Invite your learners to embark on an artistic journey as they peruse our collection of 30 famous paintings produced by some of the world’s greatest artists. In doing so, they’re sure to become familiar with a range of unique art styles and techniques. Furthermore, these paintings will excite their creativity as they explore the deeper meaning behind these historical showpieces. So, without further adieu, grab your learners and unearth the wondrous world of iconic paintings together!
1. “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo Da Vinci
This iconic masterpiece is known for the subtle nuances of its subject’s expression and the intricate play of light and shadow that add a three-dimensional quality to the figure. Painted in the early 16th century, the serene background showcases a winding road with a distant landscape of mountains and water- all building upon the allure of this mysterious lady, Lisa Gherardini.
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2. “The Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh
When teaching your students about famous artists, the works of Vincent Van Gogh have to be on your list. Allow them to appreciate the vibrant brushstrokes that create a swirling, rippling effect that brings this scenic landscape to life. Moreover, this piece is a stunning example of the artist’s post-impressionist style.
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3. “The Scream” by Edvard Munch
This painting exudes a raw, animalistic intensity, with its subject appearing to scream in existential terror. The sky is filled with bold, fiery streaks of color, while the bridge and the sea are rendered in harsh, curving lines. The artwork is a saddening representation of human anxiety and an effective way to educate your students on the deeper meanings behind what they see.
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4. “The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali
Present this Surrealist masterpiece to your students- an image in which Dali creates a dreamlike landscape where time appears to melt away. The barren landscape paired with the distorted and ‘melting’ pocket watches present an eerie, unsettling exploration of life and the impermanence of existence.
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5. “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn
Enhance your students’ learning with this dramatic painting which features a group of civic guardsmen mid-action; illuminated by a brilliant use of light and shadow. The dark background emphasizes the vibrant colors of their uniforms and banners. Rembrandt’s ability to convey motion and individual personality marks this as one of his most renowned works.
Learn More: BBC
6. “Las Meninas” by Diego Velázquez
This painting invites your students to step back in time and delve into Spanish court life. This artwork captures the young Infanta Margarita, her ladies-in-waiting, other court members, and even the artist himself. Velázquez’s use of perspective, reflections, and light, as well as the viewer’s role within the painting, will have your pupils raising questions about reality and illusion.
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7. “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli
This iconic painting portrays the goddess Venus in all her divine glory, emerging from a seashell. The wind blows- fluttering her hair and the cloth that covers her, while a nymph waits to dress her. Botticelli’s depiction of the human form, combined with the use of color and detailed background, makes this a signature Renaissance work your students simply have to discover!
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8. “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer
This portrait features a young woman turning towards the viewer, a shimmering pearl earring dangling from her ear. The delicate details of her luminous skin, the intricate folds of her turban, and her mystifying expression make this a piece your students are sure to remember. Prompt them to appreciate Vermeer’s masterful use of light enhances the painting’s realism and depth.
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9. “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso
Picasso is an iconic name I’m sure all your students have heard of. The chaos and suffering of the Guerica war are displayed through disjointed, geometric figures—including a weeping woman, a dismembered soldier, a bull, and a horse in agony— to create a powerful depiction of the atrocities of combat. Ultimately, Picasso’s Cubist style reinforces the fractured reality of warfare.
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10. “American Gothic” by Grant Wood
Exhibiting a farmer and his daughter, this seminal piece of art echoes Midwestern culture and values. Their stern expressions and rigid stances are set against the backdrop of a gothic-style farmhouse, reflecting the traditional rural American lifestyle many of your students may have already learned about in their history lessons.
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11. “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt
The intertwining figures of an embracing couple create a powerful display of love and intimacy in this Symbolic masterpiece. Klimt’s distinctive ornamental style, with complex patterns and luxurious golden hues, makes this work a celebration of romance; a touching piece to present to your students.
Learn More: Art in Context
12. “Water Lilies” by Claude Monet
Taking inspiration from the pond in his French garden in Giverny, Monet painted around 250 oil paintings of water lilies alone from 1896, until he died in 1926. His innovative treatment of light and color, and his loose, expressive brushwork, make these works significant in teaching your students about the evolution of modern art.
Learn More: Claude Monet
13. “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci
Another prominent art piece to show your students; “The Last Supper” depicts the moment at the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples, when he announced that one of them would betray him. Da Vinci’s unique composition, portraying the emotional reactions of the disciples in groups of three, and the central focus of Jesus, make this mural one of the most studied and revered artworks in the world.
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14. “Sunflowers” by Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh painted a series of sunflower paintings between 1888 and 1889. The vibrant colors and thick, expressive brush strokes capture the energy of these beautiful flowers, making these paintings a great way to inspire a fascination for both art and nature in your students.
Learn More: The Art Newspaper
15. “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo
Painted on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling between 1508 and 1512, this artwork depicts the moment when God breathed life into Adam. The iconic image of their nearly touching hands symbolizes the divine spark of life. Enlighten your students on Michelangelo’s remarkable composition and his ability to convey the beauty of the human form with this masterpiece.
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16. “The Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan Van Eyck
Known for its intricate detail, this painting showcases a domestic scene between a man and a woman. The careful details such as the reflection in the mirror, textures, and the figurative elements interwoven throughout the artwork are a credit to van Eyck’s technical brilliance and the greater symbolism of marriage.
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17. “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat
Intertwine art with history with this famous art piece. Completed in 1886, it’s a prime example of pointillism- a technique where tiny colorful dots are combined to form an image. Using this technique, Seurat creates an image that educates onlookers on how Parisians would spend their leisure time on the island of La Grande Jatte.
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18. “The School of Athens” by Raphael
This mural will transport your students to a grand architectural space where the greatest thinkers from classical antiquity are gathered. The central figures, Plato and Aristotle, epitomize Philosophy. Furthermore, this painting is sure to resonate with intellectual spirits who have a keen eye for the artistic pursuits that defined the Renaissance.
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19. “Impression, Sunrise” by Claude Monet
This artwork is a cultivating teaching point for your students regarding the term ‘Impressionism’; Monet’s perspective of a misty sunrise over the port of Le Havre is captured by his fleeting brush strokes and the interchanging of light and color in this scene.
Learn More: Art History Project
20. “Luncheon of the Boating Party” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
A summer afternoon on a boat comes to life under Renoir’s brush as he portrays a cheerful scene of his friends enjoying lunch. Teach your students about his impressive brushwork and use of saturated colors in capturing the joy of bourgeois leisure activities.
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21. “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich
Looking for an awe-inspiring piece to illustrate the power of nature? This is it. Friedrich’s painting evokes a sense of the sublime and captures Romanticism’s emphasis on emotion, and individualism.
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22. “The Night Cafe” by Vincent Van Gogh
This 1988 painting captures the interior of a café in Arles at night. Van Gogh’s bold, contrasting colors and his expressive brushwork create a sense of restlessness and psychological intensity.
Learn More: Van Gogh Studio
23. “Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix
Delacroix’s painting stands as a potent symbol of the French Revolution- featuring Lady Liberty leading people of importance forward. Her outstretched arm, the tricolor flag, and the insurgent crowd embody the revolutionary spirit; making this an educational delight that can be used to enlighten your students on the pursuit of independence.
Learn More: Daily Art Magazine
24. “Olympia” by Édouard Manet
Manet’s work was controversial for its time due to its candid portrayal of a modern, sexual woman; breaking down the idealized nudes of academic painting. For this reason, this distinguished creator is known as one of the leading artists of Impressionism, along with his involvement in the realism art movement.
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25. “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” by Pablo Picasso
Picasso’s bold departure from traditional European painting is evident in this work and a great talking piece for you and your students. The angular, fragmented forms of the nude women, and the influences of African tribal masks, signal the beginning of Cubism and a radical new direction in the art world.
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26. “The Hay Wain” by John Constable
Present this idyllic rendition of the English countryside to your students. Constable’s detailed observation of nature and his affection for his native landscape are sure to inspire your learners.
Learn More: National Gallery
27. “Whistler’s Mother” by James Abbott McNeill Whistler
This artwork, officially titled “Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1”, presents an elderly woman painted with oils. The painting’s restrained palette and balanced composition have made it a universal symbol of motherhood.
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28. “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth
The image of a woman lying in a field, gazing at a distant farmhouse, creates an emotion of longing and mystery in the viewer. The lady, known as Christina Olson, is limited by a degenerative muscle condition- making the painting an emotional depiction of isolation and determination.
Learn More: MoMA
29. “The Tower of Babel” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Add this to your collection of famous paintings! The biblical story of the Tower of Babel comes alive in Bruegel’s interpretation, bursting with details of an immense construction reaching for the heavens. Furthermore, this work showcases the artist’s remarkable ability to capture the specifics of everyday life and the glory of biblical narratives.
Learn More: Bruegel 2018
30. “The Swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Here, Fragonard captures a playful scene of an illicit affair with a young woman on a swing, a bishop pushing her from the shadows, and a hidden voyeur in the bushes. The composition, bathed in soft, pastel hues, embodies the carefree and sensual spirit of the Rococo period.
Learn More: Artsy