37 of the Most Famous Artworks in History That Every Art History Buff Should Know

Famous Artwork

Throughout history, there have been certain pieces of art that stand above the rest. Whether that's due to the incredible skill the artist used to create it or because of the significant culture or historical moment captured, there is no denying that some famous artworks have made an indelible mark on history. We've reached into the past to look at some of the most famous paintings and sculptures that art history has to offer and pulled together our list of the most famous artworks of all time.

From ancient Greek statues to Impressionist masterpieces, these pieces of art are important markers of Western culture. And by learning more about them, you'll move from major art movements like the Italian Renaissance to Realism, Impressionism, Cubism, and much more. Our list culminates in the 1940s, making it a timeline that spans centuries of art that continues to influence our world today.

Several noted artists made the list twice, starting with Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo and finishing with Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso. Artistic themes pass from mythology and religion, as exemplified by the Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, to historical subject matter that touches on major moments like the French Revolution. Other works, like Vermeer's The Girl with a Pearl Earring, are simple portraits that continue to captivate our imagination. And there's even one, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, that represents non-Western tradition.

Scroll down to see the 37 famous artworks that left their mark on history, and click the links to go in-depth about the significance and history of each piece.

Here are the 37 most famous pieces of art in history, in chronological order.

Venus de Milo

Venus de Milo

“Venus de Milo,” late 2nd century BCE (Photo: Nan Palmero, CC BY 2.0)

 

Nike of Samothrace

Nike of Samothrace

“Nike of Samothrace,” c. 200–190 BCE (Photo: warasit/Depositphotos)

 

Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck

Arnolfini Portrait

Jan Van Eyck, “The Arnolfini Portrait,” 1434 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch

Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch, “Garden of Earthly Delights,” between 1480 and 1505 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

Birth of Venus by Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli, “The Birth of Venus,” c. 1486 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

The Last Supper by Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci, “The Last Supper,” 1498 (Photo: Haltadefinizione via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

David by Michelangelo

David by Michelangelo

Michelangelo, “David,” 1501–1504 (Photo: Jörg Bittner Unna via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 3.0)

 

Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Mona Lisa by Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci, “Mona Lisa,” between c. 1503 and 1506 (Photo: Wikipedia, Public domain)

 

Sistine Chapel Ceiling by Michelangelo

Sistine Chapel Ceiling by Michelangelo

Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling, 1508–1512 (Photo: Jean-Christophe Benoist via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 3.0)

 

School of Athens by Raphael

School of Athens by Raphael

Raphael, “The School of Athens,” 1511 (Photo: Wikipedia, Public domain)

 

The Netherlandish Proverbs by Pieter Bruegel

Netherlandish Tales by Pieter Bruegel

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Netherlandish Proverbs,” 1559 (Photo: Wikipedia, Public domain)

 

The Night Watch by Rembrandt van Rijn

The Night Watch by Rembrandt

Rembrandt, “The Night Watch,” 1642 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

 

Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez

Las Meninas by Velazquez

Diego Velázquez, “Las Meninas,” 1656 (Photo: Wikiart, Public domain)

 

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

Girl with a Pearl Earing by Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer, “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” c. 1665 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

The Swing by Fragonard

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, “The Swing,” 1767 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

The Death of Marat by Jacques-Louis David

The Death of Marat by David

Jacques-Louis David, “The Death of Marat,” 1793 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

 

The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya

The Third of May by Francisco Goya

Francisco Goya, “The Third of May 1808,” 1814 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

 

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai

The Great Wave by Hokusai

Katsushika Hokusai, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” c. 1826–1833 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

 

Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix 

Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix, “Liberty Leading the People,” 1830 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

Luncheon on the Grass by Édouard Manet

Luncheon on the Grass by Manet

Édouard Manet, “The Luncheon on the Grass,” 1863 (Photo: Wikipedia, Public Domain)

 

Whistler's Mother by James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Whistler's Mother

James McNeill Whistler, “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1,” 1871 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

 

Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet

Impression Sunrise by Monet

Claude Monet, “Impression Sunrise,” 1872 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

Bal du moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Bal du Moulin de la Galette by Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Bal du moulin de la Galette,” 1876 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

 

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Georges Seurat, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” 1884–1886 (Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago, Public domain)

 

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Starry Night by Van Gogh

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

 

The Scream by Edvard Munch

The Scream by Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, “The Scream,” 1893 (Photo: Wikipedia, Public domain)

 

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

The Thinker by Rodin

Auguste Rodin, “The Thinker,” 1904 (Photo: Roman Suzuki via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0 DEED)

 

Water Lilies by Claude Monet

Water Lilies by Monet

Claude Monet, “Water-Lilies,” 1907 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Pablo Picasso

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso

Pablo Picasso, “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,” 1907 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

The Kiss by Klimt

Gustav Klimt, “The Kiss,” 1907–1908 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

Fountain by Marcel Duchamp

Fountain by Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp, “Fountain,” 1917 (Photo: Alfred Stieglitz via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

 

American Gothic by Grant Wood

American Gothic by Grant Wood

Grant Wood, “American Gothic,” 1930 (Photo: Art Institute of Chicago via Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

 

Composition II in Red, Yellow, and Blue by Piet Mondrian

Composition II in Red, Yellow, and Blue by Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian, “Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow,” 1930 (Photo: Wikipedia Commons, Public domain)

 

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí

 

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Pablo PICASSO, Guernica, 1937, huile sur toile, 349,31 x 776,61 cm, Musée de la Sofia Reina, Mardrid.

Pablo Picasso, “Guernica,” 1937

 

The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo

 

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper, “Nighthawks,” 1942 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Related Articles:

13 of Art History’s Most Horrifying Masterpieces

18 of the Most Famous Sculptures You Need to Know

20+ Revolutionary Art Movements That Have Shaped Our Visual History

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor 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.
Become a
My Modern Met Member
As a member, you'll join us in our effort to support the arts.
Become a Member
Explore member benefits

Sponsored Content