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15 Facts About Famous Art

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1. Mona Lisa

While some claim that Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous painting is a self-portrait of the artist himself in drag, research has concluded it is likely a portrait of a woman named Lisa Gherardini, a member of a prominent Florentine family and wife of a wealthy silk merchant. Leonardo’s father allegedly knew Gherardini’s father very well, and the painting was possibly commissioned by him.

2.  The Last Supper

Da Vinci’s other most famous work—which can be seen in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy—originally included Jesus’ feet. But in 1652, while installing a doorway in the refectory where the painting is on view, builders cut into the bottom-center of the mural, lopping off Jesus’ feet.

3. The Starry Night

The small town depicted in Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night is Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in the south of France. Van Gogh painted the work while he was a patient at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy. Presently, the hospital has a wing named after the painter.

4. Michelangelo’s David

The marble slab that was eventually turned into the sculpture of David by Michelangelo in 1504 was cut 43 years earlier for an artist named Agostino di Duccio, who planned to turn it into a statue of Hercules. Di Duccio abandoned his sculpture, which was originally to be installed in a Florentine cathedral, and the marble was unused for 10 years until another sculptor, named Antonio Rossellino, decided to work with it. Rossellino also abandoned his work because he found marble too difficult to sculpt, and eventually Michelangelo began work on his sculpture in 1501.

5. The Creation of Adam

Michelangelo painted the fresco ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—including the most famous panel called “The Creation of Adam,” which depicts God giving life to the first man—entirely standing up. The artist invented a series of scaffolds specially designed to attach to the chapel walls with brackets so he and his assistants could be close enough to the ceiling to reach above their heads to work and paint.

6. The Scream

There are technically five separate versions of Expressionist artist Edvard Munch’s most famous work, The Scream. The first two, from 1893 and created with tempera and crayon on cardboard, are located in the National Gallery in Oslo and the Munch Museum, respectively. A privately owned third version created in 1895 with pastels recently sold for nearly $120 million at auction. Yet another version from 1895 is a black and white lithograph. A final version, done in 1910 by Munch due to the popularity of the previous incarnations, is also held in the Munch Museum, and it made headlines in recent years for being stolen in 2004 and recovered in 2006.

7. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Picasso’s abstract depiction of five Barcelona prostitutes was deemed immoral when it debuted at the artist’s studio in 1907. Picasso created over 100 preliminary sketches and studies before setting his vision down on canvas, and in previous incarnations the figure at the far left was a man.

8. The Thinker

Though there are now dozens of casts of Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker around the world, it had a much smaller origin. Rodin originally created a 70cm version in 1880 as the central component to a bigger sculptural work called “The Gates of Hell.” Inspired by Dante’s Inferno, the piece—first called The Poet—was conceived as a representation of Dante himself. The re-dubbed sculpture was exhibited on its own in 1888, then was enlarged to the depiction we know it today in 1904.

9.  Girl with a Pearl Earring

Much like the Mona Lisa, the subject of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring has been highly contested—but for the most likely candidate, Vermeer didn’t have to look far. The model for his painting is thought to be his daughter Maria.

10. American Gothic

Another famous painting with interesting models is Grant Wood’s American Gothic, which can be seen on view in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. To depict—for better or worse—the ideals of rural America, Wood wanted to use his mother, Hattie, as a model for his painting. Wood determined that standing for so long would be far too exhausting for his mother, so he had his sister wear his mother’s apron and pin while posing. For the male subject in the painting, Wood used his 62-year-old dentist.

11. Nighthawks

Another painting in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago is Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Hopper allegedly based the painting on a diner that was located in New York City’s Greenwich Village in an area where Greenwich Street meets 11th Street and 7th Avenue called Mulry Square. But he actually based the painting on an all-night coffee stand. “I simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger,” he said. “Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”

12. The Persistence of Memory

Though the notoriously plucky artist Salvador Dali sought to never explain his own work, he has said that the idea for his iconic melting clocks came from chunks of Camembert cheese he observed melting in the sun—although he may have been joking.

13. Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)

Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock is known for his many drip paintings, all of which he created by placing the canvases horizontally on the floor of his backyard studio and carefully dripping layers of paint onto them. For Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), Pollock created the work using non-traditional items like sticks, trowels, and knives.

14. Broadway Boogie Woogie

Dutch artist Piet Mondrian moved to New York City in 1940, and would base his famous work Broadway Boogie Woogie on the iconic grid layout of the city’s streets.

15. Campbell’s Soup Cans

Rebecca O'Connell

Andy Warhol’s 1962 Pop Art depiction of a Campbell’s Soup can actually comes in a set of 32 silkscreened canvases, each representing the 32 separate soup varieties that the company sold at the time. Warhol never gave instructions on how to display them, so the Museum of Modern Art arranged them chronologically in the order in which the soups were introduced by the Campbell's.

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Louvre Abu Dhabi
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Art
The Louvre Abu Dhabi Just Opened the World's First Radio-Guided Highway Art Gallery
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Louvre Abu Dhabi

One way to plan an epic art road trip is to drive from museum to museum, but in the United Arab Emirates, you can take in masterpieces without leaving your car. As Artforum reports, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has lined a stretch of highway with billboards displaying works by Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, and Piet Mondrian.

The 10 works on display along the E/11 Sheikh Zayed road connecting Dubai to Abu Dhabi are recreations of pieces at or on loan to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which developed the project in partnership with three radio stations. Dubbed the Highway Gallery, it was "created to reinforce art's role in elevating everyday life into something beautiful and memorable," the museum website reads.

Like in a traditional gallery, the 30-foot-by-23-foot displays along the road are accompanied by a guided audio tour. Drivers can learn the title, artist, technique, and other details about each piece by tuning into a participating local radio station (Radio 1 FM, Classic FM, or Emarat FM). There they will hear descriptions of Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, Van Gogh’s Self Portrait, 1887, and Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow, and Black, as well as the Islamic sculpture Mari-Cha Lion and the sarcophagus of Egyptian princess Henuttawy.

The Highway Gallery will run through mid-March. After that, art lovers can drive their cars to the Louvre Abu Dhabi to see the items in person.

[h/t Artforum]

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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