The 15 greatest painters in art history

The 15 greatest painters in art history

To be considered one of the greatest painters in history requires a special combination of technical skills, creative thinking, originality and determination.

Combined, all these attributes produce excellent works that continue to move, a few hundred years after their initial creation.

We selected a list of the top 15 names – according to Jessica Stewart, curator and art historian who works at My Modern Met – taking all these factors into account.

While there may be disagreements regarding the examples listed below, there is no denying that the selected artists made a huge impact on art and culture as we know it.

 1. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)
 2. Michelangelo (1475–1564)
 3. Raphael (1482–1520)
 4. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–c. 1656)
 5. Rembrandt (1606–1669)
 6. William Turner (1775–1851)
 7. Claude Monet (1840–1926)
 8. Mary Cassatt (1844–1936)
 9. Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
 10. Gustav Klimt (1862–1918)
 11. Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
 12. Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1986)
 13. Frida Kahlo (1907–1954)
 14. Jackson Pollock (1912–1956)
 15. Basquiat (1960–1988)

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)

Mona Lisa (1503)

Leonardo da Vinci not only experimented with media, but also innovated in different ways to create impressive compositions, the techniques of which are still used today.

He was also an early advocate of studying anatomical models to perfect his craft, something that was illegal at the time.

Michelangelo (1475–1564)

FRESCO – Sistine Chapel (1512)

Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter, architect and poet. He distinguished himself at the age of 20 for his sculptures of the Pietá (1499) and David (1501) and consolidated his fame with the ceiling frescoes of the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512).

He was praised for the complexity of his art: physical realism, psychological tension, sense of space and good use of light and shadow.

Raphael (1482–1520)

The School of Athens (1510)

Ranked among the great masters of the Full Renaissance, a painter of unsurpassed qualities, Rafael lived in search of perfection, harmony and balance, inspired by classical concepts.

With a pleasant personality, figures of rare beauty represented in a harmonious, delicate, emotional and, mainly, religious space, the artist knew how to relate to and please church representatives like no one else.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–c. 1656)

Judith decapitating Holofernes (1613)

Artemisia Gentileschi was one of the most successful painters of her time, becoming the first woman to be a member of the academy of painting in Florence. Many of her themes are of female characters that appear in different passages of the Bible, but her fame as a painter began with portrait painting.

The artist was invited to paint several portraits of nobles of the English court.

Rembrandt (1606–1669)

The Night Watch (1642)

The artist had a keen eye for the ordinary in the midst of the extraordinary and ended up taking everyday life into his paintings.

He worked with innovation in the use of light and shadow in his portraits, self-portraits, sacred and historical works.

William Turner (1775–1851)

Venice, from the Portico of Madonna della Salute (1825)

William Turner stands out in landscape painting with a picturesque and Enlightenment bias at the turn of the 18th to the 19th centuries.

He doggedly strove to raise landscape painting to the level of the history painting hierarchy and worked on countless watercolor sketches and oil painting on canvas.

Claude Monet (1840–1926)

Impression, Sunrise (1872)

Monet was a French painter and the most famous among the impressionists.

The term “Impressionism” arose from a criticism of one of his first paintings, “Impression, sunrise”. The expression – originally used pejoratively – was adopted by the followers of the movement, who were aware of the revolution they were about to start in painting.

Mary Cassatt (1844–1936)

Girl in the Blue Armchair (1878)

Mary Cassatt spent much of her adult life in France, having been a great friend of Edgar Degas and exhibiting her work with the Impressionists. Her works are often about women's private and social lives, with an emphasis on the intimate moments of mothers and their children.

She was described by Gustave Geffroy in 1894 as one of the “three grand dames of impressionism”, along with Marie Bracquemond and Berthe Morisot.

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)

Starry Night (1889)

Vincent Van Gogh, considered one of the greatest Dutch painters in history, if not the greatest, had little success during his lifetime. All of his work (about 900 paintings and 1100 drawings) was produced over a period of just 10 years, before he succumbed to mental illness (possibly bipolar disorder) and committed suicide.

His fame grew rapidly after his death, especially after the exhibition of 71 paintings in Paris on March 17, 1901. Several of them are among the most expensive in the world.

Gustav Klimt (1862–1918)

The Kiss (1907)

Austrian painter known for his paintings and His works are marked by a dose of eroticism.

Initially successful as a conventional academic painter, his encounter with more modern trends in European art encouraged him to develop his own eclectic and often fantastical style.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907)

Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor, engraver, ceramist and set designer considered one of the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century.

His works have matured from the naturalism of his childhood to Cubism, Surrealism and beyond, shaping the direction of modern and contemporary art over the decades.

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1986)

Cow: Red, White and Blue (1931)

Georgia lived to be 98 and never stopped developing as an artist – or thinking about what that means to be, contributing immensely to Modern Art.

She never formally recorded her theories on art, however, she left behind a wealth of interviews and letters that reveal how she approached her painting practice, as well as the experiences and environments that inspired her.

Frida Kahlo (1907–1954)

Self-Portrait with Necklace of Thorns and Hummingbird (1940)

With a personal life marked by tragedies, intense love relationships and strong political involvement, Frida Kahlo's paintings brought many symbolisms and autobiographical elements, mixing realism and fantasy.

Today, the artist is known worldwide for her art, history, thoughts and perspectives on life.

Jackson Pollock (1912–1956)

No. 5 (1948)

Pollock was one of the leading exponents of Abstract Expressionism, an artistic movement characterized by free association gestures in painting.

His works had enormous influence on other professionals and many artistic movements that emerged in the United States.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Sin título (1982)

Basquiat gained popularity first as a graffiti artist in midtown Manhattan and later as a painter. His works are still an influence on many artists and have often fetched high prices at art auctions. In 2017, Untitled (1982) sold for $110.5 million, making it one of the most expensive works ever purchased.