Ask a houseful of ‘Art critics’, who is the greatest painter ever? And you’ll get a different name every time. There is no one standard by which you can judge who is the best ever or who is the most inspirational. Art is Subjective and there is no one definition to ‘beauty’. The reputation of the painter had varied according to the movement. And unfortunately, there were even many of the world’s greatest painters who died unacknowledged. For example, Jan Vermeer lay unknown for 200 years before being “discovered” in the 19th century; Modigliani sold his canvases for food; while Van Gogh painted some 800 paintings in his last 8 years without achieving a single sale. That being said, determining the list of most inspirational painters ever is a highly personal judgment as each one of us have our own stylistic preferences.
Keeping in mind the above mentioned facts, here is my personal list of top 10 inspirational painters of all time. I have used their style of Painting, their reputation over decades, my idea of visual beauty and the influence of their artworks to list out these exceptional painters.
10. Jan Van Eyck
One of the most significant painters from the history, Jan Van Eyck is considered to be a revolutionary master whose works and methods were heavily copied and reproduced. He is noted especially for his mastery of oil painting, his introduction of a new realism in religious works and portraiture. His typical secular portraits with dark and flat background and detailed textures of a man’s face remain a favorite. Since I am also a vivid lover of portraits, I realize how beautifully Van Eyck adds sharp and detailed physical lines to his portraits. Other one of his notable pieces is ‘The Ghent Altar piece’. Van Eyck had paid much attention to the beauty of this earthly thing. The clothes and jewels, nature surrounding the scene, the churches and landscape in the background – are all painted with extraordinary detail.
Jan Van Eyck Paintings
9. Claude Monet
He was the leader of the impressionist moment. In fact the term “impressionist’ was derived from the title of his painting called ‘Impression, Sunrise’. The most consistent and prolific practitioner of land scape plein-air painting, Monet had a lifelong obsession with the depiction of light. He liked to paint when the sun or any type of light reflected off the water because it would create a kind of shiny and glittery scene. His “Haystacks” and “Water Lilies” series of canvases took years to complete. ‘Water lilies’ was one of his larger paintings, meant to inspire nature and give great beauty to whoever views it. The sunset color reflecting off the water is one of the many aspects of his choice to make the meaning of this painting beauty and inspiration. His approach helps us understand that one can create art not just by introspecting but also by finding beauty into our surroundings.
Claude Monet Paintings
8. Francisco Goya
He was a Spanish Romantic Painter, who had also created works to criticize the social and political problems of his era. Goya had majorly learned to paint by imitation since the age of 14, which is one of the ways most of us artists try to learn to paint today. Two of his life size inspiring and controversial paintings, “The Nude Maja” and “The Clothed Maja” remain well known but they were never exhibited in his times as the court had banned them because of its explicit depiction of female nudity. In his later years he continued to paint women from all walks of his life and works which explored the greed, corruption and repression that were rambling during those times. Goy always tried to express his inner thoughts through his paintings, even the darkest and most horrible ones, which sets a perfect inspiration for some of the artists today.
Francisco Goya Paintings
7. Jan Vermeer
A highly regarded Dutch painter of his time, Vermeer had been a source of inspiration and fascination for eras. History states that there’s no record that states if Vermeer received any kind of training under any of the artists of those times. His paintings were mostly influenced by the works of other great artists before his era. The painter explored arts for almost a decade to generate his unique style of painting and like Monet, Vermeer was also fascinated by light. His trademarks are paintings of daily life and a realistic rendering to the figures and objects, showing a two faceted picture of light and shadow. His painting, ‘Girl with a pearl earring’ has always been my favorite and I love the way he had used some bright colors in his paintings. He created very less paintings during his lifetime but they all are characterized by a serene sense of composition recreating the mundane daily life into something whimsical.
Jan Vermeer Paintings
6. Andy Warhol
The leading figure in the visual art moment called ‘Pop Art’ – paintings that focused on mass produced commercial goods such as Campbell’s soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, hamburgers, vacuum cleaners, etc. He also painted celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger and Mao Zedong which gained fame and later received many commissions for portraits from celebrities and socialites. Warhol’s idea was mainly based on celebrity fixation. He observed that more than anything people just want stars. Critiques say that he used his paintings to depict a culture obsessed with money and celebrity, but his paintings on commercial goods and pop-culture icons suggest a life in celebration of the very aspects of American culture that his work criticized. He believed that money making is art and working is art and that a good business is the best art.
Andy Warhol Paintings
5. Van Gogh
Over the years artists have been influenced by other great artists and Vincent Van Gogh was no different. He was a post –impressionist painter who painted with colors matching to his subjects. Van Gogh was more inspirational in the way he talked about his work and interpreted them. His first painting that he considered to be successful was, ‘The Potato Eaters’ which came across exactly as he wanted it to be. With his paintings he wanted to show the people of labor class, that they were the ones who have tiled this earth and honestly earned the food they eat. Particularly a life which is different form we civilized people. Another inspiring thing about Gogh was that he never tried to be different or was eager to learn or create a new style of painting. He just went with the subjects that inspired him and created works within whatever he learned from the roots of his home.
Van Gogh Paintings
4. Pablo Picasso
Another revolutionary painter of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso is the inventor of ‘cubism’ which is a form of abstract art which displayed many views of a subject at one time breaking the tradition of perspective drawing. Picasso had extraordinary artistic talent since his childhood and hated art schools and their focus on singular subjects and techniques. He always wanted to paint what he observed and wandered the cities he lived in for the same. In his career, Picasso kept changing his styles of painting which was affected by his surroundings and expressed it the way he believed it needed to be expressed. For the artists who have a hard time finding inspiration, the only advice Picasso gave was to keep on working and creating things you like and inspiration will itself find you.
Pablo Picasso Paintings
3. Leonardo da Vinci
A very well-known name in the art history, even to the people who are not from an arts background. Vinci has been successful in creating some art works which has remained a mystery to the art inspectors even today, one being a much talked about painting, ‘The Mona Lisa’. The most inspiring thing about Vinci is how he requested people to be creative. According to him you could find inspiration for great ideas if you look at random objects and identify the design and patterns they represent, mixing it with your thoughts to come up with a concept. He would gaze into the water or the flames of fire and later imagine its lively movements to come up with ideas in his mind by blending the subjects and events he imagined.
Leonardo da Vinci Paintings
2. Rembrandt Van Rijn
The most effective painter of the 17th century, Rembrandt works have influenced many artist of the European history. I’ve always loved Rembrandt’s use of light and dark in his paintings to create a dramatic effect. Rembrandt’s self-portraits show that he liked to experiment with his expressions and depicts the biography of his life. The most inspiring thing about him is that despite facing many hardships during his life time, financial and emotional, Rembrandt never stopped painting. In fact some of the great artworks were created during the same period. His paintings are extra ordinary and the details that he gave even to the dark sides of his paintings are exceptional to look at.
Rembrandt Van Rijn Paintings
1. Michelangelo Buonarroti
What makes Michelangelo the greatest ever is his mastery in three major forms of visual art – painting, sculpting and drafting, which is unlikely to be repeated. ‘Sistine Chapel Ceiling’ justifiably remains the finest work of figurative art in the world history of paintings. It is said to have covered almost all aspects of visual forms, which a painting could possibly contain. Despite his greatness, Michelangelo in his personal life was non indulgent. He ate and drank mere out of necessity than of pleasure. His paintings are said to have a ‘superhuman quality’ and he remained a supreme winner in the field of heroic male figures (arguably still is).
Michelangelo Buonarroti Paintings
Final Conclusion: One common thing about every great artist is that they give up their whole life into learning and creating what they love doing, which I think is the most important aspect of mastering any field. Almost all the painters and work that are mentioned above are from the history of art which when studied will challenge your creative side and inspire you to find beauty in man-made forms. Learning to build on the art forms which you’ve already seen and known can develop your creative understanding.
Claude Monet once said, “It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.” Keeping in mind Monet’s words, consider how to perceive as much art works as possible. You will be able to develop a sense of beauty towards your favorite style and time periods, and you will be able to use it for your own inspiration.