While we are inundated with beautiful creations of art day-in and day-out, there are a few exceptional paintings that have transcended time, culture and civilizations to carve out their deserved place in the history of the art. For centuries, these artist paintings have captivated the art lovers, not just because they are beautiful, but they hold within themselves a story. Every stroke of the paintbrush and each drop of colour used is like a word written on the canvas elaborating a tale of its own.

Let’s explore some of the most famous artist paintings that have mesmerized us for ages:

  • ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci

Estimated year: 1503 to 1519

Medium: Oil on poplar panel

Where to find: The Louvre Museum, Paris

An archetypal masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, ‘Mona Lisa’ is often described as “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.”

It should come as no surprise that the most famous artist painting in the world is a half-length portrait of a mysterious woman with an enigmatic smile. But that's one of the few certainties about this masterpiece.

There has been much speculation and debate regarding the identity of the sitter in the painting. Scholars and historians have posited numerous interpretations, however, many believe that she is Lisa Gherardini, the wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo. This artwork did represent an innovation in art with a new artistic formula. According to the Louvre museum where it was first installed in 1804, the painting is the earliest known Italian portrait to focus so closely on the sitter in a half-length portrait.

Did you know? Before the 20th century, historians say the ‘Mona Lisa’ was not widely known outside art circles. It was after the theft in 1911by an ex-Louvre employee that made the painting became incredibly famous and helped it cement a place in popular culture ever since.

  • ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci

Estimated year: 1495 to 1498

Medium: Tempera, gesso

Where to find: Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

Painted in an era when religious imagery was a dominant artistic theme, ‘The Last Supper’ depicts the famous scene from Holy Thursday, in which Jesus and his apostles (disciples) are sharing the final meal before his death and resurrection. However, the scene is not a frozen moment but rather a representation of successive moments wherein Jesus declared his forthcoming betrayal, and the Apostles react.

It is actually a huge fresco (460 cm × 880 cm) that covers an end wall of the dining hall at the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.

Did you know? This mural painting has survived two wartime threats.  During Napoleon’s Italian war, French soldiers used this painting to practice shooting. It also was exposed to bomb strikes for several years during World War II which eventually destroyed the roof of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

  • ‘The Starry Night’ by Vincent van Gogh

Year: 1889

Medium: Oil on canvas

Where to find: Museum of Modern Art, New York City

The moderately abstract landscape painting of night sky as a field of roiling energy is the finest example of Vincent van Gogh's innovative and bold use of thick brushstrokes. The painting's striking blues and yellows and the dreamy, ethereal atmosphere have fascinated art lovers for decades.

Did you know? Van Gogh was undergoing treatment for mental illness and living in an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France when he painted ‘The Starry Night.’ He was inspired by the view of the night sky from the window of his sanatorium room.

  • ‘Guernica’ by Pablo Picasso

Year: 1937

Medium: Oil on canvas

Where to find: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid

The painting has a distinctive Picasso style with jagged shapes and terror-stricken faces. Painted in monochrome, using a palette of grey, black, and white, this artwork depicts the German aerial bombing of the town of Guernica in the Basque region during the Spanish Civil War. Owing to the unflinching examination of the horrors of war, this artwork became an international symbol of genocide committed during wartime.

Did you know? During World War II, ‘Guernica’ was moved to the custody of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art for safekeeping. Picasso requested that the stay be extended until the conflict ended and democracy returned to Spain. It was finally shifted back to Madrid in 1981.

  • ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch

Year: 1893

Medium: Oil, tempera, pastel, and crayon on cardboard

Where to find: National Museum and Munch Museum, Oslo

‘The Scream’ is not a single work of art, Munch created two versions in paint and two in pastels, also a lithograph stone of the composition from which several prints survive. Much like the case of ‘Mona Lisa’ daring thefts (1994 and 2004)  helped elevate the public's awareness of this artwork. 

Did you know? The androgynous figure featured in the painting is not producing the scream but rather is trying to block out a high-pitched piercing shriek coming from nature. This artwork was inspired by an actual experience that Munch had while taking an evening stroll in Oslo when a dramatic red hue overwhelmed his senses.

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream”–  Diary entry headed "Nice 22 January 1892" by Munch

  • ‘The Kiss’ by Gustav Klimt

Year: 1907 to 1908

Medium: Oil and gold leaf on canvas

Where to find: Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere museum, Belvedere

From Klimt's ‘Golden Period’ this painting is a portrayal of love and art, a couple swathed in richly-embellished robes and locked in a passionate flower-filled embrace on the brink of a precipice.

According to Upper Belvedere, through this artwork, Klimt makes a “general allegorical statement about love being at the heart of human existence.” The fact that the painting retains its immediacy and has a magnetic appeal, it seems people agree.

Did you know? ‘The Kiss’ is not available for sale and forms a part of the permanent collection at the Upper Belvedere museum, however, other artworks by Klimt can be bought and sold.

  • Girl With a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

Estimated Year: 1665

Medium: Oil on canvas

Where to find: Mauritshuis, The Hague

This remarkable artistic painting is often compared with Leonardo’s ‘Mona Lisa.’ Besides the stylistic differences, technically ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ is not even a portrait, but a ‘tronie’ (artworks that show an exaggerated facial expression, features or a stock character in costume)

The oil on canvas masterpiece is brilliant in its simplicity depicting a girl wearing a blue and gold turban and an oversized pearl earring in a dark shallow space.

Did you know? During the renovation of Mauritshuis from 2012 to 2014, ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ went on touring exhibitions to United States, Italy, and Japan wherein art lovers poured in large numbers to check out this magnificent artwork.

  • ‘Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo

Year: 1508 to 1512

Medium: Paint, plaster

Where to find: Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

The most famous work by renowned Italian artist Michelangelo is a fresco painting which covers a section of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling. The scene illustrates the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God gives life to Adam, the first man.

This image of the near-touching hands of God and Adam has become iconic of humanity and is one of the most replicated religious images in history.

Did you know? The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel became dull and sombre due to the centuries of exposure to candle smoke. After a long and extensive cleaning that ended in 1989, people were stunned to see the rich, vibrant colours Michelangelo originally used to paint the fresco painting.