Art history has always been of great interest to Kelley. He's read many books and articles on the subject.
These impressive and generally iconic paintings by renowned artists changed the art world forever
Modern art began in the middle 1800s, when the advent of photography seemed to make painting obsolete. If you could simply photograph something, why draw or paint it? So, artists had to reinvent art, making it more personal, impressionistic, expressionistic, abstract, deconstructed or minimalistic. In fact, art became whatever the artist said it was. Or, put another way, the artwork was merely a reflection of the artist himself or herself.
Now let’s begin the countdown for the 95 Greatest Paintings of Modern Art!
95. Streak 2 (1979) Bridget Riley
Bridget Riley, of English descent, began working as commercial illustrator in the late 1950s; and then she saw an exhibition of Jackson Pollock’s paintings, which had a great impact on her. Around 1960, Riley developed her style of Op Art, which uses optical illusions to fool the eye and create movement and nuances of color. Streak 2 is a prime example of Riley’s famous “stripe paintings.” Produced from 1961 to 2014, they invite the viewer’s perception to become an important aspect of the artistic experience.
94. The Three Graces (1923) René-Émile Ménard
René-Émile Ménard was a French painter whose subjects comprised diffuse, ethereal landscapes, as well as deities from Greek or Roman mythology. His work very popular in France in the early 1900s, Ménard’s paintings were first exhibited in US cities in the 1920s. The Three Graces, the embodiment of human beauty and other attributes, show Ménard’s take on these three classical goddesses. Usually depicted in ancient times, they’re sometimes shown as present day women in just about any setting.
93. The Merchant’s Wife (1918) Boris Mikhaylovich Kustodiev
Born in the city of Astrakhan in southern Russia, Kustodiev studied art in the 1890s under the tutelage of Russian master, Ilya Yefimovich Repin, with whom Kustodiev painted a photo-realist painting to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the State Council of St. Petersburg in 1903. But Kustodiev used a more popular illustrative style to produce paintings such as The Merchant’s Wife (1918), perhaps the most famous of his many superb compositions. Kustodiev was also a notable designer of stage scenery and an illustrator of books.
92. Goodbye! (1892) Alfred Guillou
Essentially French, though of Celtic Brittonic or Breton heritage as these people exist in Brittany, France, Alfred Guillou had his painting debut in 1868. About this time, Guillou and other painters formed the Concarneau Art Colony near Pont-Aven, France, attracting painters such as Charles Cottet and Paul Gauguin. A prime example of Guillou’s penchant for depicting the lives of fishermen, Guillou painted Goodbye! a decidedly romantic composition which has become famous in Brittany and around the world.
91. Two Heads Are Better than One (2017) Colette Caslascione
Born in the San Francisco Bay Area and earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the San Francisco Art Institute, Colette Caslascione paints subjects—mostly women or children—in idyllic Victorian settings and often with fantastical effects or props, producing beguiling portraits of feminine identity. The composition Two Heads Are Better than One seems to ask the question: Which head is one you can trust?
90. Soirée à l'Atelier (1904) by Lucien Simon
Born in Paris, France, Lucien Simon was a French artist and teacher. Simon became fascinated with the country life in Britanny, France, about which he created many fine landscape painting. Simon also became associated with the Bande noire or black band—the artists sometimes called the Nubians—a turn of the twentieth century salon of painters who used a dark palette to express melancholy in their impressionist paintings. Soirée à l'Atelier is a prime example of this style of dark painting.
89. Untitled (1912 to 1990) by Mariano Rodriguez
Mariano Rodriguez was born in Havana, Cuba, where he attended art school, and in 1936 he became the art director of Rhythm magazine; and then, in 1939, did the same for Silver Spur, a literary slick. In 1952, Rodriguez and Alfredo Lozano painted the mural fresco Human Suffering. Rodriguez was a popular avant-garde artist in the US until the Cuban Revolution (1953 – 1959). He often painted roosters and pretty—often nude—women, and in the aforementioned work—painted both in one glorious, vibrant composition!
88. The Falls of Kalama (1851) by Edward Lear
Englishman Edward Lear, suffering from epilepsy, nevertheless traveled throughout of his life: Greece and Egypt from 1848 to 1849; India and Ceylon from 1873 to 1875; and Switzerland and Italy from 1878 to 1883. But, even though he may not have traveled in Albania, where The Falls of Kalama are located, he may have wrote about the location in one of his many travel books. Lear was also a poet and wrote books of limericks; he also drew illustrations and composed music to poems written by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
87. Kept In (1888) by E.L. Henry
Edward Lamson Henry, aka E.L. Henry, was an American painter who grew up in NYC. In 1860, Henry moved to Paris, France, where he studied genre painting with artists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. Henry’s paintings usually depicted agrarian America during the late 1800s, when the advent of steam locomotives and motorized tractors were becoming prominent aspects of a seemingly idyllic land. But Henry’s painting, Kept In, seems to refer to his experiences working as a Union clerk during the American Civil War.
86. The Debacle (1892) by Theodore Robinson
Theodore Robinson was another American who studied Impressionism with Claude Monet; in fact, Robinson lived near Monet and became good friends with him. The Debacle—a part of the art collection at Scripps College in Claremont, California—is a prime example of Robinson’s mature painting style. Unable to earn a living selling his paintings, Robinson taught at the Evelyn College in Princeton, New Jersey, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
85. Broken and Restored Multiplication (1919) by Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti
The younger sister of the Duchamp brothers—Marcel, Jacques and Raymond—Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti had a friendship and artistic interaction with Marcel Duchamp, including a great interest in his readymade works of art and anti-art philosophy. Broken and Restored Multiplication shows the mechanical world, including the Eiffel Tower, turned upside down, exemplifying Crotti’s interest in the Dada movement, which decried the destruction of WWI and also rejected the ideals of capitalist society.
84. Paloma à la Guitare (1965) Francoise Gilot
Francoise Gilot is a French painter whose romantic relationship with Pablo Picasso has kept her in the public eye since the 1940s. Gilot and Picasso had two children together, but never married. Picasso was 40 years older than Gilot, who eventually wrote Life with Picasso (1964). Picasso tried to block publication of the book and, after the couple broke up in 1953, he dissuaded people from purchasing Gilot’s paintings. Paloma à la Guitare is a portrait of Aurélia, Gilot’s daughter, playing the guitar. In 2021, the painting sold for $1.3 million at Sotheby’s in London.
83. Final Final by Edwin Forrest
Born in San Francisco, California, Edwin Forrest, after his retirement from construction and restoration projects, began taking oil painting classes at Sacramento City College. He calls his painting style “Hard Edge Nonrepresentational.” Describing his art, Forrest says, “My paintings strive to create a rhythm with the shapes. Creating a unique, pleasing and memorable mixture of colors, shapes and textures in all my oil paints remains my goal for each of them.” Forrest’s painting has been exhibited in Sacramento, California, galleries such as Beatnik Studios, the E Street Gallery and the Bee Cool Club.
82. Reclining Nude (1940) Tyrus Wong
One of the greatest Chinese American artists of the twentieth century, Tyrus Wong worked as set designer and storyboard artist for Disney and Warner Brothers. In fact, he was the lead production illustrator on the animated film Bambi (1942). He also worked on Rebel Without a Cause, Around the World in 80 Days, The Wild Bunch and Music Man. Wong was also a talented calligrapher, ceramicist, lithographer, greeting card designer, kite maker and painter. Reclining Nude is one of many fine paintings Wong produced in the 1920s through the 1980s. Wong died in 2016, age 106!
81. Place Du Rome at Night by Theodore Earl Butler
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Theodore Earl Butler was an American painter of Impressionism. In 1888, Butler moved to Paris, France, so he could study art with painters such as Claude Monet and Emile Carolus Duran. Butler soon became friends with Monet, whose garden at Giverny was the famous location where Butler and numerous other artists painted landscapes of impressionistic art. In 1899, Butler returned to the US, where he became close friends with John Singer Sargent and Maximilien Luce. Interestingly, Butler is a distant relative of former US president George W. Bush.
80. The Game of Solitaire (1904) Jacques Villon
Jacques Villon, aka Gaston Duchamp, was the elder brother of Marcel Duchamp, both of whom French abstract painters of great renown in the early 1900s. Villon, also a notable printmaker, painted in the styles of Fauvism and Cubism. In 1911, Villon and his two brothers (Marcel and Raymond) formed the Section d’Or, a discussion group of artists and critics that also exhibited artworks. And, notably, Suzanne Duchamp-Crotti, also a talented painter, was the younger sister of the three Duchamp brothers—four siblings, all of whom became famous artists!
79. Eclipse of the Sun (1926) George Grosz
A German American, George Grosz began painting in Germany during the 1910s; his paintings were often caricatures of street life in Berlin. After relocating to Huntington, New York in 1947, Grosz, needing money, used Eclipse of the Sun to settle a repair bill; and then the painting was purchased by a house painter for $104. Later it was bought by an art museum for $15,000. Satirizing people involved with arms sales, the painting became popular with anti-war protestors during the Vietnam War. Eventually, in 2006, the painting was valued at $19 million and considered Grosz’s most popular painting!
78. Untitled by Shonto Begay
A member of the Diné tribe, Shonto Begay grew up with 15 siblings living in three hogans—none of which having utilities—near Shonto, Arizona. While attending the white man’s boarding school, Begay began to paint, though he had to do so in secret or the reservation authorities would make him stop. Begay said the act of painting helped remove him from harsh reality, so he could create with his hands a land of great beauty. The above Southwestern masterpiece depicts a magical landscape of sand, cacti, sagebrush, buttes, mesas and petroglyphs.
77. Kangaroo Paddock (1957) Peter Benjamin Graham
Peter Benjamin Graham had a keen interest in Australian wildlife, particularly kangaroos, and also had a passion for Aboriginal art, religion and culture. Using the techniques of Modernism and geometric abstraction and thereby producing what Graham called Thematic Orchestration, he said he could expand or “grow” an image in an infinite fashion that differed from conventional abstraction. Kangaroo Paddock is a prime example of Graham’s work in this new genre that arose in the 1950s.
76. The Trench (1923) Otto Dix
When WWI broke out in 1914, Otto Dix was a passionate critic of Germany’s Weimar Republic, yet he still joined the Germany Army and fought in the horrific Battle of the Somme, in which more than one million men were wounded or killed. Sickened by the appalling carnage of the war, Dix painted The Trench, which shows slaughtered soldiers, their bodies in pieces that decompose in muddy trenches. When first exhibited in 1925, the painting was soon hid behind a curtain; and then in 1937 it was confiscated by Nazi Germany, as it was considered a degenerative work of art. The painting was last seen around 1940.
75. Two Sisters (1944) John D. Graham
A Ukrainian man born in the Russian Empire in 1886, John D. Graham, the son of an aristocrat, immigrated to the New York area in 1920, where he painted and collected art, and then joined a group called The Modernists. While struggling financially during the Great Depression, Graham wrote Dialectics of Art, published in 1937. Then in the 1940s Graham became a mentor for Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky and Mark Rothko. Influenced by Rafael and Leonardo de Vinci, Graham developed his own figurative style, as shown in Two Sisters and many of his other portraits of women.
74. Greenwich Village Cafeteria (1934) Paul Cadmus
Paul Cadmus began his artistic career by becoming a commercial illustrator, but in the early 1930s he changed his vocation to producing fine art. Many of his paintings include caricatures of drunkenness, debauchery or homosexuality, particularly as shown in The Fleet’s In (1934), Sailors and Floozies (1938), Greenwich Village Cafeteria, and many others. Objectionable to many (one critic called them a skewed version of the Saturday Evening Post) these paintings were often removed from public view. Cadmus’ paintings bring to mind the work of contemporaries such as Otto Dix and George Grosz.
73. Blue Madonna (1961) Bob Thompson
Bob Thompson was an African-American artist heavily influenced by the Old Masters, particularly those artists who painted figurative compositions during the Baroque and Renaissance periods. Also an enthusiast of modern jazz and paintings of Abstract Expressionism, Thompson wanted to synthesize all of these art forms into a creative whole. Dying at the young age of 28, Thompson nevertheless created more than 1,000 artworks, many of which can be viewed in various museums and art galleries across the US.
72. State Park (1946) Jared French
Known for using egg tempera as a medium in his paintings, Jared French often produced compositions in a style known as magic realism, which joined the modern world with magical or surrealistic elements. Influenced by painters of the Italian Renaissance in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—masters such as Mantegna and Piero della Francesca— French tried to show both the physical and mental aspects of his subjects, generally strong young men in masculine poses, such as the males in State Park.
71. La Grande Café (2011) Peter Sebastian Graham
An Australian painter, sculptor and printmaker, Peter Sebastian Graham attended the Victoria College of the Arts in Melbourne, from which he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1991. His work is often compared to the Modern Scottish School, though his vibrant, dynamic style seems unique and is definitely eye-catching. Graham has shown his artworks in numerous exhibitions, solo or otherwise, throughout Australia and other parts of the world.
70. Timeblades by James Rosenquist
A key figure of the Pop Art movement, James Rosenquist was a billboard artist and sign painter until the 1960s, when he developed his own style of painting giant artworks—some of which tens of feet in length—which drew inspiration from mass media commercialism, iconography and pop culture. Often compared to artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns and Eduardo Paolozzi, Rosenquist once said, “To be creative is to be accepting, but it's also to be harsh on one's self. You just don't paint colors for the silliness of it all.”
69. Odalisque (1921) Henri Matisse
One of the giants of modern art, Henri Matisse was primarily known as a painter in the Fauvist genre, which emphasizes the usage of vivid color and emotion, rather than strictures regarding naturalistic depiction. Matisse’s Odalisque one of his examples of an eighteenth and nineteenth century genre in which a harem concubine or court lady, often nude, would lie on her side, providing an erotic pose to the viewer. Matisse spent months in Morocco in 1912 and 1913, and this painting and other artworks from this time could be considered aspects of his Middle Eastern period. Moreover, Matisse painted a number of "odalisques" in his career.
68. The Liver is the Cock’s Comb (1944) Arshile Gorky
An Armenian-American artist, Arshile Gorky was considered one of the greatest American painters of the twentieth century. Gorky’s works of Surrealism greatly influenced artists of Abstract Expressionism such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. In the 1940s, surrealist art critic André Breton claimed that The Liver is the Cock’s Comb was “one of the most important paintings made in America,” and it is often considered Gorky’s greatest painting. Notably, Gorky’s paintings and drawings appear in every major art museum in America.
67. Untitled (2005) Cy Twombly
Cy Twombly’s artworks are often very large and comprised of what appears to be writing, calligraphy, graffiti or cryptographic scribbles. Because Twombly often used asemic writing—or writing with no semantic content—his paintings can be hard to classify or understand, though some of them may include inscriptions from mythology or literature, which folks may prefer. Although the untitled painting looks like something Jackson Pollock may have “dripped,” it nevertheless is not considered a work of Abstract Expressionism.
66. Portrait of George Dyer by Francis Bacon
In 1971, Englishman Francis Bacon was once described as “Britain’s greatest living painter,” and if money is any measure of success, some of his paintings have sold for record prices from the late 1970s until the present. Heavily influenced by existentialism, Bacon’s figurative paintings were often bleak, tragic and unsettling. The aforementioned George Dyer—alcoholic and often troublesome—was younger than Bacon and the dominate figure in their romantic relationship. Eventually they broke up, and then Dyer committed suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates, after which Bacon was greatly shaken. At the funeral, as Dyer’s body was lowered into the ground, somebody yelled at Bacon, “You bloody fool!”
65. The City Rises (1910) Umberto Boccioni
An Italian painter and sculptor, Umberto Boccioni was a seminal figure in the Futurism movement of the early twentieth century in Europe. Futurism, which depicts optimism for modernity, was a forerunner of many other artistic groups: Art Deco, Constructivism, Surrealism and Dada. Killed at 33 during WWI, Boccioni nevertheless produced over 100 pieces of art, one of which was The City Rises, a work generally embraced by the public and quickly sold for 4,000 lire. This large painting (two by three meters) is considered Boccioni’s first work of Futurism and can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
64. In-Appropriate #1 (2013) Frank Buffalo Hyde
A Native American, Frank Buffalo Hyde grew up on the Onondaga reservation in New York, but he was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he attended the Institute of American Indian Arts. Hyde strives to create artworks that highlight the lives of Native Americans, rather than support negative stereotypes people may harbor regarding Native Americans—and do so in an often humorous way. Hyde’s painting, In-Appropriate # 1, seems to depict a pretty white woman with blonde tresses, who tries to appear Native American—but isn’t fooling anybody!
63. Sunday by Paul Signac
Paul Signac began his artistic career as an admirer of Claude Monet’s “pond” paintings. Then in the 1880s he became a proponent of Pointillism or Divisionism, along with painters such as Georges Seurat and Henri Edmond-Cross; he also became a good friend of Vincent van Gogh, with whom he would paint landscapes and cafes. The painting, Sunday, is a primary example from Signac’s oeuvre of Neo-Impressionistic works. Then Signac transitioned into Fauvism in the early 1900s and even purchased one of Matisse’s paintings.
62. The Block (1978) Romare Bearden
An African-American artist, Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and grew up in New York City, where he graduated from New York University. Bearden eventually became a member of the Harlem-based art group, The Spiral, which strove to express the responsibility of African-American artists during the civil rights movement (1954 to 1968). Bearden’s painting, The Block, shows his interest in abstract art, particularly as shown in his social protest paintings, cartoons and collages; in fact, Bearden has been called the “nation’s foremost collagist.”
61. Road to Rome (1979) Paul Delvaux
Having a great interest in classical antiquity, particularly that of Greece and Rome, in this painting Paul Delvaux depicts the central woman as the muse, or inspirational goddess, a beautiful but inaccessible woman beyond human touch. Notably, the composition shows both modern and classical elements, presenting a timeless appearance, a technique Delvaux often used in his paintings. Considered a surrealist by some, Delvaux said he didn’t support the theories of Sigmund Freud and included no psychoanalytic references in his paintings. In 2016, Road to Rome was sold by Sotheby’s to a private collector for $2.6 million.
60. Time (2014) Liu Xiaodong
Xiaodong has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Central Academy of Fine Art (CAFA) in Beijing, China, and is a professor in the painting department at CAFA. Xiaodong paints works of social realism and is heavily influenced by the figurative paintings of Lucian Freud. He often paints the lao bai xing, common people, in every day poses and situations. The four common folk in the painting, Time, mostly ignore a young man who lies prone on the ground, off to the side, unconscious or dead. Why don’t they investigate and see if the man needs help? Perhaps they don’t want to get involved. Is this a message about life in contemporary China?
59. Girl with a Kitten (1947) Lucian Freud
Born in Berlin, Germany, and the grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, Lucian Freud spent most of his life in London, England, where he joined the School of London, a group of figurative artists that included Francis Bacon, R.B. Kitaj, Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, et al. Freud’s painting style if often considered German Expressionism or Surrealism. In the painting, Girl with a Kitten, the subject is one of Lucian Freud’s wives, artist Kitty Garman. This composition shows a resemblance to the Early Netherlandish paintings of the fifteen century. Astonishingly, Lucian Freud may have fathered as many as 40 children, but only 14 of such offspring have been identified.
58. Caught at the Border (1991) Pacita Abad
An artist of Philippine-American descent, Pacita Abad produced about 5,000 artworks during her lifetime, and these various works can be found in over 70 countries. The painting, Caught at the Border, offers an emotional statement about immigration; it shows a migrant woman staring from behind the bars of a prison. For this piece, Abad used a technique known as trapunto, on which a canvas is stretched over a quilted surface, causing an elevated effect. Surrounding the imprisoned woman are mirrors that reflect viewers’ images.
57. Prometheus (1930) José Clemente Orozco
Inspiring by the engravings of satirist José Guadalupe Posada, Orozco helped establish the Mexican Mural Renaissance in the 1920s. From 1922 to 1948, Orozco painted murals throughout Mexico and the United States. Orozco liked to depict scenes of human suffering, though he promoted the social and political causes of poor farmers and lower class workers. In general, his paintings were dark and pessimistic and showed the bloody toll of social change in Mexico; he was also a critic of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), showing its tragedy; and his paintings are often charged with Christian iconography. Painted a la fresco at the Pomona College Dining Hall in California, Prometheus is considered the first modern fresco painted in the US.
56. Gimn of Poseidon (2016) Arsen Savadov
A painter, installation and performance artist, as well as noted conceptualist photographer, Arsen Savadov lives in Kiev, Ukraine, but also spends time in New York City. Of Armenian descent, Savadov studied painting at the Shevchenko State Art School and is a graduate of the Kiev Art Institute. Since the early 1990s, Savadov has shown his artwork throughout the world. The painting, Gimn of Poseidon, is a prime example of Savadov’s ability to create striking paintings of Surrealism, neo-Pop Art or Fantastic Realism.
55. Half Dome at Yosemite National Park by Gregory Kondos
Of Greek ancestry, Gregory Kondos attended art school in Sacramento and Los Angeles, California, and he taught at Sacramento City College from 1956 to 1982. In 1990, Kondos was an artist-in-residence at Yosemite National Park, where he lived for many summers. Presumably, Kondos painted Half Dome at Yosemite National Park during the 1990s. Kondos said the painter Paul Cézanne inspired him to paint nature, in particular how to “paint the blues,” as he phrased it. “I’m the boss of the blues.” And about painting in general, he declared: “A painter paints; an artist tries to do everything, even just stringing beads. I’m not an artist, I’m a painter.”
54. Portrait of an Actress (1948) Diego Rivera
A Mexican muralist painter of great renown, Diego Rivera also painted works of Cubism and post-Impressionism. In 1929, Rivera married artist Frida Kahlo and remained her husband until 1955, when she died (Rivera passed in 1957). Both painters often included images of each other in their various artworks. However, Portrait of an Actress doesn’t appear to show a likeness to Frida Kahlo, though it could be one of actress Paulette Goddard, with whom Rivera had a friendship in the 1940s; in fact, Rivera did many portraits of women in the first half of the twentieth century. Curiously, the subject in this composition appears to be a woman about whom one could be wary!
53. Brown River III by Wayne Thiebaud
Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings are often considered Pop Art, though he didn’t call himself a pop artist; he denigrated the two-dimensional work of artists such as Andy Warhol. Thiebaud (pronounced tee-boh), mostly raised in northern California and having taught at the University of California at Davis, is also known for his use of hyper realism, as in his depictions of commonplace objects such as pastry, ice cream, cosmetics and clothing. He also painted landscapes of the Central Valley of California, e.g. Brown River III. He also painted cityscapes of San Francisco, California; Park Place (1993) is a prime example of Thiebaud’s signature use of heavy pigment, vivid colors, exaggerated perspective and prominent shadows.
52. The Apartment (1943) Jacob Lawrence
Among the most famous African-American artists of the twentieth century, Jacob Lawrence produced many compositions of life in Harlem in upper Manhattan New York City, New York. Labeling his style as “dynamic cubism” and comparing his work to that of Henri Matisse, Lawrence produced many narratives of African-American history and historical figures, including the 60-panel Migration Series (1940-1941), which depicts the Diaspora of African Americans from South to North in the US during the 1910s. Lawrence received many accolades during his life, including the US National Medal of Arts in 1990. And he taught for 16 years at the University of Washington.
51. The Patience (1942) Georges Braque
In the early 1900s, along with contemporaneous artists such as Pablo Picasso, Frenchman Georges Braque is widely credited with the founding of Cubism, a style of painting that uses simultaneous perspective and the effects of light on geometric forms, which are fragmented or deconstructed into cubes and other shapes, creating three-dimensional subjects of all sorts—including people. At this point, many of Braque’s paintings were virtually indistinguishable from those of Picasso! The Patience evinces Braque’s continually evolving cubistic style, which exemplifies a more relaxed use of geometric forms, vivid color, as well as elements of Surrealism, popular at the time.
50. Reclaimed by Silence by Shonto Begay
A descendent of the Diné tribe and born on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, Shonto Begay—in order to deal with the oppression of having to assimilate American ideals, culture and beliefs while attending boarding school—began drawing and painting to maintain and express his cultural identity. Nevertheless, Begay continued his western education, earning a bachelor’s degree at the California College of Arts and Crafts. Begay’s landscape painting, Reclaimed by Silence, shows his love and fascination for all manner of Native American life in America’s Southwest. Begay’s style has been compared to the neo-Impressionism of Vincent Van Gogh. Some may notice Begay’s depiction of the sky, which seems influenced by Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889).
49. Abstrakes Bild No. 635 (1987) Gerhard Richter
German painter Gerhard Richter began working as a painter of Socialist Realism in the 1950s, until he escaped the communism of East Germany and moved to West Germany, where he began creating works of photo realism. Richter would project a photo onto canvas, and then paint over some of the photo, often adding a “bluring” effect with a soft brush, creating a surrealistic look. But, in the 1970s and ‘80s, Richter’s painting became much more abstract. Abstrakes Bild No. 635 is an example of Richter’s prowess for adding and subtracting paint on canvases, creating compositions that are colorful, textural and easy to live with. In 2011, Richter, when asked what the role of an artist is in the present day, he replied, “It’s more entertainment now. We entertain people.”
48. Custer’s Last Stand (1899) Edgar Samuel Paxson
Edgar Samuel Paxson was a realist painter who trekked from Kansas to Canada in the middle to late 1800s; in fact, Paxson was traveling in Montana when the Battle of the Little Bighorn took place in June 1876. After the battle, Paxson interviewed Indians such as Crazy Horse, who had taken part in the battle, as well as soldiers who had first visited the battle scene. It took Paxson 20 years to complete the six by nine foot painting, Custer’s Last Stand. Interestingly, the style of the painting, particularly the subjective juxtaposition of the Indians and soldiers and the purple clouds in the sky, suggest Paxson was influenced by the works of modern artists in the late nineteenth century.
47. Hay Harvest at Éragny (1901) Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro was a pioneer of French Impressionism and neo-Impressionism; in fact, he was the only painter to show his work at all Paris Impressionism exhibitions from 1874 to 1886. Moreover, he was a father figure to such great Impressionists as Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Art historian John Reward called him the “dean of Impressionist painters,” because he was the oldest in the group and had a pleasant, affable personality. Hay Harvest at Éragny shows Pissarro’s penchant for painting country folk performing simple tasks. In 1882, Pierre-Auguste Renior said Pissarro’s work at this time was “revolutionary.” Hay Harvest highlights Pissarro’s interest in neo-Impressionism, particularly his use of pointillism; actually, he was the only Impressionist painter to eventually switch to neo-Impressionism.
46. Poker Game (1894) Cassius Marcellus Coolidge
Cassius Coolidge was born in Antwerp, New York. His parents were abolitionist Quakers. Coolidge, having no fondness for farm labor, left the fields in the 1860s and began earning a living by painting signs, illustrating books and creating cartoons for a newspaper. Even though Coolidge had little training as an artist, he was well-educated. Then, while working in carnivals, he created life-size, novelty portraits with comedic elements, what became known as comic foregrounds. Poker Game is one of 16 in a series of calendar paintings Coolidge produced in the early 1900s. All of these artworks show anthropomorphic dogs engaged in human activities such as playing poker. Coolidge is credited with creating this motif, which he also used to paint dogs playing pool. Notably, Poker Game sold for $658,000 in 2015.
45. Nude Sitting on a Divan (1917) Amedeo Modigliani
Italian painter and sculptor, Amedeo Modigliani, though not famous during his short lifetime (35 at death in 1920), nevertheless his stylized portraits and nudes eventually became popular posthumously. Mainly working in Paris, France in the early 1900s, Modigliani’s figures often show men and women with elongated heads and necks and, at times, full-figured bodies, which drew jeers from critics and aficionados. In 1917, Modigliani had the only solo exhibition in his life, for which he showed many female nudes, including Nude Sitting on a Divan, which caused a sensation. Also exhibited at the same show, Nu couché au coussin Bleu (1916), a reclining nude, sold for $170 million in 2015.
44. Rainy Day, Boston (1885) Childe Hassam
Childe Hassam was an American Impressionist specializing in urban landscapes, coastal scenes and, later, outdoor nudes. Always a prolific artist, Hassam produced over 3,000 artworks during his 75 years. Rarely having trouble selling his artwork, Hassam sold his paintings for $6,000 apiece in the early 1900s. Rainy Day, Boston evinces Hassam’s interest in capturing urban landscapes using oil on canvas rather than watercolors, which sold better at the time. Unfortunately, by the 1920s and ‘30s Hassam’s works of Impressionism were often considered passé compared to the Realism of such painters as Edward Hopper and Salvador Dalí. Incidentally, Hassam dismissed artistic movements such as Cubism and Surrealism, calling them “boobys art.” At any rate, decades after Hassam’s death in 1935, classic works of Impressionism made a comeback and began selling for astronomical amounts!
43. Water Lillies and the Japanese Bridge (1897 – 1899) Claude Monet
One of the founders of French Impressionism, Claude Monet was also one of the first painters to produce plein air landscapes. This type of painting takes place outdoors so the artist can utilize sunlight and atmospheric effects in order to depict objects as they actually appear in nature at different times of the day—or different times of the year or in varying weather conditions—rather than how they may be idealized or preconceived in the studio. Using the garden and pond flora at his residence in Giverny, France, Water Lillies and the Japanese Bridge exemplifies some of Monet’s best Impressionist painting from the 1880s until his passing in 1926. Also, in the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Monet traveled to the Mediterranean where he painted numerous famous buildings, landmarks and seascapes.
42. Resurgence of the People (2019) Kent Monkman
Kent Monkman is a First Nations artist of Canadian Cree ancestry. Monkman’s paintings are generally historical in nature and refer to American frontier life in the 1800s. These various works subvert or parody the dominance of Euro-American sensibility and prejudice. Referring to the famous painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851), the Resurgence of the People depicts Monkman’s alter ego or persona which expresses a “two-spirit” or androgynous third gender, thus creating his own identity and historical presence, which he uses to mock the authority of the European colonizers. Standing prominently in the boat, Monkman holds a feather in his right hand as he steps forward. The boat, nearly sinking, seems filled with refugees—Native Americans, white and black people—all of whom fleeing a flood or other disaster.
41. The New Democracy (1945) David Alfaro Siqueiros
One of the greatest Mexican Muralists, as well as a famous artist of social realism, Siqueiros was a member of the Mexican Communist Party and a supporter of the Soviet Union; and, along with Diego Rivera, he studied the work of fresco painters of the Renaissance. Often considered an artist and revolutionary, Siqueiros painted The New Democracy using modern painting techniques and tools—electric projectors, photography, spray guns and new paints—so he could cover large sections of buildings in outdoor conditions. Siqueiros wanted his paintings to be easily seen by the masses as they strolled by. Interestingly, in the 1940s, Siqueiros taught Jackson Pollock a drip-and-pour technique that led to Pollock’s “drip paintings.”
40. Ciphers and Constellations, in Love with a Woman (1941) Joan Miró
Joan Miró was a painter and sculptor born in the late 1800s in Barcelona, Spain. Originally influenced by Fauvism, Cubism and Dada, as well as painters such as Vincent Van Gough and Paul Cézanne, Miró may be better known for his paintings of Magical Realism, Lyrical Abstraction or Surrealism, though he never identified himself as being a Surrealist. Ciphers and Constellations, in Love with a Woman, one of 23 paintings in Miró’s Constellations series, is a prime example of some of his most popular—and perhaps best—paintings. Not just a painter, Miró was also a great sculptor and ceramicist and also produced multi-media works and even tapestries.
39. Carcass of Beef (1924) Chaïm Soutine
Expressionist painter Chaïm Soutine was so obsessed with realism that he dragged a cattle carcass into his apartment so he could explore his personal vision and technique while painting it, even though its awful smell alarmed the neighbors; it also leaked blood into the hallway, prompting artist Marc Chagall, while visiting, to scream, “Someone has killed Soutine!” One in a series of 10 carcass paintings, Carcass of Beef was inspired by Rembrandt’s similar still life, Slaughtered Ox (1655). Notably, in 1923, American art collector Albert C. Barnes bought 60 of Soutine’s paintings at the same time. Soutine, penniless in those days, took the money, hailed a cab in Paris and had the cabbie drive him to Nice on the French Riviera, some 400 miles away!
38. The Drowning Girl (1963) Roy Lichtenstein
Painting in the new Pop Art style championed by Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist, Roy Lichtenstein’s career went meteoric in the early 1960s when he began showing his paintings at the Leo Castelli Gallery in NYC. These large commercial paintings looked as if they’d been clipped from the pages of comic books, utilizing such conventions as Ben-Day dots, thought bubbles and clichéd narrative. These comic blow-ups sold briskly, though some art critics thought they lacked originality and were vulgar and empty; in fact, some called Lichtenstein “one of the worst artists in America.” The Drowning Girl is one of Lichtenstein’s most popular paintings and has been called a “masterpiece of melodrama.” It arguably could be considered an artistic example of America’s capitalist industrial culture.
37. Ad Parnassum (1932) Paul Klee
Swiss artist Paul Klee, whose painting style encompassed Expressionism, Cubism and Surrealism, published the Paul Klee Notebooks in 1920s’ Germany. These are a collection of his lectures for the Bauhaus schools in Germany and are considered as important to modern art as was Leonardo da Vinci’s art was to the Renaissance and Isaac Newton’s work was to physics. Ad Parnassum is a composition Klee painted after taking a trip to Egypt three years prior (hence the pyramid) and is considered a masterwork of Pointillism. In 1949, Marcel Duchamp commented that Paul Klee could draw and paint in a way many artists strived to do, that is, create art that seems childlike in its conception, yet shows “great maturity in thinking,” and he added that Klee’s work was “incomparable” in contemporary art.
36. Sleeping Venus (1944) Paul Delvaux
Belgian painter Paul Delvaux may have painted more female nudes than any other modernist painter! Most of his paintings show unclad women in compositions that may contain Graeco-Roman architecture, mythological themes, references to Jules Verne, trains and train stations, skeletons, crucifixions or people or objects juxtaposed in an anachronistic or hallucinatory fashion. Heavily influenced by Giorgio de Chirico and René Magritte, Delvaux liked to paint women who seem hypnotized as they walk through phantasmagorical realms. Sleeping Venus shows women in a classical setting, with a Doric colonnade, considered masculine (left) and an Ionian one, considered female (center), while the women are either relaxed (or sleeping), or genuflecting as they beseech the gods or Men, perhaps. Is this painting a metaphor for women in contemporary life?
35. The Boating Party (1893 - 1894) Mary Cassatt
Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Mary Cassatt began studying painting as a teenager in the middle 1800s. While in school she developed a bohemian lifestyle and embraced feminism. In 1866, she moved to Paris where she continued studying art and often visited the Louvre where she, along with other women, copied paintings, some of which were sold for small sums. At this time, she also developed a long friendship and mentorship with painter Edgar Degas. Then in the 1870s Cassatt exhibited her paintings along with other Impressionists, though much of her work was rejected, perhaps because of her gender. Cassatt painted The Boating Party when she was finally enjoying success as painter. Art historian Frederick Sweet calls it “one of the most ambitious paintings she ever attempted.” And, notably, in 1966, the painting appeared on a US postage stamp.
34. No 1 Royal Red and Blue (1954) Mark Rothko
Considered a Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist, though he didn’t identify with any art movement, Mark Rothko began studying art and painting in NYC where he lived in the 1920s; his teachers and mentors were Arshile Gorky, Max Weber and Milton Avery, all heavyweights in the contemporary modernist world. In the 1930s and ‘40s Rothko’s paintings were based on Greek mythology, as well as Christian and ancient Egyptian religious themes. But by the 1950s, Rothko delved into abstraction and began giving his paintings numbers rather than titles. Considered a Color Field painting, No 1 Royal Red and Blue is a huge painting with a vertical format and no frame. It’s a decidedly simple painting, one which Rothko wanted to evoke emotion, mortality, sensuality and spirituality. Rothko’s paintings have sold for millions of dollars in recent decades. In 2012, this painting sold for $75 million.
33. The Dream (1910) Henri Rousseau
A French post-Impressionist artist who painted in the Primitive or Naïve style, to the point of being ridiculed (some critics referred to his paintings as childish). Rousseau, a self-taught artist, painted dozens of jungle scenes during his career. The Dream, his last completed work (he died shortly after its completion), is a dreamy scene filled with stylized foliage and animals, highlighted by a voluptuous nude woman reclining on a divan as she points with her left arm toward a black snake charmer playing a flute. Of course, reclining nudes have been popular subjects throughout the classical tradition, as well as in modernist paintings, the works of Matisse and Manet coming to mind. Rousseau’s work influenced numerous avant-garde artists such as Jean Hugo, Max Beckmann, Pablo Picasso and Jean Metzinger.