Top 20 artists of all time

For those of you mostly only familiar with contemporary artists here is a list of some of the great artists of all time. These artists are on this list for a number of reasons: their contribution to painting, their influence on later artists or simply because their great works are so memorable.

It would be almost impossible to get a group of readers to agree completely on a Top Twenty list of anything, let alone art, which is so personal and such an emotive experience. But even if you disagree with these choices, they will hopefully inspire you to go and see some of the artists’ great works.

  1. PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973) – Picasso studied the great masters of Art History, learnt from their work but then surpassed them all. He redefined the relationship between an artwork and the viewer. Picasso both created the avant-garde in his earliest works and then destroyed it.
  2. LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452-1519) – For better or for worse, Leonardo will be forever known as the creator of the most famous painting of all time, the “Gioconda” or “Mona Lisa”. But there was so much more to his work. His scientific approach to both subject matter and materials revolutionised 15th Century art.
  3. PAUL CÉZANNE (1839-1906) – Although classed as an Impressionist painter, Cézanne moved on from that group to develop a style of painting never seen before, which led to the development of the Cubist style.
  4. REMBRANDT VAN RIJN (1606-1669) – Such fascinating use of light and shadows in the artworks of this great master of Dutch painting in the 17th century.
  5. DIEGO VELÁZQUEZ (1599-1660) – This Spanish artist spent most of his life in comfort but, nevertheless, he was an innovator of the Baroque period. Two centuries before Turner and the Impressionists, Velasquez painted atmospheric scenes which can be appreciated to best effect in his huge royal paintings (“Meninas”, “The Forge of Vulcan”) or in the small, memorable sketches of the Villa Medici.
  6. WASSILY KANDINSKY (1866-1944) – As possibly the “father of abstract art”, Kandinsky portrayed emotion in his work but also changed the way we understand art.
  7. CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926) – It is easy to see the overwhelming beauty that emanates from Monet’s works, but he was also a master of composition and complex technique. Although he himself simply wanted the viewer to enjoy his paintings. Monet was among the first artists to study the changes caused by daylight on an object at different hours of the day.
  8. CARAVAGGIO (1571-1610) – Considered the father of Baroque painting, Caravaggio used light, shadow and complex perspectives to spectacular effect.
  9. JOSEPH MALLORD WILLIAM TURNER (1775-1881) – Turner is quite simply the best landscape painter of all time. A formal painter in his early career, Turner slowly evolved into using a free, atmospheric style.
  10. MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI (1475-1564) – Although the Sistine Chapel frescoes are painted masterpieces, Michelangelo actually defined himself as a sculptor.
  11. JACKSON POLLOCK (1912-1956) – The major figure of Abstract Expressionism, Pollocks “drips” from the period 1947-1952 are one of the milestones of modern art.
  12. VINCENT VAN GOGH (1853-1890) – His strong and personal works were completely neglected by the art world during his lifetime. Despite this, Van Gogh has had one of the greatest influences on painting of the twentieth century.
  13. MARK ROTHKO (1903-1970) – It would be difficult to guess at the long-term influence of Rothko in the history of painting but the appeal of the masses of colour and emotion of Rothko’s large canvases continues to increase in the 21st century.
  14. TITIAN (c.1476-1576) –Titian was a leading figure in 16th Century painting. His use of colour and mythological themes defined the main features of Venetian Art of that time.
  15. WILLEM DE KOONING (1904-1997) – Although a leading figure of Abstract Expressionism he was not limited by abstraction. Kooning often reverted to figurative painting (his series of “Women”, for example) and was a major influence on later artists such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.
  16. FRANCIS BACON (1909-1992) – Bacon’s paintings stand out not only in terms of beauty, but also because he resisted the dominance of Abstract Expressionism during his early career.
  17. WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827) – Blake is one of the most fascinating artists of any era. His works are filled with a wild imagination, unique among the artists of his time.
  18. JOHN CONSTABLE (1776-1837) – A great figure of English landscape painting. Technically gifted yet perhaps limited by the fact that he never left England.
  19. GEORGES BRAQUE (1882-1963) – One of the main figures of the Cubist style and the most important of the avant-garde artists of the 20th century.
  20. 20. FERNAND LÉGER (1881-1955) – Leger began his career in the Cubist movement but was later attracted to the world of machinery and movement, which resulted in spectacular works such as “The Discs” (1918).

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