These are ten of the most famous paintings ever created. It is a personal selection of paintings that have a universal appeal.
1. Mona Lisa – Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci worked on his masterpiece over a period of 20 years. He carried it with him everywhere. The enigmatic smile has captured the imagination of the world. It has been stolen twice and now resides in the Louvre, Paris. When the Mona Lisa visited America in the 1960s, it gained a prominence close to that of the then US president John F Kennedy. Why do people queue up for so many hours to catch a fleeting glimpse? Perhaps because it is very human, but at the same time offering a sensation that there is something beyond. In the world, but looking beyond. Is that not a smile of supreme satisfaction? Everyone will have a different opinion, and that is part of the attraction of the painting.
2. The Scream – Edvard Munch
A painting that symbolises the anguish and pain of modern life. It has become one of the most famous pictures of modern times. Somehow it makes me think of Freud and looking at our subconscious. It is famous, but is it good? Why look at the mud in the lily pond, when you can enjoy the lilies on top?
3. Creation of Adam – Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo
Michelangelo took four years to paint the Sistine Chapel. He chose scenes from the Old Testament. This is the moment of God creating Adam. This particular panel is just a fraction of the Sistine Chapel. To fully appreciate the scale, splendour and beauty of Michelangelo’s creation, you have to visit the Vatican.
4. Sunflowers – Vincent Van Gogh
The genius of Vincent Van Gogh is captured in this painting of 12 sunflowers. It has become one of the most recognisable of his works.
5. Ceci N’est pas une Pipe – Rene Magritte
A classic example of modern surrealist art. This is not a pipe, but the picture is of a pipe. Why is this famous? We don’t really know. Somehow it became emblematic of surrealism and the paradox of modern life.
6. Poppies in a Field – Claude Monet
Claude Monet is one of the great impressionist painters. This beautiful pastoral scene encapsulates the essence of how the impressionists captured the beauty and simplicity of nature. It also captures that pre-industrialist age, which was fast disappearing during Monet’s life. It is an evocation of a bye-gone era. It is hard not to feel nostalgic about this scene. Notice also how the humans are but a sideshow to the overall picture.
7. The Last Supper – Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci paints one of the most famous scenes in the Bible – The Last Supper. It is after Christ has said one of the disciples will betray him. This is the ultimate soap opera – the ultimate test of man – who will we serve, God or Mammon? This is why we are fascinated by the scene, how would we have behaved at the table of Jesus Christ?
8. The Girl With a Pearl Earring – Jan Vermeer
Jan Vermeer painted this iconic portraits (somewhat reminiscent of the Mona Lisa) and is a beautiful example of the Baroque style and the use of light. The age of the girl is deceptively hard to fathom. On the one hand, the beautiful lustrous eyes suggest the innocence of childhood. On the other hand, there are touches of a girl on the threshold of womanhood. It creates a dynamic of purity, innocence and the inevitable change of growing into womanhood.
9. Le Moulin de la Galette – Jean Renoir
A leading impressionist, Auguste Renoir captures the buzz and excitement of this outdoor scene in Paris. It is Paris at the turn of the Century – a time when Paris was a leading cultural centre of the world, but essentially a place where people were having a good time, enjoying life.
10. Peace – Picasso
The simplicity of this symbol of peace by Pablo Picasso remains one of the most powerful pieces of art. Art not just for beauty’s sake – but art for the cause of world peace.