9 Paintings You Should Have in Your Repertoire

It’s time to unleash your inner art history nerd.

Image courtesy of Deanna J via Unsplash

Next time someone tries to flex their art history knowledge, make sure you’re ready to flex right back. Maybe you’ve been in that awkward situation where someone starts talking to you about abstract expressionism or synthetic cubism. Perhaps you’ve visited a museum with a friend who turned out to be a borderline connoisseur. Regardless of the sticky situations you’ve endured, knowing these 9 paintings is a great place to start your journey to becoming an art authority in your own right. (Image courtesy of Deanna J via Unsplash)

#1 The School of Athens

Raphael Sanzio, a paragon of Italian art, painted this fresco around 1510. Although it showcases a scene from a much earlier point in history, the height of Greece’s classical period, this painting fits seamlessly into the Italian Renaissance during which it was created. The word “Renaissance” literally means “rebirth.” This movement saw a shift away from religious themes and a celebration of humanity and human achievement. Each individual is painted with extreme detail and is unique from the next, a trend very indicative of Renaissance humanism. (Image courtesy of janeb13 via pixabay)

#2 Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

German artist Caspar David Friedrich painted this work in 1818. In many ways, it’s a perfect example of Romanticism. This artistic and literary movement glorified the beauty and mystery of nature in response to a growing preoccupation with rationality that grew out of the Enlightenment period. Art interpreters have not exactly reached a consensus about the meaning of painting. Some say that it depicts Friedrich himself; others proclaim that it’s an ode to a certain military figure. In terms of the painting’s larger significance, perhaps it contrasts nature’s undeniable strength with the relative meekness of mankind, or perhaps it exalts human power by showing a figure that has climbed and conquered the cliff. (Image courtesy of WikiImages via pixabay)

#3 A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

This piece was created by French painter Georges Seurat between 1884 and 1886. While the painting might initially look like a work of Impressionism, the technique used here does not align with this movement. The piece is instead a prime example of Pointillism, a style that used colored dots instead of brushstrokes to create an image. The scene appears modest and tranquil, although some interpretations say that certain women in the painting may actually be prostitutes.

#4 The Son of Man

This piece, a likeness of which is presented here, was painted by Belgian artist René Magritte in 1964. Although the man appears to be facing forward, his left elbow juts out the wrong way and suggests the opposite. Many agree that the man in the painting is meant to be Magritte himself. Like many of Magritte’s pieces, the viewer is not granted a depiction of the entire scene. We are left with questions about what the visual actually entails. (Cue the popular The Treachery of Images. This work shows a pipe on a plain background, yet written underneath the pipe is the tagline “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” or “This is not a pipe.”) (Image courtesy of Nathan Hughes Hamilton via Flickr)

#5 Liberty Leading the People

Created by French artist Eugène Delacroix, this painting looks like it’s fresh out of the French Revolution. However, Delacroix actually painted it a few decades later in 1830. The summer of this year was wrought with unrest for the government created in the wake of the Revolution. “Liberty” is at the forefront of the painting, hoisting a symbolic French flag. She is surrounded by well-dressed and what appear to be working class countrymen alike, showing that the movement was not limited to one social group. (Image courtesy of WikiImages via pixabay)

#6 American Gothic

American painter Grant Wood effected this painting that has inspired numerous Halloween costumes to this day. Created in 1930, the year following the stock market crash of 1929, it exposes the grimness of the agricultural life that was reality for a large segment of the population. Neither individual looks particularly pleased, and some might even say they look dissatisfied. The woman on the left looks into the distance while the man seems to make direct eye contact with the viewer. On the whole, the piece leaves us with an eerie feeling. According to the Art Institute of Chicago, however, “Wood intended it to be a positive statement about rural American values, an image of reassurance at a time of great dislocation and disillusionment.” (Image courtesy of WikiImages via pixabay)

#8 Guernica

The image above is a reproduction of the piece originally created by Spanish painter Pablo Picasso in 1937. Picasso is credited as one of the leaders of Cubism, an artistic movement that flaunted distortions of reality and seemingly impossible geometries. Before Guernica was a painting, however, it was a place. Located in northern Spain, the town suffered a destructive Nazi bombing during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso’s piece displays the emotions of fear, disbelief, and agony that come alongside warfare. (Image courtesy of Almudena_Sanz_Tabernero via pixabay)

#9 The Garden of Earthly Delights

This painting was created by Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch in roughly 1500. The form seen here is called a triptych, which contains three separate panels that are assembled together and are designed to be viewed in ensemble. A widespread interpretation of this piece is that the leftmost portion depicts Adam and Eve in a world of peace and serenity. The middle panel shows a progression towards population and pleasure. Once we arrive at the rightmost panel, however, the figures have become lost in the chaos and darkness of hell. Despite its age, this piece feels strikingly modern and even futuristic. (See that little orb in the bottom left corner of the middle panel? Tell me that doesn’t look like Lady Gaga entering the Grammys in an egg back in 2011.) (Image courtesy of WikiImages via pixabay)


Written by Megan Pontin

Enthusiastic word-collector, avid pancake-consumer, and experienced hammock-lounger. Student at Cornell University.

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