“Europe is a state composed of several provinces”.
You may have seen them on banknotes, on postcards, on advertising billboards or on CD covers. You recognise them from the first sight. This is normal: there is in our mind the image of a painting which bears a peculiar importance in our national history. But how does it look collectively? What if we put all national paintings together in a pan-European perspective? When Picasso meets Turner or Delacroix, when Rembrandt appears next to Munch, Bruegel, Klee or Klimt, this is the expression of a rich European culture heritage which has to be celebrated as such! This list of the most famous European paintings offers you the opportunity to appreciate our common European heritage in a brand new way. If you are fond of details, just click on the paintings to discover them in full resolution. Enjoy the visit!
The Saint Vincent Panels, Nuno Gonçalves, 1460, Lisbon
The Portuguese most famous painting is a polyptych consisting of six panels of oak wood, depicting Saint Vincent of Saragossa. Since their discovery in late nineteenth century there has been a continuing dispute over the identity of the painter and the subjects portrayed on the panels.
Guernica, Pablo Picasso, 1937, Madrid
The Spanish most prominent painting represents the bombing of Guernica, a city in Basque Country, by German and Italian warplanes on 26 April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Republican government commissioned Picasso to create a large mural for the Spanish display at the Paris International Exposition at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris.
Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix, 1830, Paris
“My bad mood is vanishing thanks to hard work. I’ve embarked on a modern subject—a barricade. And if I haven’t fought for my country at least I’ll paint for her.” Eugène Delacroix explained in those words how he realized in the autumn of 1830the masterpiece commemorating the July Revolution of 1830. The woman in the middle personifies Liberty. She holds the tricolor flag in one hand and brandishes a bayoneted musket in the other.
Thingvellir, Þórarinn B. Þorláksson, 1900, Reykjavik
Þórarinn Benedikt Þorláksson is famous for being the first Icelandic contemporary painter to exhibit on the island. Þorláksson’s choice was to paint Icelandic landscapes not according to European art conventions, but through Icelandic eyes. His work influenced a large number of painters and the trend to portray landscapes remained then strong in Iceland.
The Liffey Swim, Jack Butler Yeats, 1923, Dublin
The Liffey Swim is an annual race in Dublin’s main river, the Liffey and is one of Ireland’s most famous traditional sporting events. Jack Butler Yeats, one of the most important figures in the visual art of Ireland during the 20th century, realized the painting entitled The Liffey Swin, which eventually won a silver medal at the Art competitions of the 1924 Summer Olympics. In 2011, it was voted one of Ireland’s favorite pieces of art on Twitter.
The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, J. M. W. Turner, 1839, London
The painting depicts the HMS Temeraire which played a significant role during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, just before being towed towards its final berth in Rotherhithe south east London in 1838 to be broken up for scrap. This painting, a masterpiece of symbolism, was voted in 2005 Britain’s favorite painting.
Scream, Edvard Munch, 1893, Oslo
Several versions of the Scream were realized by Edvard Munch, the most renowned Norwegian expressionist painter. Edvard Munch wrote in his diary about his masterpiece: “I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature”.
The funeral transport of Charles XII, Gustaf Cederström, 1884, Stockholm
The funeral transport of the Swedish King is one of the most famous Swedish paintings. As a matter of interest, the painting was bought by the Russian Grand Duke Constantine Constantinovich who placed the painting in his palace in St. Petersburg. Many Swedes believed it was a shame that the tribute to the fallen warrior king ended in the country he fought against. Gustav Cederstrom was then persuaded to paint a new painting, now exposed in Stockholm.
The Wounded Angel, Hugo Simberg, 1903, Helsinki
Hugo Simberg’s most notable painting was voted by the Ateneum art museum Finland’s “national painting” in 2006. The Wounded Angel evokes a melancholy atmosphere: the angelic central figure with her bandaged eyes and bloodied wing, the sombre clothing of her two youthful bearers. The direct gaze of the right-hand figure touches the viewer.
The Constitutional Assembly, Constantin Hansen, 1864, Hillerød
The Constituent National Assembly was ordered by Alfred Hage to hang it in his home. The public was allowed to inspect the work against payment, in total 2898 paid to see the painting from 31 May to 14 June 1865. As the picture depicts the Assembly of 1848 and the painting was realized almost twenty years later, the painter Constantin Hansen used photographs and even bust as models.
Night Watch, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642, Amsterdam
Rembrandt’s most famous masterpiece may be the Dutch favorite painting, together with Vermeer’s Girl with Pearl Earring. It is well-known for its effective use of light and shadow and its huge size. The painting represents the Amsterdamer burgemeester captain Frans Banning Cocq and his lieutenant Willem van Ruytenhurch.
The Peasant Wedding, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567, Vienna
Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a Flemish renaissance painter and printmaker known for his peasant scenes. This famous painting represents a wedding, with a bride under the canopy, men pouring out beer and guests eating porridge and soup. This painting is so emblematic fthat it was parodied by Uderzo in Asterix in Belgium.
View of Luxembourg from the Fetschenhof, Nicolas Liez, 1870, Luxembourg
The Luxemburg famous painter Nicolas Liez is remembered in particular for his lithographs of scenes throughout the Grand Duchy and for his oil painting of the City of Luxembourg. The View of Luxembourg from the Fetschenhof shows the city at the time when the demolition of the fortress had just begun.
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, Caspar David Friedrich, 1818, Hamburg
Caspar David Friedrich is generally regarded as the most important German artist of Romanticism. The painting depicts a young man standing upon a precipice and can be interpreted as a posture of Kantian self-reflection or a metaphor for the unknown future.
The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1908, Vienna
The Kiss is counted among the most famous Austrian paintings, if not the most famous. Gustav Klimt, a Symbolist painter emblematic of the Austrian ‘Golden Age’, was only 45 when he painted The Kiss, and was still living at his mother’s home. But behind the respectable façade, the painter was a man with a ferocious sexual appetite and an obsession for red-hair women. It is then no surprise that the woman in The Kiss has red hair…
Twittering-machine, Paul Klee, 1922, New York
The Swiss-German painter’s masterpiece depicts a group of birds connected to a hand-crank. Sometimes perceived as the visual representation of the mechanics of sound, it may be interpreted as the helplessness of the artist or the triumph of nature over mechanical pursuits. Considered as “degenerate art” by Adolf Hitler, it was sold by the Nazi party in 1939 and arrived in New York Museum of Modern Art where it still hangs today.
Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci, 1503-1519, Paris
The most enigmatic painting of the Italian artist Leonardo Da Vinci is also the most popular painting in the World. There is no need to introduce again La Joconde, now exposed at the Musée du Louvre in France. The painting was bought in 1516 by the French King François Ier and was hung at Chateau de Fontainebleau, before being moved to the Louvre after the French Revolution.
The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, Caravaggio, 1608, Valletta
Sometimes regarded as “one of the most important works in Western painting”, the beheading of St. John the Baptist was commissioned by the Knights of Malta, painted by the Italian artist Caravaggio and now hangs at St. John’s Co-Cathedral on the island. It is the only work by Caravaggio to bear the artist’s signature, which he has placed in red blood spilling from the Baptist’s cut throat
The Last Day of a Condemned Man, Mihály Munkácsy, 1872, Budapest
Mihály Munkácsy’s masterpiece won the Gold Medal during the Paris salon in 1870. It made Munkácsy a popular painter in an instant and encouraged him to move to and settle in Paris. In this painting, the Hungarian painter introduced the spectator into the cell of a condemned man on the eve of his expiation. This painting has no link with Victor Hugo’s novel, even though they both succeeded in depicting in their works the psychology of a condemned man.
Maude Adams as Joan of Arc, Alfons Mucha, 1909, Prague
Alfons Mucha is the Czech most prominent Art Nouveau painter and was known for his distinct style. He realised this picture in Chicago, depicting the American actress Maude Adams in the role of Joan of Arc in Friedrich Schiller’s Die Jungfrau von Orleans (“The Maid of Orleans”).
Into the Field, Martin Benka, 1934, Bratislava
The most well-known painter in Slovakia may be Martin Benka. Regarded as the founder of Modernist 20th century Slovak painting, he has been given the title of National Artist. The painter gained much of his inspiration from the Slovak countryside and its people.
The Battle of Grunwald, Jan Matejko, 1878, Warsaw
This huge painting represents the battle between the villages of Grunwald and Tannenberg on July 15, 1410. It was one of the largest battles of the Middle Age between the Teutonic Knights and the combined forces of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, who eventually defeated the invader. The painter, Jan Matejko, is counted among the most famous Polish artists.
Sonata of the Sea, Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, 1908, Kaunas
The Lithuanian painter Mikalojus Čiurlionis was one of the most prominent representatives of symbolism and Art Nouveau. He was both a painter and composer and realized about 250 pieces of music and created about 300 paintings. His most famous works were closely linked to music, with a series of sonatas, such as Sonata of the Spring (1907), Sonata of the Summer (1908), Sonata of the Sun (1907), Sonata of the Sea (1908), Sonata of the Pyramids (1908), Sonata of the Stars (1908), Sonata of the Serpent. In a more anecdotal manner, Čiurlionis’s name has been given to a peak in the Pamir Mountains, and to asteroid #2420, discovered by the Crimean astrophysicist Nikolaj Cernych
Madonna with a Machine-gun, Karlis Padegs, 1933, Riga
The Riga’s Dandy, Karlis Padegs was known for his extravagancy and his unconventional art. In 1933, the year Adolf Hitler’s seizure of power, he painted his well-known Madonna with a Machine-gun now considered as a foreboding of the Second World War. “I want to show the seamy side of life which we do not like to see in order not to spoil our feeling of comfort or our good appetite” he once stated.
Portrait of Catherine of Aragon, Michael Sittow, 1502, London
King Henry VII’s court painter, Michael Sittow painted this portrait of a woman possibly Catherine of Aragon in 1502. It shows Catherine of Aragon, the youngest surviving child of the ‘Catholic Kings’ of Spain, as a young widow after the death of King Arthur in England. Catharine was then betrothed to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry VIII, the second monarch of the House of Tudor, known for his 6 marriages.
I and the Village,Marc Chagall, 1911, New, York
Moishe Shagal, born in the actual Byelorussia in 1887, before obtaining the French nationality in 1937 and changing his name into Marc Chagall, is regarded as one of the most successful artists of the 20th century. His most famous painting is entitled, I and the Village and depicts the vibrant memories of the artist’s place of birth and his relationship to it. The significance of the painting lies in its seamless integration of various elements of Eastern European folktales and culture, both Russian and Yiddish
Cossacks of Saporog Are Drafting a Manifesto, Ilya Repin, 1891, St. Petersburg
Ilya Repin was a prominent painter and sculptor from Chuguyev, now located in Ukraine. It took him more than ten years to realize this painting, officially known as the Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire. He wanted to depict Ukrainian Cossack republicanism after having defeated the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The legend tells that after the battle, the Cossacks sent Mehmed IV a letter, replete with insults and profanities. The Tsar Alexander III bought the painting for 35,000 rubles, what was the biggest amount for a Russian painting at that time.
Peasant Woman From Muscel, Nicolae Grigorescu, 1884, Bucharest
Nicolae Grigorescu was one of the founders of modern Romanian painting. His art made the connection between the great lansdcape painters of the early 19th century and the impressionist of the 20th century. He gained experience after a long stay in France where he was very close to French artists. Pescăriţă la Grandville and The Peasant Woman From Muscel are among his most famous paintings.
The Croats’ arrival at the Adriatic Sea, Oton Iveković, 1905, Zagreb
The Croatian painter Oton Ivekovic gained his fame by depicting significant moments in Croatian history. At the beginning of the VII century, Forebears of Croatia’s Slav population migrated from the north behind the Carpat mountains to the coast of the Adriatic sea, displacing or absorbing thus the Illyrians
A Field of Kosovo Tulips, Nadežda Petrović
The most renowned Serbian female artist from the late 19th and early 20th century Nadežda Petrović is also regarded as Serbia’s most famous Fauvist. Her paintings introduced abstractions in Serbia, and were influenced by European expressionism. This painting may represent the Serb legend according to which Kosovo red tulips grew from the blood of the Kosovo battle knights after the famous battle in 1389.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Village Landscape, Vangjush Mio, 1939, Tirana
Vangjush Mio is considered as the most prominent Albanian landscape painter of the twentieth century. He is remembered in particular for his landscape paintings: poplars glowing in the autumn sunlight beside the waters of Lake Ohrid and floodlit plains of Korça covered in snow.
Self Portrait, Zahari Zograf, 1841, Sofia
Zahari Zograf is a prominent representative of the Bulgarian National Revival. Historically, this is the period of the mature Bulgarian revival and the end of the Ottoman reign. He became famous with his church mural paintings and icons in the Churches Sveti Sveti Konstantin i Elena and Sveta Bogorodica. He is often considered as the founder of secular art in Bulgaria due to the introduction of everyday life elements in his work.
Mother and Child, Nikola Martinoski, 1967, Skopje
Nikola Martinoski is regarded as one of the most prominent Macedonian painter. He developed a very specific expressionistic style and he started dealing with social issues rather than doing mostly portraits. The Macedonian painter is also the initiator of the Art High School in Skopje, the Association of Artists and the Artistic Gallery in Skopje.
The Children’s Concert, Georgios Jakobides, 1900
Georgios Jakobides is one of the main representatives of the Greek artistic movement of the Munich School. Georgios Iakovidis devoted his attention to infants, and has been mostly inspired by the Greek sea. The Children’s concert is one of the 10 most famous Greek paintings of the 20th century and is instantly recognizable throughout Greece today.
The Turtoise Trainer, Osman Hamdi Bey, 1906, Private collection
Osman Hamdi Bey is regarded as a pioneer in Turkish art. There are two versions of this very enigmatic painting. One of them was sold in 2004 for $3.5M. The Turtoise Trainer is one of Osman Hamdi Bey’s most original and creative works. It subtly portrays this basic social message: that change is difficult, requiring much patience, in fact the patience of a sufi dervish. The five turtles in this portrait symbolize a stubborn, resistant and slow changing society.