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The most famous paintings of all time Part 2

11. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

Fanfare for the Common Man by Bruegel is regarded as one of the key pieces of Western art. There were six compositions made using the idea of the seasons. Early September is usually the period. On the left, a group of peasants cuts and bundles ripening wheat, while on the right, another group has their lunch. Under a tree, one guy is curled up, his trousers undone. This focus on detail is evident across the whole artwork as a series of ever-finer observations fading into space. For a period when landscapes were often used as the background for religious paintings, it was unusual.

12. Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, by Edouard Manet, 1863

When Manet's painting of a group of Parisians having a picnic made its premiere at the Salon des Refusés, an alternate exhibition of works that the jurors of the annual Salon—the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts that established standards for French art—had rejected, there was outrage. The most vocal criticisms of Manet's artwork focused on the portrayal of a naked lady with men wearing modern attire. Le Déjeuner was a flippant parody of classical figuration—an irreverent mash-up of contemporary life and painting tradition—based on themes appropriated from Renaissance masters like Raphael and Giorgione.

13. Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow by Piet Mondrian, 1930

Mondrian's work is a little picture (18 inches by 18 inches), but it has a significant impact on art history since it reflects a dramatic reduction of form, color, and composition to their most fundamental elements. In an arrangement of squares and rectangles that prefigured minimalism, Mondrian applied pigment in flat, unmixed patches while limiting his color palette to the fundamental triad (red, yellow, and blue) as well as black and white.

14. Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, The Family of King Philip IV or Las Meninas

The masterpiece by Velázquez, a painting within a painting inside a painting, combines many subjects into one: A self-portrait, an almost art-for-art's-sake exhibition of brilliant brush technique, a picture of Spain's royal family and attendants, and an interior scene provide a window into Velázquez's creative environment. In addition to being a conundrum that perplexes spectators as to what they are really looking at, Las Meninas is a discourse on the nature of sight. The mirror that hangs on the far wall of the studio and reflects the faces of the Spanish King and Queen is the equivalent of breaching the fourth wall in terms of visual art. This raises the issue of where we are in regard to the royal couple since it immediately implies that they are on our side of the image plane. In the meanwhile, it's unclear from Velázquez's full-length representation of himself working at his easel whether the artist is using a mirror or not. In other words, do the people in Las Meninas—all of whom have their eyes fixed on something beyond the frame—look at us or at themselves?

15. Guernica by Pablo Picasso, 1937

Picasso's Guernica, perhaps his most well-known work, was inspired by the 1937 bombardment of the same-named Basque city by German and Italian planes fighting on the side of fascist leader Francisco Franco. Picasso was commissioned by the socialist administration that opposed him to provide the artwork for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World's Fair in 1937. Guernica had a worldwide tour once it was finished, and it eventually ended up in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Picasso agreed to lend the artwork to MoMA on the condition that it would be returned to his home Spain after democracy had been established. This was accomplished in 1981, six years after Franco's death in 1975 (Picasso himself had passed away two years before). The picture is now kept at Madrid's Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.

16. The Naked Maja, by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, approx. 1797–1800

This woman, who is clearly at ease in her own flesh and is nakedly looking shamelessly into the camera, made quite a commotion when it was painted and even landed Goya in trouble with the Spanish Inquisition. It has one of the first representations of visible hair in Western art, among other things. The Naked Maja was one of two paintings that the Prime Minister of Spain, Manuel de Godoy, commissioned. The second painting featured the sitter wearing clothing. The woman's name is unknown, although Pepita Tudó, Godoy's young mistress, is the most likely candidate.

17. Grande Odalisque by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1814

Grande Odalisque, commissioned by Queen Caroline Murat of Naples, the sister of Napoleon, marked the artist's departure from the Neo-classical style that had dominated most of his career. Though typically seen as a transition to Romanticism, a movement that rejected Neo-classicism's precision, formality, and equipoise in favor of evoking emotional responses from the spectator, the piece might be classified as Mannerist. Her odd proportions make this image of a concubine reclining on a sofa stand out. This mysterious, spooky figure, which was anatomically inaccurate, was first met with scorn by critics, yet it went on to become one of Ingres' most famous works.

18. Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, 1830

Liberty Leading the People, which commemorates the July Revolution of 1830 that overthrew King Charles X of France, has come to represent the revolutionary spirit everywhere. The picture is a dramatic example of the Romantic style, combining allegorical with modern aspects. Its title figure is waving the French Tricolor as people from many social strata band together behind her to attack a barrier covered with the remains of dead friends. Other literary and artistic creations, such as the Statue of Liberty and Victor Hugo's masterpiece Les Misérables, were influenced by the picture.

19. Claude Monet's 1874 painting Impression, Sunrise

With his picture of dawn over the harbour of Le Havre, the artist's birthplace, Monet, the defining figure of Impressionism, essentially gave the movement its name. With its flurry of brush strokes illustrating the sun as an orange ball bursting through a hazy blue blending of water and sky, this painting is a superb illustration of how Monet studied light and color.

20. Wanderer over the Sea of Fog, by Caspar David Friedrich, 1819

This painting depicts a hiker in the mountains resting on a rocky outcrop to take in his surroundings. The worship of nature, or more specifically, the emotion of awe it produced, was a hallmark of the Romantic style in art. Although he is facing away from the spectator as if he were too entranced by the scenery to turn around, his position gives us an over-the-shoulder perspective that transports us to the scene as if we were seeing through his eyes.

21. The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault, 1818–1819

It's difficult to match The Raft of the Medusa for sheer impact, in which Géricault turned a recent news incident into a classic image. Beginning with the 1818 sinking of the French navy ship off the coast of Africa, which left 147 men stranded on a hurriedly made raft, the background starts. After a 13-day experience at sea, which included instances of cannibalism among the desperate men, just 15 of those guys were still alive. A dramatic pyramidal arrangement distinguishes the larger-than-life artwork, which depicts the moment the crew of the raft recognizes a rescue ship. Géricault created the enormous canvas entirely on his own dime—no one paid for it—and handled it like an investigative journalist, speaking with witnesses and doing a great deal of in-depth research based on their testimonies.

22. Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942

In Nighthawks, a film that is renowned for its portrayal of urban loneliness, a quarter of the characters are seen at night inside a greasy spoon with a large wraparound window that almost fills the whole front of the restaurant. The sole source of light for the picture is its highly illuminated interior, which fills the otherwise black sidewalk and neighboring buildings. The three diners and the counterman (the subjects) seem to be alone because of the display-case appearance the restaurant's glass facade produces. The characters studiously ignore one another while immersing themselves in a state of reverie or tiredness. This is a study of estrangement. The diner was modeled after one that had long since been demolished in Hopper's Greenwich Village neighborhood. Some art historians have hypothesized that the painting's overall subject matter may have been influenced by Vincent van Gogh's Café Terrace at Night, which was on display at a gallery Hopper frequented at the same time he created Nighthawks. Also noteworthy is that the artist's wife Jo, a regular model for him, is the redheaded lady on the far right.


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