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20 world's art masterpieces that every child should know

We introduce the first issue of our "art guide" for children: if you want your child to be savvy in the cultural field — we think it best to start small. Children often see these images, and we suggest learning more about the popular sources of "memes." The masterpieces are arranged in chronological order, and we report one curious fact on each picture.
20 world's art masterpieces that every child should know
Please note: a "click" on an image opens the picture in full size, and under the picture you will find a full description of each work from this art selection.

1. Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait (1434)

This is one of the most mysterious paintings in world painting. It is believed that the painting depicts the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife in their residence in the city of Bruges. And this is where the mystery begins. Why are the feet of the spouses bare (their shoes are present on the canvas)? Why is a candle burning in a chandelier above the man, but there is no candle above the woman? Is it really so that the artist makes it clear that by the time the painting has been completed, Arnolfini’s wife passed away, and this painting was commissioned in memory of her? And pay attention to the mirror. There, we can see not only the reflection of the spouses. What kind of figures are these? Are they the wedding witnesses? It seems that one of them is the painter himself, judging by the elegant inscription on the canvas between the mirror and the chandelier:" Johannes van eyck fuit hic "or" Jan van Eyck was here." These are not all the secrets of the famous canvas, and art critics are unlikely to come to a consensus on this work in the nearest future.

2. Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus (1482-1486)

Sandro Botticelli. Birth Of Venus
Birth Of Venus
1486, 172.5×278.5 cm
Born of sea foam, the ancient goddess of love Venus arrives on the island of Crete. Botticelli based his painting on a myth, and over time, his work became much mythologized. So, in some historical documents, it appears that on February 7, 1497, the Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola made an effort to light a huge fire in Florence in order to destroy "trinkets" that did not help strengthen the Christian faith. Allegedly, Sandro Botticelli was one of the participants of the ceremony (the contemporaries called the followers of the monk’s ideas "crybabies"), and presumably he personally threw several of his canvases on mythological subjects into the fire. But the flame of the bonfire spared "The Birth of Venus."

3. Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper (1495-1498)

The artist was commissioned a fresco in the cathedral, but Da Vinci, who adored experiments, chose to go the other way. He chose not to paint on wet plaster, as the technique of creating frescoes required, and invented his own method by covering a stone wall with a layer of resin, gypsum, and mastic. Alas, the experiment was a failure. As a result, the religious subject of Christ’s communion with the disciples on the eve of the crucifixion eventually became a real disaster for restorers. Today, the work of Leonardo da Vinci contains about 20 percent of the original.

4. Michelangelo Buonarotti, The Creation of Adam (1511-1512)

The action in this fresco froze a second before the beginning of the biblical story when God gave life to Adam, the first man. The Bible says that God "breathed in his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). But the researchers claim that Michelangelo had his own vision: in this fresco painting we can see the creation not just of man, but of homo sapiens ("intelligent man"). After all, Adam is already clearly capable of breathing and moving, though he still remains an incomplete creation. What is missing? A professor at Temple University in the United States, Marsha Hall, answers this question: "From the point of view of the Italian Renaissance
The Renaissance is the period that began around the 14th century and ended at the late 16th century, traditionally associated primarily with the Italian region. The ideas and images of the Renaissance largely determined the aesthetic ideals of modern man, his sense of harmony, measure and beauty. Read more
, endowing a person with the ability to think meant being created in the image and likeness of God." Some researchers believe that here Michelangelo portrayed the Creator as literally a source of reason: in the form of a brain. Look at him accompanied by the surrounding objects — all together really looks like an anatomical image of the contents of our skull!

5. Raphael Sanzio, The Sistine Madonna (1513)

Raphael Sanzio. The Sistine Madonna
The Sistine Madonna
1513, 269.5×201 cm
On this canvas, Raphael depicted the appearance of the Virgin Mary with the baby Christ in her arms to St. Sixtus. The painting was commissioned to the artist by Pope Julius II. The painter painted into the canvas many details that are important for his own worldview. Raphael was a gnostic: the supporters of this religious movement believed that they possessed special knowledge about God and the world order. In particular, they greatly appreciated the number six. Researchers note the significance of this number for the picture. Its composition consists of six figures, and the right hand of St. Sixtus seems to have six fingers (though, if you look closely, the "sixth finger" is, rather, the inner side of the palm).

6. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Hunters in the Snow (1565)

This surely magnificent painting has a financial story behind it. The then businessman Jongelinck, who revered Bruegel’s art, commissioned Bruegel to create a series of six seasonal paintings depicting the seasons ("Hunters in the Snow" was one of them). Bruegel had not completed the work when Jongelinck faced financial difficulties. To borrow money from the city treasury, the businessman put into pawn the unfinished paintings of the master — more precisely, the document confirming the rights to those pictures. As a result, immediately after the completion, Brueghel’s works ended up in the treasury vault. The artist did not see them anymore.

7. Rembrandt van Rijn, The Night Watch (1642)

The full name of The Night Watch is The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch. This is one of the most much-suffering artworks in the history of art. Firstly, the soot layer changed the initial color of the Night Watch: the scene takes place during the day, so the work got its "dark" name due to a misunderstanding. Secondly, the canvas was cut horizontally and vertically. Thirdly, it suffered from inept restorations, and in 1990, a mentally ill visitor to the Rijksmuseum splashed acid on the painting. At the same time, Night Watch remains a masterpiece and even the object of pilgrimage.

8. Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas

Diego Velazquez. Las Meninas
Las Meninas
1656, 318×276 cm
"The Ladies-in-waiting" - this is how the name of Velazquez’s painting is translated from Spanish. On the canvas, which captured the moment of drawing the portrait of the royal couple (you can see the royal spouses in the mirror in the background) and the daily life of the Infanta Margaret and her lady-in-waiting, Velazquez pictured himself with a palette in his hands. On his chest is the red cross of the Order of Santiago, the highest state award of Spain of those times. The artist received the order at the very end of his life. Philip ordered this to be added after Velázquez's death, so another painter drew the award on Velazquez’s chest in "Las Meninas."

9. Jan Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665)

The Dutch painter Jan Vermeer did not give names to his paintings. This painting got its name, "Girl with a pearl earring," much later, and this immediately gave way to the debate whether the jewelry can be considered a pearl. Most researchers are inclined to believe that the model was wearing an earring made of Venetian glass, and the portrait itself was likely a figment of the artist’s imagination.

10. Karl Bryullov, The Last Day of Pompeii (1830s)

Karl Bryullov. The last day of Pompeii
The last day of Pompeii
1830-th , 465.5×651 cm
It took just 11 month for Bryullov to paint The Last Day of Pompeii, but it took him as long as six years to get prepared for the work. At the same time majestic and terrifying canvas that tells us about the death of the city of Pompeii from the eruption of mount Vesuvius also features the artist’s self-portrait. Bryullov depicted himself in the left part of the painting, under a box of brushes and paints.

11. Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa (1832)

This woodblock print by the Japanese ukiyo-e
Now it seems unbelievable but the Japanese did not regard the woodblock prints, which fascinated the fashionable European artists and inspired the Impressionists to adopt the new ways of expression. Read more
artist Katsushika Hokusai was the first print in the artist’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series. The image depicts an enormous wave threatening three fishing boats off the coast of the town of Kanagawa while Mount Fuji rises in the background. It is Hokusai’s most famous work and one of the most recognizable works of Japanese art in the world.

12. James Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1. The Artist's Mother (1871)

This is one of the most famous and recognizable portraits in the world. Meanwhile, critics in Britain, where the American Whistler moved to from his native Massachusetts, rather coldly accepted the artist’s new work. Though in France it was greeted with applause later on. And in the United States in 1938, a bronze statue 2.5 meters high was installed in honor of Anna Whistler, the artist’s mother, who was depicted in the portrait.

13. Claude Monet, Impression. Sunrise (1872)

The compiler of a catalogue of paintings by Claude Monet complained that the artist gave his works the unvaried titles. Monet thought for a moment and named this painting saying ‘Put Impression.' Later, this artwork gave its name to a brand new phenomenon in art history — the impressionism
No doubt, you know about Impressionism a lot: you could mention the names of the famous artists and find with ease the exhibition at museums with gleaming water surface and the same image painted in different time of the day and of course you know the scandalous history of the First Impressionist Exhibition and could distinguish Monet and Manet. So, it is high time to switch to the next level: some additional details you would like to know about Impressionism. Read more
. However, at first the word "impressionist" was used to offend the painters. On April 25, 1874, the Parisian newspaper "Charivari" published an article, in which the art critic Louis Leroy scornfully called the young artists "Impressionists" wishing to emphasize that they could not draw.

14. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881)

In this picture, Renoir captured the terrace of The Maison Fournaise restaurant, which was a favorite meeting point for young artists and writers of the time. "Luncheon of the Boating Party" is a portrait of Renoir’s friends and acquaintances: the girl playing with the puppy is Aline Charigo, the future wife of the artist; Renoir’s affluent patron and fellow painter Gustave Caillebotte in a straw hat smokes in the lower right corner, conversing with actress Angèle Legault and Italian journalist Adrien Maggiolo; actress and model Jeanne Samari adjusts her hat talking to the art critic Charles Ephrussi.
Today, The Maison Fournaise restaurant looks exactly the same as in those days, and its terrace is named in his honor — the Renoir terrace.

15. Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night (1889)

Vincent van Gogh. Starry night
Starry night
June 1889, 73.1×92.1 cm
This is one of the most popular paintings in the world. Thick long brushstrokes are put carefully side by side, which is typical for van Gogh’s painting style. Juicy blue and yellow make this painting especially eye-pleasing.
Nevertheless, the artist himself considered this work unsuccessful. When the painting got to the exhibition, he casually said about it: "Maybe it will show others how to portray night effects better than I did."

16. Edvard Munch, The Scream (1893)

Edward Munch. Scream
1893, 91×73.5 cm
There are several versions of this picture: Edvard Munch used this subject at least four times. That is why, the famous "Scream" is now exhibited not only in two museums in Oslo. On May 2, 2012, the artist’s pastel copy of the "Scream" was sold for USD 119, 922, 500 to a private collector, the American businessman Leon David.

17. Gustav Klimt, The Kiss (1907-1908)

Gustav Klimt. Kiss
1908, 180×180 cm
Some art critics insist that in this painting the Austrian artist depicted himself and his beloved Emilia Floge, with whom Klimt had a complicated relationship. Though there are other opinions and other stories. According to one of them, the painting was commissioned by a count. He gave the artist a medallion with the image of his beloved and asked him to depict them together. While working on the painting, Klimt unexpectedly fell in love with the girl from the medallion. That is why instead of the portraying the count the artist depicted himself hiding his face next to the girl.

18. Kazimir Malevich, Black Square (1915)

This is one of the most scandalous works in the course of art history. Some people even believe that the history of fine arts in the traditional sense ended as soon as the Black Square turned up.
According to Malevich, he had a very special experience when he was creating his Black Square back in 1915. The artist recorded his impressions: "Millions of stripes raced before my eyes. I could not see because of some black vision. The eye went out in new flashes."
Anyway, The Black Square is considered by many to be the starting point for the emergence of New art.

19. Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory(1931)

Salvador Dali described how he had been creating this painting: "I painted the clock face in two hours. Gala (the artist’s wife) went to the movies with her friends. When I stayed alone, I was looking around the room. And I noticed the Camembert cheese that Gala and I had recently eaten. The cheese slowly melted in the sun."
Daly went to his studio, where the landscape
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of Port-Lligat had already been captured on the canvas. The artist just added the missing detail. The painting was ready by the time his wife returned. Did the artist eat the melted cheese? We no nothing about this.

20. Pablo Picasso, Guernica (1937)

Pablo Picasso. Guernica
1937, 349.3×776.6 cm
This picture is about the horrors of war. Pablo Picasso, who always claimed to be apolitical, could not help but respond to the bombing of Guernica in 1937. The Nazi’s two-hour attack took hundreds of lives. Mostly women and children were killed. Despite the horror that the picture inspires with its gray-brown palette, still there is hope in it. Its symbol is a lighted lamp under a shade. Picasso once said that "the light in the picture is the world to which every living being will forever strive."
Recommended artworks:
Andrey Nikitovich Mordovets. Golden Autumn in the Carpathians
Golden Autumn in the Carpathians
1997, 70×90 cm
Natalia Priputnikova. At the pond
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At the pond
2021, 60×45×2 cm
Andrew Lumez. Clarification
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2020, 40×30 cm
Natalia Priputnikova. Deer
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2024, 60×50×2 cm
Xenia Keith. The window in the castle
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The window in the castle
2024, 60×50 cm
…Of course, it is impossible to include all worthy masterpieces in this top twenty. Therefore, another "art guide" for children will follow so that parents have everything at hand to introduce the child to the world of beautiful and amazing art. To be continued!