25 Best European Artists (and Where to See Their Work)
From Monet to Manet, Renoir to Rembrandt, Europe's legendary artists are so familiar to us that we can immediately identify their iconic works.
Many of these artists' masterworks can be found in their hometowns, but there are also pieces showcased at institutions across the world. Here, we list the all-time greats of the European art world — and share where you can find the best thing they ever made.
1. Vincent van Gogh
The Dutch painter gave the world nearly 2,100 pieces of work, with oil paintings in the post-Impressionist style the highlight of his last two years of life. The artist is as famous for his illness as he is for his art, notoriously cutting off his own ear.
Must-See van Gogh Painting: "Wheatfield with Crows"
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam touts the largest collection of Van Gogh's work, which is fitting considering the artist was born in the Netherlands. A standout among many striking paintings here is "Wheatfield with Crows," which the artist made to convey "sadness, extreme loneliness," but also what was "healthy and fortifying about the countryside."
2. Claude Monet
Claude Monet perfected the groundbreaking Impressionism style and is considered its founder in France. The style wasn't originally a hit, but by the mid-1900s, Monet was renowned and acclaimed for his innovative pieces.
Must-See Monet Painting: "Impression, Sunrise"
The Musée Marmottan-Monet, Paris, is a private museum with the largest collection of the artist's work. Scope out the idyllic "Impression, Sunrise," and prepare to be captivated.
3. Pablo Picasso
Most people, when asked, could recognize a piece created by Pablo Picasso, a game-changer in art with a truly singular vision. The Spaniard's work crosses into Surrealism, Expressionism and Cubism, and encompasses both paintings and sculptures.
As if that weren't enough, the prolific artist was also a poet, playwright and set designer.
Must-See Picasso Painting: "Science and Charity"
The Musée Picasso in Paris showcases over 400 of the artist's pieces. For a glimpse into Picasso's earlier, much different style of painting, head to the Musee Picasso in Barcelona, home to the refined "Science and Charity," painted when the artist was just 15 years old.
4. Pierre Auguste Renoir
A close friend and counterpart to Monet, Pierre "Auguste" Renoir was also a renowned French Impressionist.
Must-See Renoir Painting: "Bal du moulin de la Galette"
The largest collection of Renoir's work can actually be found in the U.S., at Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation. That foundation's collector, Albert C. Barnes, has purchased nearly 200 of the artist's pieces.
To see Renoir in Europe, the obvious choice is Musee Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France. Or head to Musee d'Orsay in Paris to check out one of the masterpieces of Impressionism, "Bal du moulin de la Galette," depicting a charmed Sunday afternoon in Paree.
5. Leonardo da Vinci
Considered one of the world's greatest artists, engineers and scientists, da Vinci's drawings, sculptures and paintings date back to the 1400s and are found in museums across the world. The Italian led the Renaissance, helping to take Europe into its modern age.
Must-See da Vinci Painting: "Mona Lisa"
"Mona Lisa," at the Louvre in Paris, is iconic for a reason. For fewer crowds (lots of people want to see this painting!), go to Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan, a library containing "Codex Atlanticus," 1,600 of da Vinci's drawings and writings.
6. Michelangelo Buonarroti
Michelangelo Buonarrotti is known simply by his first name, and is easily one of the most well-known artists in history. Also Italian, Michelangelo's Renaissance work included paintings, sculptures and architecture, the most notable being his work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which took the artist four years to complete.
Must-See Michelangelo Painting: Sistine Chapel
It's an obvious choice, but the right one: Visit the Sistine Chapel in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City to see that amazing ceiling up close.
7. Raphael Sanzio da Urbino
Another Italian painter recognized simply by his first name is Raphael, who was also an architect during the High Renaissance. As with Michelangelo, much of Raphael's work focuses on religious themes. During his 16th-century tenure, the pope specifically requested the artist to work on his palace.
Must-See Raphael Painting: "The Marriage of the Virgin"
Like Michelangelo, Raphael's work can be found in the Vatican's palace, with frescoes covering the walls. To see paintings like his religious masterwork "The Marriage of the Virgin," depicting the wedding of Mary and Joseph, head to Pinacoteca di Brera, a public gallery in Milan, Italy.
8. Rembrandt van Rijn
One of the most famous painters in the world hails from The Netherlands. Rembrandt, the one-named artist, is considered a master painter, who was also a printmaker in the Dutch Golden Age and the Baroque period.
Must-See Rembrandt Painting: "The Night Watch"
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam showcases what is arguably Rembrandt's most recognizable work, "The Night Watch." The piece is visually impressive and massive, at 11.91 feet by 14.34 feet. A photo really can't come close to what it's like to see it in person.
9. George Seurat
Famous for creating Pointillism, which uses small dots of color to create detailed scenes, George Seurat is a Post-Impressionist artist from Paris. He was so boundary-pushing, he even used crayons in some of his late-1800s pieces.
Must-See Seurat Painting: "Bathers at Asnieres"
The Met in New York has the largest collection of Seurat's works, but the "Ferris Bueller" movie made "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" even more famous. It's found at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Over in Europe, you can find one of the artist's other iconic paintings, "Bathers at Asnieres," hung at the National Gallery in London.
10. Johannes Vermeer
Born in the Netherlands in the 1600s, Vermeer brought Dutch artwork into the forefront, highlighting middle-class life during the Baroque age. Vermeer is considered a master painter, although he passed away early at the age of 43.
Must-See Vermeer Painting: "Girl with a Pearl Earring"
Visit Mauritshuis, a museum dedicated to the Dutch Golden Age painters, in The Hague, Netherlands. It's home to not only Vermeer's most notable work, but one of the most famous paintings by any artist ever: the enigmatic "Girl with a Pearl Earring."
11. Gustave Klimt
The Austrian painter who incorporated gold leaf into his paintings is considered a part of the Vienna Secession movement. Klimt created erotic paintings, drawings and murals with eye-popping, glittering gold touches.
Must-See Klimt Painting: "The Kiss"
Formerly a palace, the Belvedere in Vienna houses 24 of Klimt's paintings, including his most well-known work (and indeed one of the most famous paintings of all time), "The Kiss."
12. Édouard Manet
Many confuse the names of Claude Monet and Édouard Manet, both Impressionist artists living in Paris, but Manet pre-dated Monet. The artist is revered from transitioning from Realism into his more famous realm of work, quoted as saying: "There are not lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another."
Must-See Manet Painting: "A Bar at the Folies-Bergère"
This depiction of a barmaid at the Folies Bergère cabaret club in Paris is a deserved legend in the art world. See it at the Courtauld Gallery in London.
13. Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall is considered an early Modernist, Surrealist, Cubist and Expressionist, among others. Born in Russia's Belarus, he is the one of the world's most famous Jewish artists.
Must-See Chagall Painting: "La Route de Cranberry Lake"
Chagall spent much of his life in southern France, and you'll find an entire museum dedicated to him in Nice at the Marc Chagall National Museum. All the pieces here showcase Chagall at his whimsical best, but the blue-tinged "La Route de Cranberry Lake" is particularly striking.
(The artist's most famous painting, "La Mariée," featuring a violing-playing goat floating through the sky, is in a private Japanese collection, alas.)
14. Salvador Dalí
Known for being a man as unique as his work, Spain's Dalí is said to have been influenced by the Renaissance painters, but his surreal work was completely his own. Responding to his unusual and often controversial paintings, he once said: "I don't do drugs. I am drugs."
Must-See Dalí Painting: "Soft Self-Portrait with Grilled Bacon"
The largest collection of Dalí's work is located in his hometown of Figueres, Spain, at the Dalí Theatre and Museum. One of the most important works on display is this wild "self-portrait" with a name to remember.
15. Francis Bacon
The Irish-born Francis Bacon was such a stereotypically volatile artist that he destroyed many of his works when he was unhappy with his output. Considered an Expressionist, Bacon's work crossed into Surrealism and Cubism during the same period his counterpart, Picasso, was receiving accolades. Bacon's work focused on people and figures in a more grotesque light.
Must-See Bacon Painting: "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion"
Bacon is known for his provocative, alarming work, and no piece is more bold than this painting inspired by Christian depictions of the death of Jesus. It was exhibited just after the first photos and film footage of Nazi concentration camps were released, and was meant to reflect on this horrifying period of history. You can find it on display at the Tate in London.
16. Sandro Botticelli
As one of Italy's Early Renaissance painters, Botticelli is one of the world's most famous artists. His works included religious and mythological characters, with an emphasis on beauty.
Must-See Botticelli Painting: "Primavera"
Botticelli lived in Florence and the Uffizi Gallery in the Tuscan city has a gallery dedicated to his work. "Primavera," a gorgeous depiction of nine figures from classic mythology, is particularly alluring.
17. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Not to be confused with the Sistine Chapel-painting Michelangelo, Caravaggio is known by his last name and was an Italian Renaissance and Baroque painter. While many painters during his time made their home in Florence, Caravaggio dwelled mostly in southern Italy, using light in his pieces to add drama to his often religious subjects.
Must-See Caravaggio Painting: "Boy with a Basket"
Galleria Borghese in Rome features seven paintings by Caravaggio, including this classic piece depicting the artist's friend and companion, Sicilian painter Mario Minniti.
Want to see more? Much of Caravaggio's work remains in arthouses across Rome.
18. Paul Cézanne
Following the popularity of Impressionism, artists in the Post Impressionist age took the work in a similar, yet distinctly 20th-century direction. Working in this vein, provincial painter Paul Cézanne became the "Father of Modern Art."
Must-See Cézanne Painting: "Still Life with Apples and Oranges"
"Still Life with Apples and Oranges" is deceptively simple, depicting a seemingly mundane subject to stunning effect. It can be found, alongside other Cézanne masterpieces, at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris.
If you want to see the artist's works in the United States, head to Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation, home to 67 works by Cézanne from across all of his periods.
19. Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas began his career as a Neoclassic artist, well admired for his paintings, drawings and sculptures. Degas loved the Impressionist movement, calling it Realist, and began painting in the same light, bringing credibility to the new art style.
Must-See Degas Painting: "Two Dancers on a Stage"
The largest collection of Degas work, amassed by a single collector, can actually be found in the U.S., at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In Europe, London's Courtauld Institute of Art is the place to go; it features the classic Degas work "Two Dancers on a Stage," inspired by time the artist spent backstage at the Opéra de Paris.
20. Eugène Delacroix
This French-born painter was a seminal figure of the French Romantic period, which followed the French Revolution, the subject of much of his work. His use of color is considered a major inspiration for the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements.
Must-See Delacroix Painting: "The Lion Hunt"
The artist's former apartment is now a Paris museum featuring his art, the Musée National Eugene Delacroix. This is a wonderful place to see his pieces, but if you want to see one of his most famous and memorable paintings, make your way to the National Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, to check out "The Lion Hunt."
21. Anthony Van Dyck
Born in Belgium, Anthony van Dyck's portraits were in such demand that he became England's court painter in the 17th century. Knighted by King Charles I, Sir Anthony painted from childhood until his death.
Must-See Van Dyck Painting: "Portrait of Cornelis van der Geest"
The National Gallery in London is home to much of Van Dyck's collection, including this piercing portrait of a prominent spice merchant.
22. Thomas Gainsborough
Acclaimed for his landscape paintings and portraits of royal and famous families, Thomas Gainsborough is an English painter from the 18th century. One of the most notable British artists, he painted King George III and Queen Charlotte.
Must-See Gainsborough Painting: "Lady in Blue"
London's National Gallery houses many of Gainsborough's paintings. But arguably his best piece, this evocative portrait of an unknown woman, can be found at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
23. Paul Gauguin
Another post-Impressionist French artist is Paul Gauguin, who is most known for his vibrant use of color, particularly in his Polynesian works. (In his later years, the artist lived in Tahiti.) Also a sculptor, engraver and ceramics artist, Gauguin's work spans Symbolism, Primitivism and Synthetism.
Must-See Gauguin Painting: "Tahitian Women on the Beach"
Much of Gauguin's work can be found, like so much else, at London's exemplary National Gallery. The Musee D'Orsay in Paris also houses some excellent examples of his art, including the vibrant painting "Tahitian Women on the Beach." (Before checking out this and other works, read up on the artist's history in Tahiti for important context.)
24. Wassily Kandinsky
The artwork of Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky is often likened to Picasso's. His focus? Abstract colors and forms. Kandinsky founded the Munich New Artist's Association that brought modern art to Germany, as well as the Blue Rider group of artists that later rejected the too-strict rules of the association.
Must-See Kandinsky Painting: "The Rider"
Lenbachhaus Gallery in Munich houses the largest collection of works by Kandinsky and other Blue Rider 19th-century artists. "The Rider" is one of many standout pieces on display.
25. Diego Velázquez
Another royal courtier, Diego Velázquez painted the portraits of Spain's King Philip IV in the 17th century — every king needed their own portrait painter! Considered an influential Baroque artist, Velázquez's work was part of the Spanish Golden Age.
Must-See Velázquez Painting: "Las Meninas"
Spain has kept its famous artist's pieces in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, as the works were for king and country. Here, "Las Meninas" (translation: "The Ladies in Waiting") is not to be missed. The painting is famous for sparking much debate about its intended meaning.