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Famous Artwork You’ve Seen but Barely Know

Famous artwork is plastered over everything. You could easily find a mug with “Starry Night” on it or a cute t-shirt with a close up of the hands from “The Creation of Adam,” but how much does the average person actually know about these famous paintings? Behind each painting there is so much history and information and funny facts that not many people know about, so allow to be your guide of the many famous works we know and love. 

“Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh

“Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh is perhaps one of the most recognizable paintings in the world. The iconic landscape van Gogh paints is actually the view from his room at an asylum he checked himself into after a mental breakdown. Van Gogh only ever sold one or two paintings his whole life, and “Starry Night” was not one of them. In fact, van Gogh considered “Starry Night” to be a failure!

“Broadway Boogie Woogie” by Piet Mondrian 

After Dutch painter Piet Mondrian moved to New York in 1940, the iconic painting “Broadway Boogie Woogie” was made. The painting actually depicts the grid layout of New York City. The blocks of color create a vital and pulsing rhythm, which is also reflected in the title “Boogie Woogie.”

“The Presentence of Memory” by Salvador Dali 

There are a lot of different speculations as to what the objects are in the painting and why they appear as they do, and Dali himself never explains his paintings or where the idea for this painting specifically originated from. The ever so iconic melting clock idea came from chunks of Camembert cheese Dali had seen melting in the sun!

“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo

“The Creation of Adam” is a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, and yes, Michelangelo did paint this onto a ceiling. He created a series of scaffolding so that he could get close enough to reach above his head and paint. Michelangelo actually hated working in the Sistine Chapel so much he wrote a poem about his misery!

“The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci 

“The Last Supper” by da Vinci depicts a dinner scene of Jesus and his 12 disciples and can be found at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan in Italy and is an astonishing 15×29 feet. When “The Last Supper” was first painted, you could see Jesus’ feet! In 1652, a door was added in the wall “The Last Supper” is on, and during its construction the lower part of the painting where Jesus’s feet could be seen was cut out.

“Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci 

Perhaps the most iconic painting from da Vinci, Mona Lisa has a copious amount of theories surrounding it. Some believe the painting is simply a self-portrait of da Vinci in drag while others say research has proved it is most likely Lisa Gherardini, a member of a wealthy family. Another fun fact is that apparently, the Mona Lisa originally had eyebrows and eyelashes, but after being restored and cleaned so many times, they were slowly taken off and eventually disappeared altogether. 

“Guernica” by Pablo Picasso

This abstract piece of work created by Pablo Picasso is actually meant to reflect the horrific aftermath of the Guernica bombing by German and Italian warplanes during World War II. Picasso had a picture of Guernica in his apartment and a Nazi officer allegedly asked him, “Did you do that?” to which Picasso responded, “No, you did.” 

“Washington Crosses the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze

While a very unrealistic (and slightly dangerous) scene depicted by Emanuel Leutze, the painting still remains insanely popular. The painting was originally destroyed in a studio fire in 1850 and was restored only for it to again be destroyed 1942 by a bombing raid. Luckily, after the fire in 1850, a second, exact replica of the painting was created, and that is the one we still have today.  

“American Gothic” by Grant Wood

“American Gothic” depicts the ideals of rural America and is commonly viewed as a couple, but the two figures are actually Wood’s younger sister wearing his mother’s apron and pin, while the man is a 62-year-old dentist. So, you could say rather than depicting a couple, it is a depiction of father and daughter.

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch

The Expressionist painting “The Scream” by Edvard Munch is well known and has many different spin offs, but did you know there are technically five separate works of “The Scream,” each created with a different medium? The first two are made of tempera and crayon on cardboard, the third with pastel, fourth a black and white lithograph (so basically a print), and the final which we all know, made with oil on canvas. 

These are only a few facts for some famous paintings, but there are so many more out there! Any work by van Gogh usually has some crazy story behind it. A majority of paintings became super famous because they set a new trend in art, like how Picasso had a huge effect on Cubism or Mondrian started the Neoplasticism movement. While these famous artworks are always nice to look at and admire, if you really want to enjoy them to their fullest, do a little bit of research! A quick Google search will provide you with way more information than you’d think! You don’t need to be some crazy art nerd to enjoy the weird facts behind paintings!


HCXO, Hannah O

Hannah O'Steen

Millersville '22

Hannah is currently a junior at Millersville University studying Interactive and Graphic Design. She absolutely adores dogs of any kind, plants, cozy rainy days, Studio Ghibli films and speaks fluent sarcasm. Her current goal in life is to graduate with the fewest amount of mental breakdowns possible.
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