Europe's 10 most famous artworks

Europe's 10 most famous artworks and where to see them

Consider yourself a bit of an art lover? Europe boasts some of the best artworks in spectacular museums and art galleries. From Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to the Night Watch by Rembrandt, this great continent has more masterpieces than you can shake a paintbrush at.
1) Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci – Louvre Museum, Paris
The Mona Lisa is the A-list celebrity of the art world. Painted in the 16th century, it’s believed to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco Giocondo, and her mysterious smile has captivated art lovers for centuries. The Louvre is the world’s biggest museum – with 7,500 paintings, you might need a strong café au lait before you go! 

You might not know … Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in 1911, and wasn't found for over two years; she is now safely behind bulletproof glass. 

2) Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent Van Gogh – Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
One of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, this artwork was completed shortly before he died. Stormy skies, black birds and an empty road receding into the distance paint a bleak picture. Vincent shot himself in the chest on the very field he depicted on 29 July, 1890.

You might not know … The months prior to Van Gogh’s death were, while sad, some of the most creative and productive days of his life. 

3) Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli – Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Florence’s best art gallery houses much-adored European art, including this 15th century Renaissance masterpiece. It depicts Venus, goddess of love, standing demure and naked on a seashell, being blown to shore by Zephyr, god of the west wind. 

You might not know … Venus’s nudity was groundbreaking and controversial; thanks to Christian-inspired art, nudity was rarely portrayed.

4) Guernica by Pablo Picasso – Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid
One of Picasso’s most revered artworks was a reaction to the bombing of Guernica, a Spanish city, in April 1937. The massacre was carried out by Nazis and fascists, but ordered by nationalist Spaniards. The painting threw a spotlight on the horror of war and made a powerful political statement.

You might not know … While Picasso was living in Nazi-occupied Paris during WWII, a German officer allegedly asked him, upon seeing a photo of Guernica in his apartment, "Did you do that?" Picasso replied, "No, you did."

5) Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet – Musée Marmottan-Monet, Paris
Painted by Monet from a hotel window in Le Havre, northern France, this masterpiece sparked the Impressionist movement. Depicting a misty maritime scene, with hazy silhouettes of boats and sunlight, the colour palette and expressive brushwork have captivated art lovers for centuries – and made it one of his most famous paintings. 

You might not know… Early Impressionists were mocked by critics, as they didn’t follow the rules of academic painting.  

6) The Kiss by Gustav Klimt – Belvedere Palace, Vienna
Klimt’s most famous artwork depicts life-size figures wrapped in gold, embracing. Inspired by Byzantine mosaics, the gilding makes the masterpiece glimmer. The Belvedere, which was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy, is now home to one of Austria’s best art galleries and elegant gardens. 

You might not know … Klimt often explored the theme of love in his work. In his The Tree of Life mosaic, an embracing couple bears striking resemblance to the one in The Kiss.

7) Bal du moulin de la Galette by Pierre-August Renoir – Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Another one of Impressionism's most celebrated artworks is Renoir’s portrayal of Parisians on a carefree sunny Sunday in the 1870s. The painting highlights Renoir’s talent for capturing dappled sunlight and a moving crowd with his bright brushstrokes. 

You might not know … Renoir painted a smaller version of the picture with the same title, believed to be in a private collection in Switzerland.

8) The Night Watch by Rembrandt van Rijn – Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
One of the most famous paintings from Dutch Golden Age, art lovers revere this military group portrait for its colossal size, tenebrism (dramatic use of light and shadow), and perception of motion. It depicts men in Amsterdam who, if the need arose, could be called upon to defend the city or put down riots.

You might not know … The Night Watch is not a night scene at all; it takes place during the day – but when it was named at the end of the 18th century, more than 150 years after it was painted, it had been darkened due to layers of dirt. 

9) The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo – Sistine Chapel, Rome
Located in one of the smallest countries in Europe, the Vatican, this Michelangelo painting is the most famous fresco on the vault of the Sistine Chapel. It’s based on the biblical story of creation which depicts God breathing life into Adam, the first man created, in the Book of Genesis.

You might not know … Michelangelo initially didn’t accept the commission of his painting as he saw himself as a sculptor, not a painter. 

10) The Scream by Edvard Munch –  National Gallery and Munch Museum, Oslo 
The anguished face in Munch’s 1893 painting has become one of the most iconic images of European art, seen as symbolising the anxiety of the human condition. Munch was walking at sunset when he suddenly saw the clouds turn “blood red”; he sensed an “infinite scream passing through nature”.  

You might not know… It inspired Wes Craven’s horror movie Scream.  
You can see masterpieces aplenty on our 8 day Sensations of Lyon and Provence & Paris river cruise
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