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.