The Best Artists of All Time – Painters and Sculptors

While collecting over 15 lists of “Best Artists of All Time” (this is a list of visual artists, focusing on painters and sculptors – architecture and photography have separate lists), I kept thinking about how many great works of art have no artist’s name attached to them:  the cave paintings of Chauvet, Lascaux and Altamira; the Venus figurines; the seals of Mohenjo-Daro; the mosaic tiles of Ravenna, the Dome of the Rock, Damascus and Isfahan; the medieval icons of St. Catherine’s Monastery; the relief sculptures of Nineveh, Persepolis, Borobudur, Amaravati, Chartres and Amiens; the giant sculptures of the Olmecs and Rapa Nui; the Nkisi Nkondi nail figures; the Fang Ngil masks; the Codex Borgia; the Book of Kells; the Wilton Diptych, and so many more.  When did artists emerge from the shadows of anonymity, and why?  Or should we ask instead why so many artists failed to preserve their names for posterity?  From what I can gather, the idea of the artist as a creative individual who deserved recognition for his or her creations arose in different cultures at different times.  The Ancient Greeks celebrated the genius of Phidias, Praxiteles, Lysippos and Euphronios and the Chinese and Japanese cultures celebrated artists by name as early as the 7th Century CE, but in many other cultures and in many other times, the artist was considered a craftsman who made art the way a chairmaker made a chair or a blacksmith made a horseshoe.  When 7th Century Chinese court official Yan Liben became known for his paintings instead of his bureaucratic achievements, he felt humiliated, since painters belonged to a lower rank with tradesman such as tailors and carpenters.  Most art historians trace the modern-day acknowledgement of artists in Western Culture to the Renaissance and the rise of humanism, a philosophy that put the individual at the center of the universe, as the driving force of civilization.  While some medieval artists had signed their work, it was probably Proto-Renaissance master Giotto di Bondone who was the first in a long line of Western artists, continuing to this day, who took steps to ensure that their names are associated with their art.  Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, first published in 1550, rejected once and for all the notion that artists were anonymous craftsmen and instead celebrated their individual geniuses, at the same time raising the artist above ordinary citizens and introducing the concept of artist as celebrity.  Once an artwork was connected with the name of an artist, certain consequences ensued:  first, works by the better (or better known) artists increased in value; second, lesser known artists seeking to cash in on the work of more famous artists began creating cheap imitations and outright forgeries; and third, the famous artists, in response, sought to protect their work by various means – first, merely by signing them – but this impulse eventually led to today’s copyright laws.  The reason Michelangelo signed the Pietà was that someone was going around telling people that the sculpture had been carved by his rival, Cristoforo Solari.  Anonymity was one thing, but the greatest artist of all time (see list below) could not bear the idea that another, lesser artist, was getting the credit for his masterpiece.

15 “Best Artists” Lists
Michelangelo (1475-1564) Italian painter, sculptor, architect

14 Lists
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Italian painter, sculptor, architect

11
Rembrandt (1606-69) Dutch painter, printmaker
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) Spanish painter, sculptor

10
Raphael (1483-1520) Italian painter
Titian (1488-1576) Italian painter
Claude Monet (1840-1926) French painter

8
Jan Vermeer (1632-1675) Dutch painter
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) French painter

7
Jan van Eyck (1390-1441) Flemish painter
Caravaggio (1573-1610) Italian painter
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) Flemish painter
Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) Spanish painter
J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) British painter
Edgar Degas (1834-1917) French painter
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) French painter
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) Dutch painter

6
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1528-1569) Flemish painter
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) French painter
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) French painter
Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) Italian painter, sculptor
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Swiss sculptor, painter
Salvador Dalí
(1904-1989) Spanish painter, sculptor

5
Giotto (c. 1267-1337) Italian painter
Donatello (1386-1466) Italian sculptor
El Greco (1541-1614) Greek-Spanish painter
Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) French painter
Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) Spanish painter, printmaker
John Constable (1776-1837) British painter
Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) French painter
Édouard Manet (1832-1883) French painter
Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) French sculptor
James McNeill Whistler (1856-1921) American painter
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) Russian painter
Edward Hopper (1882-1967) American painter
René Magritte (1898–1967) Belgian painter
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) American painter

4
Rogier van der Weyden (1399-1464) Flemish painter
Tomasso Masaccio (1401-1428) Italian painter
Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) Italian painter
Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) Dutch painter
Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) German painter, printmaker
Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) German painter, printmaker
Frans Hals (c.1580-1666) Flemish-Dutch painter
Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) French painter
William Blake (1757-1827) British painter, printmaker
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) Japanese painter, printmaker
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) French painter
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) French painter
Georges Seurat (1859-1891) French painter
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) Austrian painter
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) American painter, printmaker

3
Yan Liben (c. 600-673) Chinese painter
Cimabue (c.1240-1302) Italian painter
Duccio (c.1255/60–1318/19) Italian painter
Huang Gongwang (1269-1354) Chinese painter
Simone Martini (1284-1344) Italian painter
Fra Angelico (1387-1455) Italian painter
Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) Italian painter
Piero della Francesca (1416-1492) Italian painter
Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) Italian painter
Tintoretto (1518-1594) Italian painter
Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) French painter
William Hogarth (1697-1764) British painter, printmaker
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) French painter
Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) French painter
Kitagawa Utamaro (c. 1753-1806) Japanese painter, printmaker
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) French painter, printmaker
Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) Japanese painter, printmaker
Winslow Homer (1836-1910) American painter
Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) French painter
Piet Mondrian (1872 -1944) Dutch painter
Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) Russian painter
Paul Klee (1879-1940) Swiss painter
Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) French painter, sculptor
Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986) American painter
Egon Schiele (1890-1918) Austrian painter
Joan Miró (1893-1983) Spanish painter
Henry Moore (1898-1986) British sculptor
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) Mexican painter

2
Fan Kuan (fl. 990-1020) Chinese painter
Guo Xi (c. 1020-1090) Chinese painter
Ma Yuan (c. 1160-1225) Chinese painter
Jokei (fl. 1190-1200) Japanese sculptor
Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290-1348) Italian painter
Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430-1516) Italian painter
Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528) German painter
Giorgione (1478-1510) Italian painter
Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) Italian painter
Georges de la Tour (1593-1652) French painter
Artemisia Gentileschi (1597-1654) Italian painter
Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664) Spanish painter
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) Italian sculptor, painter, architect
François Boucher (1703-1770) French painter
Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) British painter
Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) German painter
Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) French painter
John Everett Millais (1829-1896) British painter
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) Danish-French painter
Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) French painter
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) American painter
Edvard Munch (1863-1944) Norwegian painter, printmaker
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) French painter
Constantin Brâncusi (1876-1957) Romanian-French sculptor
Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) Italian painter, sculptor
Georges Braque (1882-1963) French painter, sculptor, printmaker
Marc Chagall (1887-1985) Belarussian-French painter
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) Italian-Greek painter
Alexander Calder (1898-1976) American sculptor
Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) Russian-American sculptor
Mark Rothko (1903-1970) Russian-American painter
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) Dutch-American painter, sculptor
Arshille Gorky (1904-1948) Armenian-American painter
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1977) American painter
David Hockney (1937- ) British painter
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) American painter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s