The 9 Greatest Painters of All Time
From Michelangelo to Frida Kahlo: The 9 Greatest Painters of All Time
What does it mean to be one of the “best painters” of all time? What does it take to be remembered for hundreds of years, be included in countless school agendas, and inspire younger artists?
In this article, we will highlight artists who have made some of the most iconic art over the centuries. These nine artists pushed the boundaries of their time, have amazing formal painting skills, and enjoy an enduring legacy even today.
These are only a few of the best painters of all time—so, undoubtedly, this list could be much longer as the world continues to see more and more talented and innovative artists.
Who are the Greatest Painters of All Time?
1. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)
Let's start with one of the most recognizable names in art history: Leonardo da Vinci, the painter who made some of the most iconic art of the Italian Renaissance.
Most of us have seen images of his famous Mona Lisa, but da Vinci created many more artworks and scientific inventions during his lifetime. In fact, he enjoys all the following titles: painter, sculptor, designer, theorist, architect, scientist, and engineer. His studies in various subjects are recorded in about 13,000 pages of notes. If they had been published, da Vinci probably would’ve had an incredible impact on anatomy in addition to fine art.
Countless articles, books, and movies explore the life of da Vinci if you want to learn more!
2. Michelangelo (1474–1564)
Next up, we have none other than da Vinci's rival, Michelangelo, who was also a painter and sculptor. In fact, he considered himself a sculptor more than anything else.
Some of Michelangelo's most iconic art includes the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as well as the sculptures David and Pietà; he made both sculptures before he turned 30, which is pretty remarkable.
To put his fame into perspective, Michelangelo was the first Western artist who had a biography made about his life while he was still alive (actually, he had two). He was often called Il Divino ("the divine one") and terribilità, which refers to his ability to leave his viewers awestruck. He was undeniably one of the best painters of all time.
3. Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1656)
Another one of the greatest Italian Renaissance painters of all time (and one of the few female artists of the time to have success) is Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi.
What makes her one of the best painters? First, she was a powerhouse in dramatic Baroque painting and started creating professional work at age 15. Plus, she made her iconic art while facing plenty of hardship due to her gender in a male-dominated field.
She is reported to have said, "My illustrious lordship, I'll show you what a woman can do."
4. Rembrandt (1606–1669)
Rembrandt van Rijn, known simply as Rembrandt, was incredibly prolific during his lifetime and continues to be regarded as of the best painters of all time.
Rembrandt is famous, in part, because of his wide variety of work and media. His most iconic works are portraits of contemporaries, self-portraits, and Biblical scenes.
He has many iconic works which make him one of the most famous artists of the Dutch Golden Age—really, they need an article of their one, as each is full of iconic imagery, undeniable skill, and emotion.
5. JMW Turner (1775–1851)
Next up on our list of famous artists is JMW Turner, who was an English Romantic painter.
His fiery and emotional landscapes (in particular his marine scenes) remain some of the most iconic art of his portfolio. Here's how productive Turner was: he created at least 550 oil paintings, 2,00 watercolors, and 30,000 more works on paper during his life.
Turner's influence on art is obvious. In particular, many historians give him credit for elevating the respectability of landscape painting, which was a lesser art during his time.
If you want to learn more about Turner's life, there is a famous biographic drama movie Mr. Turner that gives a fascinating overview of the artist.
6. Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
Another artist who has captured the public's imagination is Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, a Post-Impressionist artist who never achieved artistic success or financial stability during his lifetime.
Regarded as one of the best painters of all time, van Gogh has a remarkable amount of posthumous writing about himself and his work. While it is easy to consider him the epitome of the "struggling artist” he has much more significance beyond that reputation.
For example, we now admire the honesty and raw emotion in his works such as Starry Night, but these qualities were admonished during his life.
7. Paul Cézanne (1839–1906)
A contemporary of van Gogh, Paul Cézanne was a French Post-Impressionist artist who was one of the most famous painters of his time and whose iconic art influenced many generations after him.
Most significantly, Cézanne's work bridged Impressionism with Cubism, largely because of his innovations having to do with perspective, which broke the conventions of the time. Unlike van Gogh, he was regarded as a celebrity during his lifetime.
Many art historians credit the evolution of modern Western painting with Cézanne's art. Here is a telling quote by the artist: "Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one's sensations."
8. Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
This list wouldn't be complete without Pablo Picasso. As we mentioned, many artists deserve to be known as some of the most famous painters, but only some can claim they started an entire movement. Similar to Cézanne, Picasso is one of those artists, as he founded the radical movement Cubism. He is also credited with pioneering collage techniques.
Picasso did a lot of work over his lifetime, including very formal academic work during his teenage years. We went on to surround himself with innovative painters in Paris and experimented with his art—and, in the process, blew past artistic norms.
9. Frida Kahlo (1907–1954)
Let's wrap up this article with one of the most iconic female artists, Frida Kahlo, known for her beautiful portraits and self-portraits made in a naïve style.
Frida has been a role model for many artists and non-artists, as she lived with severe disabilities during her prolific career. Additionally, she was a female artist often overshadowed by her former partner, artist Diego Rivera.
Often making work focusing on identity, class, and gender in Mexico, her down-to-earth and committed philosophy to art can be seen in the following quote: "I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint."
In Conclusion: The World’s Most Famous Painters
There you have it—the nine most famous painters of all time. Whether it's their work, philosophies, or innovations (or all three) that makes them some of the best painters, each has their significance in art history.