It’s almost impossible to choose from hundreds of spectacularly talented painters and narrow down a list of the greatest painters of all time. The task is particularly harrowing because these painters of the past and present come from so many different time periods and art movements.
In our humble opinion, these are, in no particular order, the 10 best painters in art history:
10 greatest painters of all time
- Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is probably the most famous painting in Western art history. His other iconic works include The Last Supper, The Vitruvian Man, and Annunciation.
Da Vinci is known primarily as a painter, but he was also an inventor, a scientist, an architect, a mathematician, an astronomer, a writer, and so much more. He was a pillar of the High Renaissance art movement and is possibly one of the most diversely talented individuals in all of human history. Da Vinci was a true “Renaissance man.”
- Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
A Dutch post-Impressionist painter known for his expressive brushwork and vibrant colors, Van Gogh was behind the popular artworks The Starry Night, Bedroom in Arles, Sunflowers, Cafe Terrace at Night, and Wheatfield with Crows.
Van Gogh is also known for his self-portraits, his mental instability, his volatile friendship with Paul Gauguin, the incident with the ear, his confinements in psychiatric hospitals, and the suicide that ended his life. Van Gogh was a prolific painter, producing thousands of oil paintings and watercolors during his lifetime.
- Claude Monet (1840–1926)
The term “Impressionism” as it pertains to the art movement was taken from the title of the Monet painting Impression, Sunrise. Claude Monet was one of the leading figures in French Impressionist painting. His most popular works include the ethereal Water Lillies, Women in the Garden, Vétheuil in the Fog, and Morning on the Seine.
Monet used rapid brushstrokes and vivid, broken colors in his paintings. He aimed to document the French countryside and had a tendency to paint the same subjects or scenes multiple times so that he could capture the shifting of the seasons and the light.
- Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
Picasso was one of the most prolific and influential painters of the 20th century. He is known for being a founder of the Cubist movement, for being a co-inventor of the collage, and for paving the way for modern art.
Aside from being a painter, Picasso was also a playwright, a sculptor, a ceramist, a printmaker, and a poet. The Spanish artist’s most famous works include Guernica, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, The Weeping Woman, Girl before a Mirror, and Three Musicians.
- Rembrandt (1606–1669)
Rembrandt is widely considered to be the most important painter in Dutch art history and one of the greatest visual artists in all of art history. He was a Dutch Master whose artworks are classified among those produced during the Dutch Golden Age. Some of Rembrandt’s most iconic works, remarkable for their vivid realism, are The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, A Polish Nobleman, The Abduction of Europa, and The Night Watch.
Rembrandt was also a famous etcher, a printmaker, and a draughtsman. He is also famous for his numerous self-portraits, which were rendered with honesty and were remarkable for their sincerity.
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)
One of the proponents of Impressionism, Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a French painter who was heavily influenced by the Italian Renaissance and was one of the leading artists in the French Impressionist movement. His most popular artworks include Nude, The Theater Box, Bal du Moulin de la Galette, and Luncheon of the Boating Party.
Renoir’s works are known for their saturated colors, vibrant light, and the soft fusion of the subjects with their surroundings. One of Renoir’s recurring subjects is the female nude. His paintings are striking for their portrayal of feminine sensuality.
- Gustav Klimt (1862–1918)
Gustav Klimt was an Austrian painter who was one of the most popular members and the first president of the Vienna Secession movement. His artworks were of the Symbolism and Art Nouveau styles.
Klimt produced numerous paintings, sketches, and murals. His most famous pieces include The Kiss, The Embrace, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Farm Garden with Sunflowers, and Judith and the Head of Holofernes.
The female body was a recurring subject in Klimt’s artworks, which were often considered erotic. Paintings he made for the University of Vienna were even considered pornographic. Klimt was heavily influenced by Japanese art.
- Michelangelo (1475–1564)
The Renaissance artist Michelangelo is best known today for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and for the Statue of David. Aside from these two iconic works, Michelangelo is also famous for the Sistine Chapel fresco The Last Judgement, the sculpture Pietà, and the marble carving The Madonna of the Steps.
Like his rival, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo was a “Renaissance man.” He was a painter, a sculptor, an architect, and a poet. Michelangelo’s work is striking for its portrayal of the human body as sensual and powerful.
- Henri Matisse (1869–1954)
Henri Matisse was a French painter, draughtsman, sculptor, and printmaker who produced works in the Post-Impressionist, Modernist, and Fauvist styles. His most popular artworks include Woman with a Hat, The Joy of Life, L’Atelier Rouge, and La Danse.
Matisse is known for his cut-paper collages, flattened forms, expressive use of color, and decorative patterns. He was one of the most prominent figures of modern art.
- Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675)
Probably best known for his Girl with a Pearl Earring, Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque painter from the Dutch Golden Age. He is known for using expensive pigments, depicting domestic scenes from the lives of middle-class citizens, and for the skillful way he depicted life in his paintings.
Vermeer’s other famous works include The Milkmaid, The Girl with the Wine Glass, The Music Lesson, and The Astronomer.
What do you think about this list of the 10 greatest painters of all time? Do you agree with our top picks? Let us know which painters are in your top 10 by leaving a comment below.
Ranker. (n.d.) The Greatest Painters of All Time. Retrieved from https://www.ranker.com/list/best-painters-of-all-time/ranker-art
Leonardo da Vinci Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonardo_da_Vinci
Vincent van Gogh Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_Gogh
Claude Monet Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Monet
Pablo Picasso Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Picasso
Rembrandt Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rembrandt
Pierre-Auguste Renoir Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre-Auguste_Renoir
Gustav Klimt Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gustav_Klimt
Michelangelo Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelangelo
Henri Matisse Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Matisse
Johannes Vermeer Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Vermeer