5 of the most influential artworks of all time
Not many of us can afford to bring a genuine piece of fine art into your home, but you can have the next best thing thanks to the art printing services we offer here at Soho Frames. These are ideal for fine art printing and apply to a range of paper types. However, if you don’t consider yourself an art aficionado, you might find it hard to decide what you’d like to see on your walls.
We’ve listed five of the most influential paintings of all time to help inspire you. Even if you’re not sold on one of these particular artworks, we’ve purposely included a range of periods and styles so you can use the features you like as a starting point for future art discoveries.
1. Liberty Leading the People, Eugène Delacroix
Liberty Leading the People commemorates the July Revolution in France, 1830, which toppled King Charles X (not the French Revolution of 1789 as many wrongly believe). It depicts the figure of Liberty as a woman of the people, holding the French flag in one hand and a musket in the other as she leads people over a heap of dead bodies. This Liberty may be the best-known early depiction of ‘Marianne’ – a symbol of the French Republic displayed in many places in France, as well as on the official government logo, coins, and stamps.
Delacroix’s painting has become a universal symbol of liberty and democracy, influencing plenty of classical musicians and potentially inspiring the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. In more recent times, it featured on the album cover of Coldplay’s Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends.
2. The Scream, Edvard Munch
The British Museum describes The Scream as ‘art’s most haunting and iconic face. A universal symbol of anxiety’. This autobiographical image was inspired by a walk Munch took with two friends. ‘Suddenly the sky turned blood red,’ he wrote, ‘[…]my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature’.
The Scream had a huge influence on the 20th century Expressionism movement, where artists would distort images for emotional effect. Elsewhere in popular culture, the screaming figure inspired the Home Alone movie poster and the Ghostface mask in Scream. It was also used as the basis of a Doctor Who villain called ‘The Silence’, and is even the source of the ‘face screaming in fear’ emoji.
3. Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer
Girl with a Pearl Earring is a ‘tronie’ – which is a Dutch term for a type of character as opposed to a portrait of a real person. Most of Vermeer’s subjects were women conducting daily chores, but the woman in this artwork looks at the viewer and looks like she is about to speak. The radiance in her face and the glimmer of the pearl earring emphasises Vermeer’s mastery of light.
The painting has been the subject of poems by poets including Yann Lovelock and W. S. Di Piero, and the 1998 novel of the same name by Tracy Chevalier (which was also adapted into a film starring Scarlett Johansson). Other artists have also paid homage to the piece. For example, Banksy’s The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum replaces the pearl earring with an alarm box in Bristol Harbour, while Awol Erizku’s Girl with a Bamboo Earring features a black woman instead.
4. The Kiss, Gustav Klimt
Klimt was part of the Symbolism movement, which sought to represent truths through metaphor rather than realism. The Kiss was created during the artist’s ‘Golden Period’, when he developed a new technique of combining gold leaf with oils and bronze paint, and is widely considered to be one of the most recognised pieces of art in history.
To this day, The Kiss is one of the most famous symbols of love and intimacy. Artsy notes that the painting ‘sparked a sexual revolution in art’ as a sharp move away from ‘old-guard arts institutions, inspired by Catholic righteousness and Victorian repression, [that] sought to limit creative expression and sexual freedom.’ The Kiss also became a recurring motif in pop culture (characters in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture comment on the fact that freshmen students all seem to have posters and other items displaying the painting).
5. Nighthawks, Edward Hopper
Nighthawks portrays four people in a downtown diner late at night and is one of the most recognisable paintings in American art. The streets around the diner are deserted and Hopper said ‘unconsciously, probably, [he] was painting the loneliness of a large city’. The painting may be named after the nocturnal nighthawk bird which is considered a symbol of loneliness and alienation, but notes by Hopper’s wife Josephine also refer to the beak-shaped nose of one of the men in the painting.
The work has been homaged extensively over the years. It inspired artists such as Ralph Goings who painted several diners, and Gottfried Helnwein who replaced the four people in the piece with Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elvis Presley. Writers including Joyce Carol Oates have created literature based on the figures in Nighthawks, while it also influenced films including Blade Runner, and has been parodied in TV shows from CSI to The Simpsons.