Famous Paintings and the Stories Behind Them

From time to time, the words that tell the story about a painting can be more captivating than the actual portrait itself. Below you can find an overview of some famous paintings, their creators, and the story or meaning behind them.

1. The Starry Night

The Starry Night

This painting of Van Gogh consists of an enchanting color palette which makes up the beautiful swirls. The Starry Night painting is truly captivating, so does the story behind it.

The inspiration for the painting came from an actual view of a mental institution where Van Gogh was a patient. The scenery was a view from an east-facing window of his asylum bedroom in Saint-Paul-de-Mausole just before sunrise. This was painted on the winter of June 1889 while he was in the institution.

The brightest star in the painting is Venus which was said to be visible in Provence during dawn in the spring of 1889. The moon painted in the picture was also visible through the iron-barred window and is a waning gibbous moon. The only element in the painting that was not visible from his bedroom window was the village. The village was said to have come from a sketch drawn from a hillside above the village of Saint-Rémy de-Provence.

Where to Buy

Art = Discovering Infinite Connections in Art History from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Hardcover – Illustrated, July 1, 2020

Great Artists with Tim Marlow

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings Hardcover – Illustrated, September 13, 2016


2. The Scream

The Scream

The Scream was a painting of Edvard Munch and has attracted people and even scared some. The story of how this painting was created is pretty interesting. The inspiration for this painting came one day while Munch was walking through the city streets along with his friends. He then stopped and looked at the sky as it was setting and had the color of blood red. He also heard faint creaking noise coming from under the city. Due to this setting, he felt that there were infinite screams coming from nature.

After that incident, he then went on to make the picture, painting the clouds blood red. Later on, Edvard Munch described the personal anguish behind the painting. He said that for several years he was almost mad. His painting, The Scream, portrays how he was stretched to the limit and that he later gave up hope of ever being able to love again.

3. The Persistence of Memory

The Persistence of Memory

This painting was made by Salvador Dali and is one of his most recognizable and famous works of art. It is also deeply personal just like his other paintings.

It was said that he made the painting in the midst of a hallucination. It was made when Dali had perfected his paranoid-critical method. This method of painting is when an artist will attempt to enter a meditative state of self-induced psychotic hallucinations. In this state, Dali would make what he called a “hand-painted dream photographs.”

4. Mona Lisa

Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting entitled Mona Lisa holds the Guinness World Record for having the highest known insurance valuation in history of $100 million in 1962. The title of the painting came from the word Mona which is an Italian polite form of address that is similar to Madam and from the name Lisa.

The subject of this famous painting is believed to be Lisa Del Giocondo who is a wife of a wealthy silk merchant. She and her husband moved to a different home where they had their second child. To celebrate the move to their new house and the birth of their second child, the husband named Francesco del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo to paint the portrait of his wife.

5. Whistler’s Mother

Whistler’s Mother

Dubbed as the Victorian Mona Lisa, Whistler’s Mother is the most-notable work of the American born, British-based painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Its original name was Arrangement in Grey and Black – Portrait of the Painter’s Mother. This name followed Whistler’s theme of naming his art pieces like musical compositions. However, the public gave it a nickname of Whistler’s Mother because the portrait was, in fact, the painter’s mother. It was said that her mother became the replacement model when the original model could not make the appointment.

6. The Night Watch

The Night Watch

The creator of this painting, Rembrandt, is considered to be one of the best artists in the world. Creating many masterpieces which remained a true wonder to other artists. The Night Watch is one of his paintings. Completed in the year 1642, the shown characters are Captain Frans Banning Cocq and company. The creator, Rembrandt was expensively paid to create this painting.

7. The Guernica

The Guernica

The style of the creator of this painting has created many wonders on the canvas. Guernica was called the best work of art by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. In 1937, the German and Italian warplanes bombed the area of Guernica. The bombing took many innocent lives and gave the Government an idea and asked Picasso to create a painting about the events in Guernica.

8. Portrait of Dr. Gachet

Portrait of Dr. Gatchet

This painting is another one of Van Gogh’s famous works. It’s the very last famous portrait that Van Gogh painted in 1890, before taking his own life. The person in the painting is Dr. Paul Gachet, who tended to Van Gogh in the final months of his life. It is said that they both had a rowdy but friendly relationship. He was interested with his doctor that he painted a portrait of him.

9. Arnolfini Portrait

Arnolfini Portrait

Dutch painter, Jan van Eyck, is considered to be the inventor of oil painting. Oil painting is a technique he used often to create even the tiniest details. This portrait shows a couple that is marked by a Latin sign that translates to “Jan van Eyck was here 1434”. The back wall has a mirror in it in the painting that shows the whole scene and two entirely different entities.

10. American Gothic

American Gothic

This is a modern painting by an American artist named Grant Wood. The painting depicts a farmer with his daughter by the side, both standing together in the entrance of the house.
The way he found inspiration to make this painting was that another artist took him on a drive around Iowa so they can find inspiration for their next work. And while they were driving around, he saw a small house that’s built with a Gothic style. Grant drew the house and after getting the owner’s consent, he thought about creating a painting with people whom he deemed perfect for a Gothic style house like that. The painting depicts two characters which are his sister and his dentist.

11. The Last Supper

The Last Supper

This is another one of Da Vinci’s work, which is made famous by the characters and artwork quality. This painting portrays the strained and surprised disciples of Jesus. This was when Jesus predicted that one of the disciples will betray him. The painting was believed to have been finished in the year 1498. This was made to be a part of the renovation for the old church and monastery. The painting was made at the request of the Duke of Milan.

Every painting has a story behind it, and every stroke can be used to create words hidden on the canvas. Other than the painting, the story or meaning behind the portrait can be a lot more interesting than you think.