mona lisa being photographed by museum visitors

The 12 Most Famous Portrait Paintings of All Time

Art has always been a medium to express the human condition, and portrait painting, in particular, holds a special place in the canon of art history.

The most famous portrait is Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa," housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Known for her enigmatic smile and mysterious allure, this masterpiece epitomizes the intrigue and mastery of portrait painting.

This guide takes you through the twelve most renowned portrait paintings that not only showcase artistic brilliance but also provide insight into historical and cultural contexts. From the enigmatic smiles to the stark expressions of existential dread, each portrait tells a unique story.

Explore our curated selection of contemporary artists from around the globe.

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1.Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (1503-1506)
Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (1503-1506)

  • Location: Louvre Museum, Paris, France
  • Dimensions: 30 x 20 7/8 in (77 x 53 cm) The most famous portrait in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, captivates with its enigmatic smile and subtle composition. The subject’s expression changes with the viewer's perspective, making it a timeless mystery.

2.Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer (1665)
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer (1665)

  • Location: Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands
  • Dimensions: 17.5 x 15.4 in (44.5 x 39 cm) This portrait, also known as the “Dutch Mona Lisa,” exemplifies Vermeer’s mastery of light and shadow, showcasing a seemingly ordinary girl in an extraordinary representation.

3. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (1907)
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt (1907)

  • Location: Neue Galerie, New York, USA
  • Dimensions: 54 x 54 in (138 x 138 cm) Klimt’s golden masterpiece is an art nouveau celebration, intricately combining gold leaf with oil painting to create a stunningly luxurious portrait.

4. Whistler’s Mother by James McNeill Whistler (1871)
Whistler’s Mother by James McNeill Whistler (1871)

  • Location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
  • Dimensions: 56 x 64 1/4 in (142.3 x 163.2 cm) Also known as “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1,” this portrait is an iconic representation of motherhood, showcasing Whistler’s mother in a composition of serene grace.

5. The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893)
The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893)

  • Location: National Gallery, Oslo, Norway
  • Dimensions: 36 x 28 7/8 in (91 x 73.5 cm) Munch’s expressionist masterpiece delves into the depths of human anxiety and existential fear, portrayed through the distorted figure against a blood-red sky.

6. Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair by Frida Kahlo (1940)
Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair by Frida Kahlo (1940)

  • Location: Private Collection
  • Dimensions: 15 3/4 x 11 in (40 x 27.9 cm) In this self-portrait, Kahlo presents herself in a defiant and unconventional manner, challenging gender norms and expressing her identity with stark honesty.

7. American Gothic by Grant Wood (1930)
https://www.artic.edu/artworks/6565/american-gothic

  • Location: Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA
  • Dimensions: 30 x 25 in (76.2 x 63.5 cm) A portrayal of Midwestern stoicism, this portrait features a farmer and his daughter, embodying the spirit of rural America with a backdrop of a Carpenter Gothic house.

8. The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck (1434)
The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck (1434)s

  • Location: National Gallery, London, UK
  • Dimensions: 32 x 23.6 in (82 x 60 cm) This intricate Northern Renaissance painting is rich with symbolism and detail, depicting a merchant and his wife in a domestic setting filled with nuanced iconography.

9. Portrait of Dora Maar by Pablo Picasso (1937)
Portrait of Dora Maar by Pablo Picasso (1937)

  • Location: Musée Picasso, Paris, France
  • Dimensions: 28 3/4 x 23 5/8 in (73 x 60 cm) Picasso’s cubist representation of his lover, Dora Maar, showcases his unique style of fragmentation and abstract composition, revealing the complexity of Maar's personality.

10. Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David (1801)
Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David (1801)

  • Location: Château de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison, France
  • Dimensions: 102 x 87 in (260 x 221 cm) This grandiose portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte on horseback symbolizes leadership and power, though ironically, Napoleon crossed the Alps on a mule.

11. The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals (1624)
The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals (1624)

  • Location: Wallace Collection, London, UK
  • Dimensions: 33.3 x 26.8 in (84.5 x 68 cm) Hals’ portrait exudes the joy and exuberance of the Dutch Golden Age, capturing the cavalier’s laughter and splendid attire in exquisite detail.

12. Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh (1890)
Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh (1890)

  • Location: Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
  • Dimensions: 25.5 x 21 in (64.8 x 53.3 cm) This poignant portrait reflects van Gogh’s emotional state and the compassionate nature of Dr. Gachet, capturing the depth of human emotion and empathy.

Learn more About Naturalist Gallery of Contemporary Art.

Each of these masterpieces offers a unique insight into the time, culture, and personal circumstances surrounding its creation. They invite viewers to delve into the rich tapestry of human expression and experience, reminding us of the enduring power of portraiture in art history.

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1 comment

Magnificent

Leo Jablonski

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