avant-garde because they pushed boundaries and made startling innovations. Most were already considered geniuses during their lifetimes and enjoyed unparalleled success, while others weren't acknowledged until after their death.

To be considered one of the greatest painters of all time, one needs to possess a special combination of technical skills, outlandish creative thinking, and determination. Blended together, all of these attributes produce outstanding works of genius that continue to thrill, some hundreds of years after their initial creation.

We've put together our list of the 17 greatest painters of all time, taking into consideration all of these factors. While you may have a few names you'd like to see on this list, there's no denying that the artists selected have made an indelible impact on art and culture as we know it.

17 Greatest Painters of All Time

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)

Famous Portraits in Art History Who is Mona Lisa

Leonardo da Vinci, “Mona Lisa,” ca. 1503-1516 (Photo: Galerie de tableaux en très haute définition via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Full Name
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci
Born
April 15, 1452 (Vinci, Italy)
Died
May 2, 1519 (Amboise, France)
Notable Artwork
Mona Lisa, Vitruvian Man
Movement
Italian Renaissance

 

Not only did Leonardo da Vinci experiment with mediums, but he also innovated different ways of creating striking compositions. In fact, his signature triangular composition is still used today and is widely considered one of the most visually pleasing painting layouts. He was also an early advocate of studying anatomical models to perfect his art, something that was illegal at the time.

Although legendary for paintings like Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, da Vinci's artistic output was relatively small; only 17 surviving works can be attributed to him.

Famous works of art: Lady With an Ermine (1489–91), Vitruvian Man (c. 1492), The Last Supper (1498), Mona Lisa (1503–1516)

Best Places to View da Vinci:

 

Michelangelo (1475–1564)

Michelangelo Sistine Chapel Ceiling Sistine Chapel Painting Sistine Chapel Vatican

Michelangelo, “The Creation of Adam,” c. 1511 (Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Full Name
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
Born
March 6, 1475 (Caprese, Italy)
Died
February 18, 1564 (Rome, Italy)
Notable Artwork
Sistine Chapel ceiling, David
Movement
Italian Renaissance

 

While Michelangelo may have viewed himself as a sculptor, his placement on this list shows his true genius. Though relatively few Michelangelo paintings survive, those that do are considered some of the best in the world. His ability to quickly master fresco painting and take it to new heights is evident in both the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and The Last Judgment, which continue to inspire artists today.

Famous works of art: Pietà (1498–99) David ( 1501–4), Sistine Chapel ceiling (1508–12), The Last Judgment (1536–1541)

Best Places to View Michelangelo:

 

Raphael (1482–1520)

Portrait of Raphael

Raphael, “Self Portrait,” 1504–1506 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

Full Name
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino
Born
March 28 or April 6, 1483 (Urbino, Italy)
Died
April 6, 1520 (Rome, Italy)
Notable Artwork
The School of Athens
Movement
Italian Renaissance

 

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, best known simply as Raphael (1482–1520), is held today as a master of form and composition. Although he died at just 37 years old, the Italian architect and painter left behind a vast body of work. He is primarily known for his Madonna paintings, including his vivid Madonna in the Grass, as well as his large-scale mural, The School of Athens, which celebrates philosophy.

Famous works of art:  Wedding of the Virgin (1504), School of Athens (1511), The Transfiguration (1520)

Best Places to View Raphael:

 

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–C. 1656)

Judith Slaying Holofernes

Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” 1614-1620 (Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Full Name
Artemisia Gentileschi
Born
July 8, 1593 (Rome, Italy)
Died
c. 1656 (Naples, Italy)
Notable Artwork
Judith Slaying Holofernes
Movement
Baroque

 

This powerhouse of Baroque painting is also one of the first female artists to see great success. She was also young and producing professional art by the age of 15. Through the course of the 17th century, Artemisia Gentileschi created dynamic and explosive paintings that feature her trademark chiaroscuro and rich colors. While her art was sometimes overshadowed by her Baroque peer Caravaggio, over time her incredible skill and role in pioneering female artists have come to be appreciated.

Famous works of art: Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–1620)

Best Places to View Artemisia Gentileschi:

 

Rembrandt (1606–1669)

Rembrandt Paintings Dutch Golden Age Old Masters

Rembrandt, “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp,” 1632 (Photo: Mauritshuis online catalogue via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Full Name
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
Born
July 15, 1606 (Leiden, Netherlands)
Died
October 4, 1669 (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Notable Artwork
The Night Watch
Movement
Baroque

 

Rembrandt van Rijn is so famous that even today we call this Dutch master by his first name. Painting everything from genre scenes to landscapes to great historical and mythological paintings, Rembrandt was the dominant force in Dutch art for much of the 17th century. Not only did he create some of the most significant group portraits of the Dutch Golden Age but he also left behind about 80 self-portraits in the form of paintings, etchings, and drawings.

His masterful use of light, as well as his refined and expressive approach to painting, have made him a favorite amongst art lovers to this day. If you want to see his work in person, look for his portraits or illustrations from the Bible as they are among his most well-regarded.

Famous works of art: Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp (1632)The Night Watch (1642)

Best Places to View Rembrandt:

 

J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851)

Fishermen at Sea - JMW Turner

JMW Turner, “‘Fishermen at Sea,” 1796 (Photo: Public domain via WikiArt)

 

Full Name
Josph Mallord William Turner
Born
April 23, 1775 (London, England)
Died
December 19, 1851 (Chelsea, England)
Notable Artwork
Rain, Steam and Speed — The Great Western Railway
Movement
Romanticism

 

British Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner is known as a forerunner of modern art. Coming from traditional Neoclassical painting, Turner began striving for realism in his work—which was unheard of at the time. Through thousands of watercolors and oil paintings, he experimented with light, color, and brushwork. He even worked on his oil paintings outside, something that would later influence the Impressionists.

Famous works of art: Rain, Steam and Speed — The Great Western Railway (1844)

Best Places to View Turner: 

  • Tate Britain (Visit)
  • Yale Center for British Art (Visit)
  • Fitzwilliam Museum (Visit)

 

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906)

Paul Cezanne Paintings Paul Cezanne Still Life Who is Cezanne

Paul Cézanne, “Mont Sainte-Victoire,” c. 1895 (Photo: Public domain via Wiki Art)

 

Full Name
Paul Cézanne
Born
January 19, 1839 (Aix-en-Provence, France)
Died
October 22, 1906 (Aix-en-Provence, France)
Notable Artwork
Mont Sainte-Victoire, The Card Players
Movement
Post-Impressionism

 

Leading Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne has enjoyed a lasting legacy thanks to his innovative approach to perspective, vivid color palette, and use of painterly brushstrokes that were meticulously arranged into geometric forms. In fact, his preference for breaking down forms and using bold tones has often led him to be called a precursor to Cubism.

Famous works of art: The Card Players series (early 1890s), The Bathers series (1898–1905)

Best Places to View Cézanne:

 

Claude Monet (1840–1926)

Art Institute of Chicago Museum Art Institute of Chicago Artwork Art Institute of Chicago Free Resources

Claude Monet, “Water Lilies,” 1906 (Photo: Pubic domain via Art Institute of Chicago)

 

Full Name
Oscar-Claude Monet
Born
November 14, 1840 (Paris, France)
Died
December 5, 1926 (Giverny, France)
Notable Artwork
Water Lilies series
Movement
Impressionism

 

From bringing his easel out of the studio and into the environment to his landmark studies of time and light, Claude Monet is perhaps the most beloved of all Impressionist painters. In fact, his painting Impression, Sunrise is credited with launching the entire art movement, and his series of water lilies is a part of his lasting legacy with over 250 iterations of the subject.

Famous works of art: Impression, sunrise (1872), Water Lilies series (1883–1926)

Best Places to View Monet:

 

Mary Cassatt (1844–1936)

Mary Cassatt Mother and Child

Mary Cassatt “The Child's Bath,” 1893. (Public domain via Wikipedia)

 

Full Name
Mary Stevenson Cassatt
Born
May 22, 1844 (Allegheny City, PA, USA)
Died
June 14, 1926 (Le Mesnil-Theribus, France
Notable Artwork
The Child's Bath
Movement
Impressionism

 

As part of the Impressionist group, Mary Cassatt had a significant role in shaping the movement's legacy. The American artist broke boundaries with her loose brushstrokes and luminous colors and is well known for her focus on mothers and children as her subjects. Her intimate depictions showing even the most ordinary moments in motherhood were revolutionary at the time and had helped forge her legacy and pave the way for future female artists.

Famous works of art: Little Girl in Blue Armchair (1878), Child's Bath (1893)

Best Places to View Mary Cassatt:

 

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)

Van Gogh Painting Locations

Vincent van Gogh, “Starry Night,” 1889 (Photo: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Full Name
Vincent Willem van Gogh
Born
March 30, 1853 (Zundert, The Netherlands)
Died
July 29, 1890 (Auvers-sur-Oise, France)
Notable Artwork
The Starry Night, Sunflowers
Movement
Post-Impressionism

 

Though he is seen today as one of the most influential painters in Western art, Vincent van Gogh was not commercially successful during his lifetime. Since the early 20th century, however, his masterful paintings have been prized for their expressive emotion. Filled with dramatic brushstrokes and bold color, the Post-Impressionist painter's artwork is a roadmap to modern art.

Van Gogh's work, particularly Starry Night, remains so iconic that it is celebrated today as immersive art installations and recreated using drone technology.

Famous works of art: The Starry Night (1889), Sunflowers (1887)

Best Places to View Van Gogh:

 

Gustav Klimt (1862–1918)

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt, “The Kiss,” oil and gold leaf on canvas, 1907–1908 (Photo: Belvedere via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

Full Name
Gustav Klimt
Born
July 14, 1862 (Baumgarten, Austria)
Died
February 6, 1918 (Vienna, Austria)
Notable Artwork
The Kiss
Movement
Vienna Secession, Art Nouveau

 

A leader of the Vienna Secessionist artistic movement (which was associated with Art Nouveau), Austrian artist Gustav Klimt left behind thousands of drawings and a vast portfolio of painted works. He is most well-known for the collection of glistening, gilded works he produced during his Golden Phase.

Famous works of art: The Kiss (1907–8)

Best Places to View Gustav Klimt:

 

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Picasso Painting Les Demoiselles D'Avignon

Pablo Picasso, “Le Demoiselles d'Avignon,” 1907. (Photo: MoMA via Wikimedia Commons Fair Use)

 

Full Name
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso
Born
October 25, 1881 (Málaga, Spain)
Died
April 8, 1973 (Mougins, France)
Notable Artwork
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Guernica
Movement
Cubism

 

In an 80-year career that moves through multiple styles and over 20,000 works, Pablo Picasso is undoubtedly one of the most recognized names in Western art. His role in launching Cubism would be enough to cement his status in the history books, but Picasso did much more. He is recognized for showing how Classical art can be mastered—and then manipulated—to become something new, fresh, and modern.

Famous works of art: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), Guernica (1937)

Best Places to View Picasso:

 

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1986)

 

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Full Name
Georgia Totto O'Keeffe
Born
November 15, 1887 (Sun Prairie, WI, USA)
Died
March 6, 1986 (Santa Fe, NM, USA)
Notable Artwork
Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue
Movement
American Modernism

 

Pioneering artist Georgia O'Keeffe managed to turn a standard type of painting on its head with her creative vision. While flower painting is a long-held tradition, no one had ever done it quite like O'Keeffe. Not only was she one of the first American artists to create abstract drawings, but her zoomed-in depictions of flowers have remained unique throughout history. Drawn to the American Southwest, O'Keeffe's explosive artwork helped bring attention to a new part of the country at a time when modern art was focused in New York City. “As soon as I saw it, that was my country,” she said of New Mexico, where she eventually made her home. “I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly.”

Famous works of art: Jimson Weed (1936), Sky Above Clouds IV (1965)

Best Places to View Georgia O'Keeffe:

 

Tamara de Lempicka (1898–1890)

Lempicka, Tamara de (1898-1980) - 1925 Self-Portrait in Green Bugatti (Private Collection)

 

Full Name
Tamara Rosalia Gurwik-Górska
Born
May 16, 1898 (Warsaw, Poland)
Died
March 18, 1980 (Cuernavaca, Mexico)
Notable Artwork
Autoportrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti)
Movement
Art Deco

 

Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka was a superstar of the early 20th century. Rubbing elbows with the avant-garde in Paris, she turned away from Impressionism—the popular style of the time—and focused on blazing her own trail. The graphic quality of her work and their rich, vivid colors made her a leader of Art Deco painting and earned her the nickname “The Baroness with a Brush.” Today, her work continues to be used as inspiration for designers and is emblematic of this Golden Age.

Famous works of art: Autoportrait (Tamara in a Green Bugatti) (1928)

Best Places to View Tamara de Lempicka:

 

Frida Kahlo (1907–1954)

IN WONDERLAND: Surrealist Women Artists

 

Full Name
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón
Born
July 6, 1907 (Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico)
Died
July 13, 1954 (Coyoacán, Mexico City, Mexico)
Notable Artwork
The Two Fridas
Movement
Surrealism, Magic Realism

 

Her highly intimate series of self-portraits and the embracement of her cultural heritage are just some of the things that make Frida Kahlo one of the greatest painters of the 20th century. Today she has become a pop culture icon, but this shouldn't overshadow her great skill as a painter and her innovations in bringing Mexican culture to a wider audience. Her deeply personal self-portraits also point to a new direction for modern artists, where art was about expressing inner emotion rather than attempting to please a collector or patron.

Famous works of art: The Two Fridas (1932), Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940)

Best Places to View Frida Kahlo:

 

Jackson Pollock (1912–1956)

Jackson Pollock

 

Full Name
Paul Jackson Pollock
Born
January 28, 1912 (Cody, Wyoming)
Died
August 11, 1956 (Saratoga Springs, New York)
Notable Artwork
Autumn Rhythm
Movement
Abstract Expressionism

 

American painter Jackson Pollock is best known for his innovative painting technique. By dripping paint on the canvas, the Abstract Expressionist created dynamic, abstract artwork that revolutionized the art scene. Pollock used the force of his whole body to splash and pour paint on his canvases, upending traditional notions of how painters were meant to operate. His studio often came with him in his work with some paintings containing nails or cigarette butts within the pigment.

Famous works of artNo. 5 (1948), Autumn Rhythm: Number 30 (1950)

Best Places to View Pollock:

 

This article has been edited and updated.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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