If you’re a fan of art, you’re probably going to be familiar with a lot of these paintings, but you might not know their background. From renaissance classics to modern art to millennia-old cave paintings, take a trip with us through art history to learn a thing or two. And there won’t even be a quiz at the end.
“Déjeuner sur L'herbe” by Edouard Manet
There have been plenty of paintings about people enjoying a picnic, and that's exactly what is being portrayed here, despite initial thoughts. The painting “Luncheon on the Grass” was, indeed, a scandal when Manet painted it in 1863, but not just because there was nudity – it's because nudity was the purview of only classical settings, not modern life.
Many people have assumed that the nude woman, giving the viewer an unapologetic look, was in the business of offering carnal pleasures for money, but she was actually Victorine-Louise Meurent — a famous model and a painter in her own right. Due to her inclusion in the painting, people called it obscene.
“The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai
With a towering wave, a trio of boats, and a distant snow-capped mountain, “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” is a towering staple of Japanese art. This was undoubtedly Hokusai's best work, but he only did it due to being forced back into work to pay off his grandson's debts.
It just goes to show you that even if you're getting up there in the years, you can still make something wonderful. The wave is estimated to be twelve meters tall, showing off the great power of the sea – it even towers over Mount Fuji, a sacred symbol of beauty for the people of Japan.
“Des Glaneuses” by Jean-Francois Millet
“Des Glaneuses” is French for “The Gleaners,” and so this painting (finished in 1857) depicts three peasant women gathering what they can after a field has been harvested. While it portrays the lower classes in a sympathetic way, the upper classes didn't appreciate the sentiment.
The revolution was fresh in some people's minds, and there were whispers that another revolution – that of the growing Socialist movement – wasn't far away. There were far more lower-class workers than upper-class rulers, and so the painting was panned by those in power.
“Frescoes in Villa of the Mysteries” by Unknown
It's impossible to figure out who created these frescoes, found in the Roman city of Pompeii. It had been buried and preserved under thirty feet of ash. The frescoes, while beautiful, are also baffling. Dozens of life-size figures dance around an unclothed woman, who is one of the frescoes is dancing, and in another is playing the cymbals.
Scholars have tried their hardest to uncover what the scenes are depicting, but the best they can come up with is scenes of a Dionysian ritual. Now more than two thousand years old, most of the secrets have been lost to time.
“Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck
From the Dutch master Jan van Eyck, this painting is stepped with questions. Many have tried to answer them, but we'll never truly know the answers. The subjects are Giovanni di Nicolao di Arnolfini and his wife Costanza Trenta, a wealthy Italian couple – or are at least thought to be – but the interesting composition raises the most discussion.
Why the odd stance? What is the event pictured? Is the wife pregnant? Most cryptically, there are figures depicted in the mirror in the center of the portrait, but why should it take center stage? And who are the people? Some have said one of them is van Eyck himself.
“Cyclops” by Odilon Redon
If you're a fan of Greek mythology, then you've certainly read about the cyclops Polyphemus and his unrequited love, which is the main subject of this odd painting. He stares at the nymph Galatea, the object of his desires, and his inhuman look contrasts the classic beauty of the nymph.
The tale of the Cyclops was popular among French symbolists, of which Redon was a major figure. They presented ideas using twisted figures, huge eyes, and odd landscapes — all elements that are present in this, his most famous work. Painted in 1914, “Cyclops” is a colorful representation of the dangers of obsession.
“The Two Fridas,” by Frida Kahlo
Mexican painter Frida Kahlo is one of the country's most famous artists. She's known for putting plenty of personal emotion into her art, and this painting of two versions of herself is no different. It's been said that the two Fridas portray how she felt before and after her painful and drawn-out divorce from Diego Rivera, another Mexican painter.
The relationship was fraught with tension, including fights and extra-marital adventures. The couple remarried a year after this painting was finished. On the right is happy Frida during the marriage, and on the left is a bride with a broken heart during the divorce.
“The Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh
Perhaps one of the most famous paintings in the world, this surreal, twisting sky is truly captivating, but the inspiration is a bit sad. Nevertheless, the view was real and was what Van Gogh could see from the mental institution where he was a patient.
From the east-facing window of his bedroom in Saint-Paul-de-Mausole before sunrise, he painted this piece of art history in the spring of 1889. It's not a perfect representation – the village wasn't visible from his window and likely came from a sketch drawing of the village of Saint-Rémy de-Provence. Van Gogh combined the two scenes to make something that still inspires people to this day.
“Whistler's Mother” by James Abbott McNeill Whistler
The original name of this painting, which has been dubbed the Victorian Mona Lisa, was “Arrangement in Grey and Black – Portrait of the Painter's Mother.” Whistler liked to name his paintings as if they were musical compositions.
Whistler, born in America but based in Britain, wasn't intending to paint his mother. The model that was going to be featured could not make the appointment, so Mom jumped in to help. The nickname for the painting, “Whistler's Mother,” quickly became the agreed-upon name for the piece. The simple subject and classic colors have made this painting one of the most famous and expensive in the world.
“Self-Portrait” by Vincent Van Gogh
Legendary Dutch painter Van Gogh painted a lot of self-portraits, but it wasn't because he was vain — he simply lacked the funds to hire models. These self-portraits also allowed him to work at all hours of the day and experiment with interesting styles that might have taken too long for a model.
There are more than thirty such self-portraits. Though there was only one photograph taken of the painter, we have a pretty good idea of what he looked like, thanks to the variety of images. Still, it's obviously possible he wasn't showing us the entire truth.
“The Raft of Medusa” by Théodore Géricault
“Le Radeau de la Méduse,” as it is known in its original French, depicts French naval officers and sailors struggling to stay alive after the wreck of the naval frigate Méduse. When the frigate wrecked, a raft was hurriedly constructed, bearing at most nearly a hundred and fifty people.
Most didn't survive the event. The event became an international scandal for a number of purposes, the greatest of which was the perceived incompetence of the Méduse's captain. Painted in 1819, “The Raft of Medusa” brings back a renaissance style to the event, with intense detail and poses of frenzy that paints the scene oh so clearly.
“The Night Watch” by Rembrandt van Rijn
Rembrandt is considered to be one of the best artists in the world, and the chiaroscuro and tenebrism details of this vivid painting are one of the reasons why. Rembrandt was commissioned to paint Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his company for a high price.
The result, which is more than ten feet high and close to fifteen feet wide, is one of the most famous paintings in the world and the greatest part of the Dutch Golden Age. It's likely it took Rembrandt three years to paint it, and its size makes it difficult to determine where he did the work.
“Christina's World” by Andrew Wyeth
Painted in 1948, this image continues to evoke confusion and wonder. A woman lies on the parched ground, facing away from the viewers, toward a distant farmhouse. The woman in question is actually Anna Christina Olson, the neighbor, and muse of the painter.
They both lived in Pennsylvania, which even to this day contains a great deal of farmland. It seems as if Christina is pining for something or has wilted after a lover spurned her, but the truth is the real Christina suffered from a muscle disorder and often had to drag herself across the field to get home. The terrible distance of the farmhouse helps us see what Christina had to endure.
“American Gothic” by Grant Wood
Depicting a tired farmer and his weathered wife, “American Gothic” was a snapshot of the Great Depression in America. Originally, Grant Wood had intended the subjects of the painting to be father and daughter and not husband and wife, but they were actually neither. He used his dentist to create the man holding the pitchfork, and his sister, Nan Wood Graham, stood in as the woman.
Both characters are downtrodden, but there is still an element of strength present — they haven't given up just yet. It's Ironic to think that a painter who spent so much time looking for inspiration in Europe would create this famous American image.
“Salvator Mundi” by Leonardo da Vinci
Portraying one of the classic subjects of many eras of art — Jesus Christ — this painting was long thought to be the work of a da Vinci student or a copy he made of another lost work. After a long study, experts determined it was a da Vinci original, soon selling for nearly five hundred million dollars.
After an auction at Christie's, the small painting disappeared from public view and is thought to be in possession of a Saudi prince, though it has not been determined where exactly. The two choices are a Swiss bank vault or on display on a luxury yacht.
“Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee” by Rembrandt van Rijn
The backstory to this one is pretty easy to pick out: the story of Jesus stilling the storm, presented in three of the four gospels. You might also be interested to know that since this is Rembrandt's single painted seascape, it had a place of prominence in the Boston museum where it was held.
In March of 1990, however, multiple works were stolen from the museum, including this painting, which was valued at half a billion dollars. Literal billion. With a B. While there are suspects, no one has ever been caught, and the paintings are still missing.
“Portrait of Dr. Gachet” by Vincent Van Gogh
This famous work by the troubled Dutch painter is the last one he painted before the end of his life. Dr. Paul Gachet was the physician that was taking care of Van Gogh during the final months of his life. It's been said that they had a quarrelsome, yet friendly, relationship.
We all know a pair that are like that. Sometimes we're part of it! Van Gogh wiled away his time painting a picture of his friend, and it turned into one of the more famous paintings he did simply due to its timing.
“The Potato Eaters” by Vincent Van Gogh
For better or for worse, Van Gogh stayed away from the idealized models and scenes that many painters have taken to. He was interested in showing that things were different from how the upper class saw them, and so the aesthetics in his paintings were coarse and unattractive.
In “The Potato Eaters,” a family sits around the table after a long day to have a simple meal. Van Gogh believed it to be his most successful painting. The colors and shadows reveal deep emotion for a family that is just trying to make its way through life without the benefits of the rich.
“Myra” by Marcus Harvey
As this list shows us, lots of paintings have become scandals in one way or another, and this one is no different. Few women are more despised in Britain than Myra Hindley, who went around during the sixties committing crimes that you can research more if you want to.
When Marcus Harvey painted this huge piece and debuted it at the 1997 Sensation exhibition at London's Royal Academy, it created...a little bit of controversy. Four members of the Academy resigned in protest and the painting was vandalized multiple times. The painting is huge, easily twice the height of a person, and dominates any viewer — much like how the woman herself dominated the thoughts of people during her era.
“The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali
Dali was the master of weird when it came to art, and his most famous work of art is surely this landscape of wilted timepieces. Like much of the work he did, it was deeply personal – in the midst of a hallucination, he saw in his mind an image approaching this painting, and he took it the rest of the way.
Dali had perfected what he called his paranoid-critical method, where he entered a meditative state of hallucinations to collect ideas, images, and thoughts. Many of the paintings he created stem from those hallucinations, which many argue are simple dreams he had while taking daytime naps.
“The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger
In the year 1533, Hans Holbein the Younger was the most in-demand portrait painter around. He spent a great deal of his time in the court of Henry the VIII, and this painting shows two figures from that same court: Jean de Dinteville, the French ambassador to England, and George de Selve, the English ambassador to the Holy Roman emperor and the pope.
There are numerous allegorical additions, as well as a stretched, squashed item in the lower half — a human skull the viewer must stand at the proper place to see. Supposedly a lesson on mortality and viewing things from different perspectives.
“At the Moulin Rouge” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
After denying his privilege in favor of the working class and the nightlife, Toulouse-Lautrec started painting. The man suffered from a rare genetic disorder that affected his growth and bone development and reached a full height of a mere four-foot-eight. He took to drinking as he endured taunts.
“At the Moulin Rouge” created a world of ease and joy for the painter, with dancers, singers, and even himself. The diminutive figure in the background is our dear Henri, accompanied by his cousin, Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran. Painted over three years at the end of the nineteenth century, the painting is taller than the painter.
“Lascaux Cave Paintings” by Unknown
How deep was this touchstone moment in art history buried? Not very deep at all — French teen Marcel Ravidat found it when he fell into a hole on a walk with his dog. Inside, he discovered some six thousand Paleolithic images depicting animals, enigmatic symbols...and a single human form.
Scientists and historians have placed the origin of the paintings within a two millennia time frame, from 15,000 to 17,000 B.C. It took mixtures of simple pigments and charcoal to create the designs, which somehow lasted that incredible length of time without being disturbed. The best thing they can come up with for the purpose of it is ceremonial rites.
“The Son of Man” by René Magritte
There are some paintings that don't really make a lot of sense when you take your first look at them, and “The Son of Man” is a classic example. It's a self-portrait with an apple, a common theme in his paintings, obscuring his face. The Son of Man is one of the many names that follow Jesus Christ during his time on Earth.
While the full meaning of the painting is uncertain — not unexpected coming from Magritte — it has been called a surrealist interpretation of the transfiguration of Jesus. This famous apple inspired the Beatles to start their recording company Apple Corps, and by extension, inspired Steve Jobs to name his tech company Apple.
“Barge Haulers on the Volga” by Ilya Repin
A condemnation of profit from inhuman labor, “Barge Haulers on the Volga”, shows us defeated men who are trudging as they haul a barge. The single young man, who wears bright colors, fights against his bonds in an effort to free himself from the deplorable conditions.
Repin came up with the idea for the painting during his travels in Russia, depicting real people that he encountered. International praise came quickly when Repin released the painting in 1873 since it showed such a realistic and shocking portrayal of the hardships of working men and women.
“A Friend in Need” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge
Would you believe that this classic painting of dogs playing poker is only one of a series? It's naturally called the “Dogs Playing Poker” series. The entire series was commissioned by Brown & Bigelow in order to advertise cigars, though only one of the pooches in this picture is seen with a stogie.
Every one of the eighteen paintings features anthropomorphized dogs, though only eleven of them had the dogs playing cards. Somehow, critics never considered this series of iconic paintings real art, which is a bit silly — the first of the series, “Poker Game,” sold for six hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
“Flaming June” by Sir Frederic Leighton
This picture of sleeping beauty is startling in its realism, the peace of the subject, and the powerful colors presented to the viewer. Shortly after Sir Frederic Leighton painted it in 1895, the painting disappeared, finally reemerging in the 1960s by a construction worker — the painting had been hiding in a chimney at a construction site.
Puerto Rico's Museo de Arte de Ponce acquired the painting (it was considered unfashionable for some odd reason and failed to sell at auction), where it remains to this day. It's a classic still-life and has a wonderful drowsy element.
“Der Wanderer Über Dem Nebelmeer” by Caspar David Friedrich
The name of this painting translates to Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, and we have to give Friedrich points for simplicity. Painted in the romantic style, it gives us a tumult of nature, a thoughtful character, and emotion that will differ for every person.
It's said that the painting portrays someone who is gazing into his unknown future, cloudy and hidden from his eyes. The subject's position has been the subject of much debate, but the artist himself stated that an artist should not only paint what is in front of him but what he sees inside himself.
“Portrait of Madame X” by John Singer Sargent
Painted in 1883 and 84, this portrait caused an uproar. But why, you might ask. It was due to how much skin Madame X, actually Virginie Avegno Gautreau, the American wife of a French banker, was showing off.
The female form has always been a subject of paintings, but the mythological heroine was far different than actual upper-class ladies such as Virginie. For a lot of people, it was downright offensive for such a woman to be portrayed as in this painting, especially since the woman herself posed for the piece of art.
“Girl With A Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer
With just a minor change to the outfit, it looks like this painting could have come from just a few decades ago. Yet when Vermeer painted this gal, it was only halfway through the seventeenth century. Little is known about the young girl who appears in the painting, though it's mostly thought she was either Vermeer's daughter or his mistress.
However, the image wasn't intended to represent an actual person – the turban the girl wears indicates it was something called a “tronie,” or an idealized image wearing exotic clothing. If the painting's popularity tells us anything, it's that Vermeer succeeded.
“Watson and the Shark” by John Singleton Copley
When cabin boy Brook Watson fell overboard near Havana, Cuba, it took three attempts to rescue him from sharks. He lost his leg in the process. It took place in 1749, and in 1778 John Singleton Copley immortalized the event with this dynamic painting.
As members of the crew of the “Royal Consort,” the ship where Watson worked, struggle to reach him, a shark approaches with an open mouth. Why Watson is unclothed remains a mystery, though it's possible it was a detail added to play up the boy's vulnerability. Watson himself owned a copy until his death in 1807.
“Jack the Ripper's Bedroom” by Walter Sickert
It had only been twenty years since the reign of terror that struck the Whitechapel neighborhood of London when painter Walter Sickert painted this dark and moody scene.
Sickert is known for his dim, depressing interiors, and while many artists have been inspired by Jack the Ripper in one form or another, it's sometimes thought that this and other paintings by Sickert suggest a possible connection between him and Jacks actions – with some people even suspecting that he could be Jack himself. We may never know, but the depressing atmosphere in the painting is certainly noteworthy.
“Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci
You knew this enigmatic smile would appear eventually. Out of all the works da Vinci has done, this small painting is perhaps the most famous. The subject is thought to be Lisa Del Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy silk merchant, and the painting was commissioned to celebrate the move to a new home and the birth of their second child.
“Mona” is a polite form of address from the era, similar to Madam or Ma'am. It's the most expensive insured item in the world, worth a hundred million dollars even back in 1962 – which is around nine hundred million dollars today.
“Primavera” by Sandro Botticelli
Painted over a five-year period from 1477 to 1482, “Primavera” lacked a name for almost a hundred years before art historian Giorgio Vasari dubbed it “Primavera,” meaning “spring.” The precise meaning remains unknown even to this day, but it is an allegorical work inspired by classic mythology; it is believed to present the nymph Chloris transforming into Flora, the goddess of spring.
A member of the powerful and rich Medici clan commissioned the painting, and it's thought the figures in the painting are modeled after members of the family. Historians have lots of questions about the painting which will never be answered.
“Lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci
This legendary artist might be better known for other works, but his classic portraits were still top of the line. Commissioned by Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, the painting is a study in angles and features, as well as an ermine.
The Polish government bought the painting for more than a hundred million euros near the end of 2016, and it's now on display in the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków and is considered a national treasure in Poland. The subject is Cecilia Gallerani, a mistress of the duke. It was painted between 1489 and 1491.
“Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket” by James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Whistler might be better known for the painting of his mother, but the Aesthetic style in his “Nocturne” series of paintings was the start of a big event in his life. This painting of fireworks over London, painted in 1875, landed Whistler in hot water with art critic John Ruskin, who savaged the work, as well as the hefty asking price for each piece — two hundred guineas.
Since a guinea is worth a quarter of an ounce of gold, that means each painting costs more than three pounds of gold. In today's money, that's about a hundred thousand dollars. Whistler took Ruskin to court, and while Whistler won, it left him destitute.
“Cardsharps” by Caravaggio
With an Italian name that translates to “The Cheaters,” this painting is less a portrayal of vice and more one of lost innocence. There are two men engaged in a con and one innocent young man who has no idea what is about to hit him as he plays primero, a kind of proto-poker.
We are supposed to see the painting like a quick snapshot of a story, which uses the gestures and expressions of the subjects to show us what is about to happen to the boy — drama, deception, and cruel lessons about life presented in a single image. It's worth a thousand words.
“Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco Goya
This famously gruesome image comes to us courtesy of Francisco Goya, who painted a collection of disturbing images (called the “dark collection” by historians) at his home but never showed to the public. After his death, the collection was discovered, and this painting became the most famous of the bunch.
It shows the Titan Cronus (which was Romanized as Saturn), who was known to rid himself of pesky offspring since they could, potentially, overthrow him from his place of glory. There were predictions, you see, but Cronus wasn't about to let those worry him.
“The Guernica” by Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso might be the most well-known painter in the world thanks to his extensive output and cubist style. “The Guernica” has been called the best piece of work by Picasso. In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, German and Italian planes bombed the area of Guernica on the northern edge of Spain.
Many innocent people lost their lives, and afterward, the Spanish government commissioned Picasso to create a painting about the events. In Picasso's unmistakable style, the horror of the event comes across in stark detail, with twisted figures, cries of terror, and fear that rules the entire piece.
“The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch
The name Bosch might as well be a stand-in for “weird.” The incredible detail that he put into all of his paintings meant they came out with huge gaps — this immense piece of work took twenty years, and it's been analyzed for more than five hundred years.
Art historians are torn as to whether the large central panel is supposed to serve as some kind of moral warning or it's a panorama of the paradise that was lost. Go on, try to find Waldo. We dare you.
“The Scream” by Edvard Munch
Yes, his name is spelled with a V. With a twisted person howling, a sky turning red, and a world that seems to cry out, Munch created a painting that has intrigued and frightened people since its completion in 1893. It came about one day when Munch was walking the streets with his friends.
The sun was setting, turning the sky red, and the ground was creaking under his feet. A stirring setting for a picture. At the same time, Munch wasn't feeling at his peak – hence the bent, horrifying figure in the center of the painting.
“J'aime La Couleur” by Chéri Samba
In this striking and colorful piece, the artist's head unwinds into a spiral. He holds a dripping paintbrush in his teeth, and at the other end, there is a balanced plate of seashells. “Everything is color,” Samba says, and this painting is a wonderful expression of that thought.
The spiraling self-portrait means that sometimes we have to unravel what color means to each and every one of us in our own lives. Painted much more recently than a lot of other pieces on this list, this work of art was unveiled in 2003.
“Ophelia” by Sir John Everett Millais
Ophelia, one of the tragic figures in Shakespeare's famous play “Hamlet,” has been an artistic subject ever since the play was first performed. The woman who slowly loses her sanity and finally lies for eternal rest in the pond got one of her most famous paintings in 1852.
Millais used foliage that is said to be in the area where “Hamlet” was set, but he didn't make his subject, Elizabeth Siddall, lie in a pond — she floated in a bathtub until he had her painted. He used candles to keep the tub warm, but they went out, and Siddall almost died of pneumonia as a result.
“The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins
In this title, the word doesn't mean disgusting – it's the name of Dr. Samuel Gross, who had decided that an infection of the femur was a teaching moment and not just something to be amputated. Gross lectures, showing how to do the least damage, as other professionals look on.
A clerk takes notes while the patient's mother turns away in horror. This painting has an important place in medicine's history since it was at the beginning of the era when surgery and medicine were becoming a true healing profession, and not just damage control.
“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” by Gustav Klimt
This portrait portrays Adele Bloch-Bauer, an art enthusiast and society hostess and the wife of a Viennese sugar magnate. The painting was seized from the Bloch-Bauer home by the Nazis more than thirty years after it was painted in 1907. After World War II ended, the painting was found in the state-run Galerie Belvedere.
Adele's niece, Maria Altmann, lobbied endlessly for the painting to be returned, and in 2006, just one year shy of the painting's hundredth birthday, she finally succeeded. The long story of the painting was turned into a film called “Woman in Gold,” which starred Helen Mirren as Altmann.
“Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze
Not only was the Revolutionary War long over by the time Emanuel Leutze painted this classic piece of American history, but his country also didn't even officially take part in the conflict — he was German. This critical moment in the fight for independence, which occurred on Christmas Day in 1776, was a moment that Leutze hoped would inspire others to make their own steps toward freedom.
The heroic pose of Washington, the hard work of the soldiers crossing the icy waters, and the smokey rays of light in the background come together to make a scene that stirs the soul and brings a tear to the eye.
“The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci
If the “Mona Lisa” isn't da Vinci's most famous work, surely this one is. Jesus has center stage, and the twelve apostles are clustered around him in poses that have become legendary. It's said that the apostles are reacting to Jesus, saying one will betray them.
The painting was commissioned by the Duke of Milan during the renovation of an old church and monastery. Finished in 1498, it immediately became famous for the poses, the framing, and the size — fifteen feet tall and a staggering twenty-nine feet across. It took da Vinci three years to paint it, though it's thought that is because of his tendency to procrastinate.
“Composition Viii” by Wassily Kandinsky
Fascinated with color from an early age, Kandinsky always let differing shades rule the paintings he came up with. As you might have guessed from the title of this painting, he also wanted to explore the relations between sound and color and often painted in ways that musicians write songs.
The use of shapes and other mathematical ideas also speaks to his idea that geometric shapes contain some powerful properties. Colors were chosen for their emotional impact. The many compositions Kandinsky came up with have hundreds of intersecting elements that give the viewer pause and plenty to look at.
“Untitled” by Jean-Michel Basquiat
When it comes to graffiti artists who made the jump to famous painters, there really aren't many to choose from. Jean-Michel Basquiat comes to mind if not first, then second. He was a Brooklyn street artist who opened up the painting world with Neo-expressionism but couldn't stay away from his vices, which led to an early death at the age of twenty-seven.
Decades later, this untitled work broke a record when it sold at Sotheby's, reaching a price point of more than $110 million. The high price encouraged an owner of another Basquiat to get it authenticated, revealing details that Basquiat had added using invisible ink.
“Stag Night at Sharkey's” by George Wesley Bellows
As part of the Ashcan School movement, Bellows presented the life of the lower classes and poorer neighborhoods of New York, such as the private athletic club across from Bellows's studio. A “stag night” is when fighters who aren't members of the club are given a chance to fight.
The quick strokes create a feeling of action and energy in the fighters, and the low angle places the viewer in the crowd, cheering on one fighter — or both — with his fellows and friends. As far as the reasoning for this subject, it was just close to where Bellows painted.