43 paintings you need to see before you die

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.

Jackson Pollock's 'Number 1, 1949' at MOCA in Los Angeles.

Detlef Schobert

This painting reflects Pollock's signature style: a wild explosion of colour.

Pablo Picasso's 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

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.

Picasso's 'Guernica' at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain.

One of the most moving anti-war paintings in history, this is a response to the 1937 bombing of Guernica, a village in northern Spain.

Picasso's 'Portrait of Sylvette David' at the Art Institute of Chicago.

'It was a drastic and radical simplification of traditional painting,' Crow says.

Andy Warhol's 'Marilyn Monroe' at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

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Warhol led the 1960s pop art movement with his silkscreen renditions of the deceased actress.

Roy Lichtenstein's 'Whaam!' at Tate Modern in London.

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This comic-inspired, '60s painting is one of Lichtenstein's most memorable works.

Lichtenstein's 'Look Mickey' at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

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.'

Oswaldo Guayasamín's 'Ternura' collection at Museo Fundación Guayasamín in Quito, Ecuador.

Guayasamín's paintings capture the political oppression, poverty, and class division he experienced in Latin America from the late 1980s to 2000.

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.

Edouard Manet's 'Olympia' at Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France.

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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.

Kahlo depicted the pain she endured from her divorce and paralyzing streetcar accident in this 1940 portrait, one of 55 she produced in her lifetime.

Hieronymus Bosch's 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' at the Museo Nacional Del Prado in Madrid, Spain.

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Bosch's 16th century triptych is a a fantastical depiction of paradise, hell, and everywhere in between.

Salvador Dalí's 'Lincoln in Dalivision' at the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The further you move away from this 1977 lithograph, the more it looks like Lincoln.

Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel Ceiling in Vatican City, Italy.

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.

Keith Haring's 'Crack is Wack' in Harlem River Park, New York City.

A socially-conscious work, Haring painted this iconic mural in a Harlem playground during the '80s cocaine epidemic.

'The Underbelly Project' in New York City.

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.

Gustav Klimt's 'The Kiss' at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere Museum in Vienna, Austria.

A tender portrait of an embrace, this 1908 painting is a shimmery example of Klimt's 'golden period.'

Georges Seurat's 'La Parade du Cirque' at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

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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.

Sol LeWitt's 'A Wall Drawing Retrospective' at MASS MOCA in North Adams, Massachusetts.


Over LeWitt career from 1969 to 2007, he created more than 100 minimalist murals like this one.

Leonardo da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa' at Musée du Louvre in Paris, France.

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.

Vincent van Gogh's 'Cypresses' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

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Van Gogh created three 1889 paintings like this one, a view of a wheat field and the Les Alpilles mountains in southern France.

Van Gogh's Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

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.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir's 'Le Dejeuner des Canotiers' at The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.

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Renoir often included his close friends and his future wife in paintings like this one, created in the late 19th century.

Marc Chagall's 'I and the Village' at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.


Dreamlike images of men and farm animals overlap to create a whimsical work from 1911.

Henri-Julien-Félix Rousseau's 'Carnival Evening' at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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A lone couple with a spooky wintry forest backdrop in this late 19th century painting.

Gerard Sekoto's 'Song of the Pick' at the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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A visual representation of the rhythm of African workers in segregated 1940s South Africa.

Paolo Veronese's 'Nozze di Cana' at The Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

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The 16th century painting takes up the largest space in The Louvre's collection. It depicts a miracle story from the New Testament.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 'Babel Tower' at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria.

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The first imagining of a vertical city, more than four centuries ago.

Edward Hopper's 'Nighthawks' at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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You can also visit the diner that inspired Hopper in 1942, on the corner of New York City's Greenwich and Christopher Streets.

Georgia O'Keeffe's 'Cow's Skull with Calico Rose' at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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A work from 1931, it portrays a grim skull paired with a delicate O'Keeffe flower.

The Chauvet Cave paintings near the commune of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, France.


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.

Diego Rivera's 'Matilde' in Pablo Neruda's 'La Chascona' home in Santiago, Chile.

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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.

Ibrahim El-Salahi's 'The Inevitable' at Tate Modern in London.

El-Salahi sketched 'The Inevitable' during his wrongful imprisonment in the early 1940s, he said in an interview with Tate Modern. He buried the sketches in the sand whenever a guard passed.

Post by Art News Africa .

Alessandro Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus' at the Uffizi Gallery in Firenze, Italy.

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Botticelli used a special, expensive powder to create this 15th century work, making the colours even brighter in person.

M.C. Escher's 'Relativity' at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

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.

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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.

Willie Bester's 'Kakebeen' at The Contemporary African Art Collection in Geneva, Switzerland.

Bester combined scrap metal, photographs, and oil paint to create this politically-charged 1993 collage during South Africa's apartheid.

Jacques-Louis David's 'Oath of the Horatii' at The Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

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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.

Jacques-Louis David's 'The Death of Marat' at the Royal Museums of the Fine Arts of Belgium.

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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.

Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' at the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway.

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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.

Jasper Johns' Three Flags at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

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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's Women Are Heroes in Rio de Janeiro.


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.

It took nearly two years to complete, from 2008 to 2009, and is part of a larger series of murals in cities around the world. The goal, according to JR, was to pay homage to the women who live there.

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