Book review: 50 Paintings You Should Know #art @Prestel_UK

Along the same lines as 50 Modern Artists You Should Know, authors Kristina Lowis and Tamsin Pickeral have chosen 50 powerful paintings from renaissance to pop/contemporary and everything in between in this very comprehensive book from Prestel Publishing which is a most have for any art student or fan.

For the most part, each painting has a comprehensive biography listing the important factors in the creators career. There is a detailed timeline on the top of the page highlight important dates in history within a century timeframe. This helps show the influences of the artists.

A selection of dates are posted underneath the portrait of the artist. This usually has dates related to birth, death and dates related to paintings for which they are known for.

The page on the painting is filled with normal information usually found but also some more trivia data. It is this balance that separates this book from other introductory art books. The authors have selected the perfect taster amount to satisfy those who only want an introduction, but gives information should you want to investigate more.

The 50 paintings featured [please note, this information is taken directly from the book]:

Painting: The Arena Chapel c 1303-1306
Artist: Giotto Di Bondone
Though an early work in Giott’s career, the extensive program of frescos in the Arena Chapel in Padua remains one of his masterpieces and a foundation work in Western art.

Painting: The Tribute Money 1425-1427
Artist: Tommaso Masaccio
With its convincing use prespective, its broad sense of space, and its extraordinary characterization, Tommaso Masaccio’s The Tribute Money was soon recognized as a groundbreaking work in the ‘re-birth’ of Western art and had a huge influence on his contemporaries.

Painting: The Arnolfini Portrait 1434
Artist: Jan Van Eyck
This little painted wooden panel is full of mystery. Ever since art historian Erwin Panofsky wrote a famous study of it in 1934, 500 years after Van Eyck painted it, the work has fascinated scholars and academics- and the public! Some of its secrets may have been revealed, but its exact meaning remains elusive.

Painting: The Annunciation 1450
Artist: Fra Angelico
Fra Angelico became famous for both his skill as an artist and his piety as a man (he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982, and declared the patron of Catholic artists). Both qualities are wonderfully apparent in The Annunciation, a work unsurpassed in beauty and spiritual resonance.

Painting: The Dead Christ 1480
Artist: Andrea Mantegna
In this extraordinary painting, Andrea depicted a familiar theme – the Lamentation over the Body of Christ – but in an entirely new and dramatic manner with starling perspective and foreshortening, and with a harrowing sense of pathos.

Painting: The Birth of Venus 1490
Artist: Sandro Botticelli
Sandro Botticelli’s image of the goddess of love is one of the most celebrated examples of a sensual yet ethereal form of feminine beauty. She is still so convincing that her many anatomical inconsistencies pale into insignificance in the light of her power to fascinate and delight.

Painting: Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight 1500
Artist: Albrecht Durer
To stress the amazing lifelikeness of Albrecht Durer’s self-portrat, the anecdote of Durer’s dog was frequently told – the faithful dog is supposed to have mistaken its painted master for the living artist.

Painting: The Garden of Earthly Delights
Artist: Hieronymus Bosch
There is a paradox in the works of Hieronymus Bosch: his view of life was deeply pessimistic – weak and sinful, man is prey to vice, folly and stupidity and so in constant danger of eternal damnation – and yet he represented this fallen world with a sensuous richness of invention, humor, color and form that never ceases to fascinate and enchant.

Painting: Mona Lisa 1503-06
Artist: Leonardo da Vinci
The Mona Lisa is perhaps the most iconic image in Western art. Recent research has she new light on the identify of the sitter, a Florentine ‘wife and mother’ and on the origins of the commission but this has not dispelled the haunting sense of mystery her subtle smile and gaze still convey.

Painting: La Tempesta 1510
Artist: Giorgione
Through Giorgione’s career was brief, spanning just 15 years, he had a profound impact on the development of Venetian art.

Painting: The Creation of Adam 1511
Artist: Michelangelo
There are few works of art quite so famous or universally recongized as Michelangelo’s The Creation of Art.


Raphael’s School of Athens

Painting: School of Athens 1510
Artist: Raphael
One of the greatest works of the High Renaissance, Raphael’s School of Athens is the very embodiment of the Renaissance humanists’ love of classical learning, of the Church’s power and confidence, and of his supreme skills as an artist.

Painting: The Isenheim Altarpiece 1512/15
Artist: Matthias Grunewald
Rightly considered one of the most important works of the German Renasissance, he magnificently eclectic and intensely emotive Isenheim Altarpiece combines brutal depictions of pain and suffering with radiant images of celestial bliss.

Painting: The Venus of Urbino 1538
Artist: Titian
The little spaniel at the feet of ‘Venus’ was most probably included as a symbol of fidelity and love, suggesting that this work was made to commemorate the marriage of Fuidobaldo della Rovere to Giuliana Varano.

Painting: The Wedding at Cana 1563
Artist: Paolo Veronese
As the original was appropriated by Napoleon, and now hangs in the Louvre in Paris, a digital image of The Wedding at Cana can now be seen in the setting for which the huge painting was originally intended, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.

Painting: the Tower of Babel 1563
Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Setting a biblical story in a contemporary Netherlandish setting, Pieter created a compelling allegory that some consider just as relevant today as in the 16th century – of the dangers posed by human arrogance and pride.

Painting: View of Toledo 1595/60
Artist: El Greco
El Greco’s View of Toledo is not only one of the earliest paintings devoted purely to landscape, it is also one of the greatest works in this genre, curiously modern in its depiction of a recognizable place transformed by an intense personal vision.


The Death of the Virgin

Painting: The Death of the Virgin 1601/05-06
Artist: Caravaggio
Caravaggio’s dramatic realism is vividly illustrated by his harrowing The Death of the Virgin. His frank and uncompromising depiction of the dead Virgin Mary, who is hardly distinguishable from a peasant, was immediately rejected by the monks who had commissioned it.

Painting: The Night Watch 1642
Artist: Rembrandt Van Rijn
Rembrandt broke new ground with almost every painting he executed. In the Night Watch he transformed the group portrait – until then a largely lifeless and uninspired genre – by creating a work of extraordinary dynamism and characterization.

Painting: Las Meninas 1656
Artist: Diego Velazquex
Las Meninas is the finest portrat Diego painted of the Infanta Margarita and one of his greatest works.

Painting: Girl with a Pearl Earring 1665
Artist: Jan Vermeer
Painted with exquisite sensitivity to light and olor, Jan Vermeer’s portrait of a young woman ‘dressing up’ in turban and jewels is an image of haunting beauty and quiet yet poignant characterization.

Painting: Death of Marat 1793
Artist: Jacques-Louis David
The revolution has been raging in France for 4 years. The first enthusiasm following the overthrow of the monarchy was succeeded by fear during the Reign of Terror.

Painting: The Skating Minister 1784
Artist: Henry Raeburn
A snapshot of everyday life rather than a formal portrait typical of the period, this depiction of ther Reverend Robert Walker, an Edinburgh clergyman who was a keen skater and close friend of the artist has become one of the best loved images of Scottish art.

Painting: The Third of May, 1808 1797-1800
Artist: Francisco de Goya
Surrounded by the darkness of night, a man in a white shirt and with raised arms stares with horror and incredulity at a squad of soliders who are about to shoot him.

Painting: Grande Odalisque 1835
Artist: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
“She has three certebrae too many!” complained a critic, who seemed more concerned with anatomy than art.


The Wanderer About the Sea of Fog

Painting: The Wanderer About the Sea of Fog 1818
Artist: Caspar David Friedrich
On his wanderings through the mountains, a man arrives at an overwhelming viewpoint. Standing on a rocky promontory, he looks out over the mist-covered valley, from which a number of rock formations protrude.

Painting: The Raft of the Medua 1816
Artist: Theodore Gericault
In The Raft of the Medusa, those who had survived a shipwreck are shown drifting towards their fate more dead than alive.

Painting: Liberty Leading the People 1830
Artist Eugene Delacroix
The French Revolution and its democratic ambitions were already long in the past when in 1830 the French monarch Charles X sought the change the constitution with a drastic limitation both of press freedom and popular involvement in government.

Painting: Rain, Steam, and Speed 1844
Artist: William Turner
His Swiss fellow artist Henry Fuseli claimed that Turner was ‘the only landscape painter of genius in Europe.’ Of course other 19thC artists produced successful landscapes, but Turner’s pictures are in a category of their own.


Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe

Painting: Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe 1863
Artist: Edouard Manet
Two couples are having lunch in the open air. A pleasant picnic on a sunny afternoon. Yet the whole thing seems artificial: one of the women is entirely naked and the second woman looks like a figure from classical Greece or Rome, though the men are dressed in contemporary clothes.

Painting: The Artist’s Mother 1871
Artist: James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Even mr Bean took an interest in this world famous painting in one of his films, in his own unique tragicomic fashion.

Painting: Impression – Sunrise 1872
Artist: Claude Monet
Impression-Sunrise was the title Monet gave to this little picture when he first exposed it to the criticism of the public at an exhibition. It gave a whole stylistic movement its name because for critic Leroy, it was a matter of a moment to decide that this was what Monet and his colleagues were all about – impressions.

Painting: The Starry Night 1889
Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
He once wrote that he had often had the impression that night was even richer in colors than the day.


The Child’s Bath

Painting: The Child’s Bath 1893
Artist: Mary Cassatt
The visual world of Mary was the traditional domestic life of well-to-do-middle-class women. They drank tea, read, went to the opera, and looked after their children.

Painting: the Scream 1893
Artist: Edvard Munch
A scream also rippled through the art world when one of the two versions of this painting was the object of a spectacular theft in Oslo in 2004. It was recovered 2 years later and restored to the Munch Museum.

Painting: Mont Sainte-Victoire 1890
Artist: Paul Cezanne
Czanne stalked his favourite mountain for years like a beast of prey, visiting it all times of the day or night. Between 1870 and 1906 he depicted it over eighty times.

Painting: Les Demoiselles D’Avignon 1906-7
Artist: Pablo Picasso
The five ‘young ladies’ of ‘Avignon’ have been with us for more than a century. But the profession they carry on is far older.

Painting: The Kiss 1907-8
Artist: Gustav Klimt
Klimt was certainly not an icon painter in the traditional sense. Even so, in this painting he created what in effect is a monumental icon that is famous around the world.

Painting: La Danse 1909-10
Artist: Henri Matisse
La Danse is one of two pictures that Matisse painted for his Russian patron Sergei Schchukin, who wanted La Danse and La Musique at decorations for his home.

Painting: The Dream 1910
Henri Rousseau
A red sofa in the middle of the jungle. The woman reclining on it has just been awoken by the sound of a flute-player.

Painting: Impression III (Concert) 1911
Artist: Wassily Kandinsky
For the Russian artist Wassily 1911 was a defining year for it saw him and Western art moving from representational painting to abstraction.

Painting: Black Square 1929
Artist: Kasimir Malevich
Malevich’s position as a leading modern artist was reaffirmed in November 2008 when, despite worldwide financial turmoil, his painting Suprematist Composition (1916) sold for a record $60 million at Sotheby’s in New York.

Painting: Petunia No. 2 1924
Artist: Georgia O’Keeffe
O’Keeffe is perhaps most famous for her distinctive paintings of flowers, many of which have been widely reproduced. But she was an artist of great breadth and painted in many different genres.

Painting: American Gothic 1930
Artist: Grant Wood
No American painting has been parodied as often as this one. Countless versions o the couple with the pitchfork, in front of house have been depicted – The First Couple, actors and comic heroes, even Miss Piggy and Kermit from the Muppets.


The Persistence of Memory

Painting: The Persistence of Memory 1963
Artist: Salvadord Dali
Whatever theories are produced to ‘explain’ Dali’s famous The Persistence of Memory, it remains on of the quintessential images of Dali and Surrealism – bizarre, elusive and disturbing but also haunting and utterly compelling.

Painting: The Two Fridas 1939
Artist: Frida Kahlo
The proud face of Kahlo is very well known as are her physical frailties, which formed the subject of her paintings time and again. The fame and myth surrounding her personality remain intact – feminists or fashion designers, they are all willing to claim her for themselves.

Painting: Nighthawks 1942
Artist: Edward Hopper
Through it may look like a film poster for a classic American film noir, Nighthawks has nothing to do with the cinema. If it seems familiar, its probably because it is one of the most famous American paintings of the 20th century.

Painting: Autumn Rhythm No 30 1950
Artist: Jackson Pollock
Pollock was a legend even in his lifetime. He was photographed and filmed at work. Life magazine wondered aloud in it columns in 1949 when Pollock was only 37, whether he might possible be the greatest living artist in the USA. His death at the age of 44 in a car accident helped to fix his image.

Painting: Black on Maroon 1958-9
Artist: Mark Rothko
Mark failed completely in his commission to provide paintings for an elegant restaurant in the new Seagram Building in NY – but in the process of painting the huge canvases he created works of extraordinary depth and beauty that are among his greatest achievements.

Painting: Campbell’s Soup Cans 1962
Artist: Andy Warhol
Probably the best-known representative of American Pop Art, Andy created a potent symbol with his picture of tins of Campbell’s Soup, reflecting a society immersed in advertising images. Some commentators consider the soup-time motif the most famous image in American art.


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