In an old barn that Jackson Pollock transformed into a studio, the artist laid his massive canvas on the wooden plank floor. He hurled white, yellow, blue, and black paint with sticks and knives at it. As he finished, he pressed his cigarette butt into the canvas, dripping with colour.
This is how Pollock produced “Number 1,” a painting that helped define Abstract Expressionism.
“He made everyone aware of the potential of letting paint have its own way and the overall impact of a painting without any configuration,” Thomas Crow, Associate Provost for the Arts at New York University, told Business Insider.
These are the must-see paintings from Pollock and other painters who transformed the world of painting, from the prehistoric era to today.
This painting reflects Pollock's signature style: a wild explosion of colour.
This early 20th century work abandoned perspective in favour of a 2D, abstract portrait. 'Picasso made everybody aware of a new cubist logic of painting, a certain kind of distortions that brought all the painting's elements forward,' Crow says.
'It was a drastic and radical simplification of traditional painting,' Crow says.
Warhol led the 1960s pop art movement with his silkscreen renditions of the deceased actress.
This comic-inspired, '60s painting is one of Lichtenstein's most memorable works.
Lichtenstein, like Warhol, shared a fascination with remixing images in mass media. The painter remixed a scene from the 1960 book, 'Donald Duck Lost and Found' to create the 'Look Mickey.'
Richard Hamilton's 'Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?' at the Kunsthalle Tübingen museum in Germany.
Hamilton asked just that with his 1956 collage.
Olympia's confrontational expression caused controversy when this painting was first exhibited in France in 1863. This was a watershed moment for art, Crow says.
Frida Kahlo's 'Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird' at Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas.
Hieronymus Bosch's 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' at the Museo Nacional Del Prado in Madrid, Spain.
Bosch's 16th century triptych is a a fantastical depiction of paradise, hell, and everywhere in between.
The further you move away from this 1977 lithograph, the more it looks like Lincoln.
Michaelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling within the vatican between 1508 and 1512. Today, five million people flock to see the Renaissance painter's frescoed masterpiece every year.
A socially-conscious work, Haring painted this iconic mural in a Harlem playground during the '80s cocaine epidemic.
103 artists created these underground murals as part of a collective show in 2010. If you want to see them, you will need to trespass the abandoned subway stations.
Up close, this 1888 painting appears as merely a bunch of dots. But from afar, the complementary colours fuse to bring the circus sideshow into view.
Over LeWitt career from 1969 to 2007, he created more than 100 minimalist murals like this one.
Although surprisingly small in person, there's a reason why it's the 'the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.' It is believed that da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa between 1503 and 1506, but may have continued working on it as late as 1517.
Van Gogh created three 1889 paintings like this one, a view of a wheat field and the Les Alpilles mountains in southern France.
His imaginative landscape painting of a sweeping sky and quiet village dazzles. 'This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,' van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in 1889.
Renoir often included his close friends and his future wife in paintings like this one, created in the late 19th century.
Dreamlike images of men and farm animals overlap to create a whimsical work from 1911.
A lone couple with a spooky wintry forest backdrop in this late 19th century painting.
A visual representation of the rhythm of African workers in segregated 1940s South Africa.
The 16th century painting takes up the largest space in The Louvre's collection. It depicts a miracle story from the New Testament.
A work from 1931, it portrays a grim skull paired with a delicate O'Keeffe flower.
Archaeologists only recently discovered these prehistoric paintings made by unknown artists 30,000 years ago.
Diego Rivera's 'Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central' in the historic center of Mexico City.
In this 1947 mural, Rivera depicted famous people and events in the history of Mexico, passing through the Mexico City center. Things they dream of float behind them.
Rivera painted this 1955 portrait of Pablo Neruda's mistress for their home in Santiago. The poet's profile peeps out of her medusa-like hair.
Botticelli used a special, expensive powder to create this 15th century work, making the colours even brighter in person.
These staircases from Escher's 1953 lithograph defy gravity.
Katsushika Hokusai's 'The Great Wave off Kanagawa' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
This is actually one of 36 paintings in Hokusai's 1930s series, which all picture Mount Fuji, the highest peak in Japan. The snow-capped mountain, dwarfed by the wave, sits just right of center.
Bester combined scrap metal, photographs, and oil paint to create this politically-charged 1993 collage during South Africa's apartheid.
In a dispute between two warring cities, Rome and Alba Longa, the masculine warrior chooses to die for his country in this 18th century work. 'This painting had an undeniable impact, especially on other artists,' Crow says.
Credited as the first 18th century modernist painting, it shows the radical journalist and French Revolution leader, Jean-Paul Marat, lying murdered in his bath. 'It took the stuff of politics as its material, and did not mute it,' art historian T.J. Clark writes.
This painting serves an autobiographical work by Munch toward the end of the 19th century. That shrieking, hairless figure beneath a fiery sunset is a glimpse into Munch's inner conflict, anxiety, and despair.
This 1958 work includes three canvases, with each approximately 25% smaller than the one below it. Instead of using traditional oil paints, Johns used hot, coloured wax to make the images of the American flag.
He has said that many of his works incorporates imagery derived from 'things the mind already knows,' like flags, targets, stenciled numbers, and US maps.
JR, a French artist known only by his initials, painted this mural on buildings on a hill in Morro da Providencia, Rio de Janeiro. This work features the eyes of real women, which appear to watch over the city, from photographs he took.
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