From Van Gogh’s Starry Night to Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Musement shares 14 of the most prominent Modern Art paintings.
Modern art is a loaded category. By definition, it comprises all art created from the 1860s to 1970s, and this stretch encompasses several art styles and philosophers. Included cubism, post-Impressionism, Surrealism, Impressionism, among others.
Now, with so many incredible modern art paintings there, so narrowing down 15 of the most prominent was no small feat. Here are our picks. If we’re missing any of your faves, let us know in the comments.
1. Le bonheur de vivre/The Joy of Life, Matisse, 1906
Considered one of the pillars of modern art, Matisse’s The Joy of Life caused outrage due to its color scheme and distortions. A leader of Fauvism, Matisse implemented the style’s signature predominance of color and painterly qualities over reality into the work. The painting depicts several nude bodies carefreely basking in life. Where: The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.
2. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Picasso, 1907
Another cornerstone of modern art, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is one of the artist’s most famous works. he portrays five nude prostitutes in a Barcelona brothel. Instead of portraying them as typically feminine and seductive, Picasso implements sharp angles and disjointed shapes to make them appear somewhat intimidating and primitive. The painting also features influences from Africa and Oceania. Where: MoMA in New York.
3. Water Lilies, Monet
Claude Monet had pretty much painted water lilies in some shape or form his entire career resulting in more than 250 dedicated works. The artist exhibited the first series in 1900, having sought inspiration from the gardens of his home in Giverny. Not only are the works emblematic of the artist, but also of Impressionism as a whole. These days, you can find his water lilies across the globe at places like the Art Institute of Chicago, MoMA, the Chichu Art Museum in Japan, and at London’s National Gallery. One of the best places to L’orangerie in Paris‘ Tuileries Gardens in Paris, which was adapted especially for the works and opened to the public in 1927.
4. The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dalí, 1931
Not only is the Persistience of Memory one of Dalí’s most defining works, but it’s also considered a pillar of surrealism. The flaccid seemingly melting clocks against the backdrop of sunrise in Port Lligat, a village in Catalonia, have been interpreted in many ways. Where: MoMA in New York
5. Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
Another MoMA gem, Van Gogh’s Starry Night depicts the view from his room at the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where he stayed from May 1889 – May 1890. The painting is known for its beautifully chaotic swirls that bring the enchanting night sky to life.
6. Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, Frida Kahlo, 1940
In this self-portrait, Frida Kahlo painted this following her divorce from Diego Rivera. The thorn necklaces represent while the dead hummingbird symbolizes good luck. The black cat, a symbol of bad luck, tries to capture the hummingbird. While a lot of her works are at her namesake museum in Mexico City, this painting, one of Kahlo’s most famous works, can be found at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
7. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer 1, Gustav Klimt, 1907
Klimt was legendary for his surreal, symbolist works, and this one, in particular, is emblematic of the Austrian’s gold phase. This was one of two portraits of the subject commissioned by her husband, a Czech banker, and sugar magnate If you’ve seen the Lady in Gold film or one of the dedicated documentaries, you’ll know the Nazis pilfered this painting. The work then became the focus of nearly ten years of legal battles by the subject’s niece Maria Altmann. She won this painting, along with four Klimt works, back from the Belvedere in Vienna. The portrait now resides in the Neue Galerie in New York.
8. American Gothic, Grant Wood, 1930
One of the most iconic images of all time, American Gothic has been referenced everywhere from The Simpsons to more politically motivated statements. The image portrays a couple standing in front of the Dibble House, a home in Iowa designed in the North American Carpenter Gothic style. He asked his sister and his dentist to pose as the type of people he “fancied should live there.” it’s on display at the Art Institue of Chicago.
9. Nighthawks , Edward Hopper, 1942
The Art Institute of Chicago is home to a trove of modern art paintings, and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks is another one of the most exemplary. The image captures a slightly deserted late-night diner on an even more deserted city street that’s illuminated by the light coming through the eatery’s windows. Hopper resided in Greenwich Village, and it’s believed that his neighborhood inspired the painting, though, while there are some contenders no one can pinpoint the exact locale.
10. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte , Georges Seurat ,1884 to 1886
The Art Institue of Chicago can also lay claim to another one of the most iconic images of all time: George Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Here, the Post-Impressionist implemented pointillism to portray Parisians enjoying a Sunday afternoon in a park along one of the banks of the Seine. This was the inspiration for Stephen Sondheim’s acclaimed musical, Sunday in the Park with George.
11.The Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893
And yet another all-time iconic (and to some, the creepiest) image tat also belongs to modern art, though not to the Art Institue of Chicago. Edvard Munch’s The Scream series consists of two paintings both found in Oslo. One is at the Norwegian artist’s namesake museum and the other at the National Gallery.
12. I and the Village , Marc Chagall, 1911
This whimsical Cubist modern art painting from the Belarussian-French artist is a “narrative self-portrait” of his childhood. The overlapping images from folklore, religion, Russian landscapes, and his past are offset by color and shape, all weaving together a compelling result. See it at MoMA.
13. The Card Players, Paul Cezanne, 1890 – 1895
This series from the French post-Impressionist depicts pipe-smoking Provencal peasants playing cards. These five paintings are considered a cornerstone of his career, having been complete just before the final years of his career when he produced some of his most acclaimed work. The paintings are split between The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, the D’Orsay Museum in Paris, MoMA, Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and a private collection of the royal family of Qatar.
14.Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) , Édouard Manet, 1863
A key player of the Impressionist movement, Manet’s work portrays a nude female lunching with two men while a semi-nude female seems to be washing off in the stream behind them. The painting, which is open to interpretation, sparked controversy when Manet exhibited it at the Salon des Refusés in 1863. See it for yourself at the D’Orsay Museum in Paris or at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, which houses a small earlier version of the work.