From the moment humans began creating art they have been fascinated with representing the human form, resulting in countless masterpieces in the genre of portraiture. Artalistic has combed through the art history and selected what we believe to be five of the most famous painted portraits of all time.

Painting: the most famous portraits in art history

1. Leonardo da Vinci - Mona Lisa, 1503-1506: the most famous portrait in painting

Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian inventor, scientist, writer and a talented and influential artist. Painted between 1503 and 1506, the Mona Lisa is a masterpiece that represents a woman with a landscape behind her that shows an excellent example of atmospheric perspective, as the background slowly diminishes into fog, giving depth and dimension to the painting. The woman is gazing at the viewer, smiling in a mysterious way. Her true identity has long been an enigma.

In 2005, German researchers discovered the Codex Manesse, the single most comprehensive source of Middle High German Minnesang poetry, that gives us the very first clue as to who the woman might be. She is identified as Lisa del Giocondo, a noble woman from Florence. The portrait would have been ordered at the request of her husband who was a merchant.

The painting was famously stolen in 1911. It was found and is now part of the permanent collection of the Louvre Museum in Paris. However, there are countless reproductions of the Mona Lisa in museums around the world.

2. Johannes Vermeer – The Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665

The Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer created his most famous work of art - The Girl with a Pearl Earring - in 1665. The identity of the young woman depicted in the painting remains a mystery. Many art historians believe that she is the painter's eldest daughter, Maria Vermeer. During his life Vermeer created 36 paintings, many of which were genre paintings, depicting scenes of daily life.

The composition of this oil on canvas is striking due to the way Vermeer captured the subject’s noble, crystal-clear gaze. Unlike many of his paintings the woman is not concentrating on a daily chore, the space she is in is dark, captivating the viewer’s eye. This intimate setting, paired with her enigmatic gaze and exotic turban lead some art historian’s to compare this famous painted portrait to the Mona Lisa.

3. Gustav Klimt – Portrait of Adèle Bloch-Bauer I, 1907

The Kiss and the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I are undoubtedly the most famous paintings by the Austrian Symbolist Gustav Klimt. This famous portrait was painted in 1907. It was part of the collection at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna for several years. It was finally returned to the Bloch-Bauer family in 2006, the family sold the piece a few months later for 135 million dollars.

This famous portrait depicts Adele Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy woman from Vienna. Its subtle and beautiful composition showcases the refined and intricate ornamental techniques used during the German Art Nouveau mouvement. It should be noted that Klimt was a member of the Vienna Secession, a group of artists that broke away from the traditional painting techniques used at the time.

This oil on canvas was unique due to Klimt’s signature style that was relied heavily on gold leaf to create an effect that resembled Byzantine mosaics.

4. Pablo Picasso - Portrait of Gertrude Stein, 1905-1906

Pablo Picasso began painting this famous Portrait of Gertrude Stein in 1905 and completed it in 1906.

Gertrude Stein was an influential figure during the artistic avant-garde movement that took place at the beginning of the 20th century. Stein was a writer and art collector that was also associated with the modernist movement, as she introduced several influential artists and writers, including the F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and the artists Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

This painting captures this independent woman’s self-confidence. Stein was a self-made woman and was one of Picasso’s most important financial supporters at the beginning of his career.

This piece was created during the artist's pink period and can be seen as an homage to Gertrude Stein. Stein stated in her book entitled Picasso,  "I was and still am satisfied with my portrait. To me it represents me, and it is the only reproduction of me that I think still fits me. »

5. Grant Wood - American Gothic, 1930

American Gothic is one of the most famous portraits painted by Grant Wood and many believe it to be one of the most famous pieces of modern American art.

Wood created this painting in 1930. The farmer and the woman depicted are believed to be the artist's younger sister, Nan Wood Graham and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby.

Wood wanted the scene to be of a father and daughter, however the painting’s mysterious nature leaves the pair’s relationship open to interpretation: « Technique does not constitute art. Nor is it a vague, fuzzy romantic quality known as ‘beauty,’ remote from the realities of everyday life. It is the depth and intensity of an artist’s experience that are the first importance in art.»

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There you have it, Artalistic’s selection of the most famous painted portraits in art history. Of course, history is full of other masterpieces in portraiture. You may even discover one one our website by a contemporary emerging artist that will accrue value!

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