Impression, Sunrise

Few great pieces of culture from history were ever received calmly, or praised in their time.

Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise is one such example of a beloved work of famous art that took time to gain appreciation. 

The Birth of Impressionism 

Monet painted Impression, Sunrise from his hotel room overlooking the French port of Le Havre in 1873. It is a hazy depiction of the early morning water, shadowy boats and their passengers are seen only as silhouettes and reflections. 

Further into the background, the vague outline of industrial buildings is visible but the palette of blue, gray, and green that Monet uses throughout most of the painting makes it difficult to discern a horizon (something that only became more common in his work). 

The sole source of brightness in the piece is the sun, which burns a vibrant orange against the mostly cool, and almost neutral backdrop. The sun is likewise reflected in the water, which makes it feel somewhat like the focal point of the piece. 

The year after he painted this piece of art, Monet hung it in the First Impressionist Exhibit. At that point, however, Impressionists weren’t calling themselves by that name, and Impressionism had yet to take shape as a movement. 

It was this painting—Impression, Sunrise—that led to the movement’s title. Critics opposed Monet’s sketch-like brush strokes, and felt that the piece simply looked unfinished. One article deemed the entire show the Exhibition of Impressionists, and the name stuck from there on out. 

Today, the painting has overcome its tumultuous beginnings and is one of Monet’s most loved works, despite not being all that typical of is overall style since the colors are somewhat subdued and he created a relatively accurate landscape account rather than simply an impression. 

Impression, Sunrise can be seen at Musee Marmottan-Monet in France. 

Consistent Fixations

Monet is best known for his prolific depictions of Water Lilies. He painted hundreds of lilies during his career, and there are hints to the fact that he might eventually become obsessed with such a subject in Impression, Sunrise.

The unifying element in Monet’s Water Lilies works is their sense of disorientation. In them, he is only painting the water, the lilies, and the reflections in the water. Early shades of that style can be observed in Impression, Sunrise, as much of the work is taken up by the water’s reflection, and the horizon is difficult to make out at all. 

A Movement of Rebellion

After the title Impressionism was coined, the group of artists that belonged to it made no secret about their intention to let go of conventional norms. This subversive attitude kept them from receiving critical acclaim for quite some time. 

Impressionists resented the idea that paintings shouldn’t look like paintings, in the sense that painters were expected to hide their brush strokes as much as possible and make realistic accounts of their subjects. Instead, Impressionists embraced brush strokes, vivid coloring, unusual use of light, and disorienting spatial representation. 

Along with Monet, some other important Impressionists were Manet, Renoir, and Degas to name a few. Each of these artists had their own distinct style, but shared the sense of frustration with artistic convention. Though they were something of a counterculture in their own time, Impressionists are now understood ass trailblazers who paved the way for creativity and innovation in the art world. 

Impression, Sunrise may not have earned critical acclaim when it was unveiled, but it gave a name to a movement and eventually won the hearts of millions.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

A battered ship in the darkness, waves looming all around, a crowd of men fearing for their lives:

it’s not just a famous biblical scene, it’s also the one set in Rembrandt’s famous artwork The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Calm in The Storm

The full title of this work is actually Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, but it has been shortened for all intents and purposes. Rembrandt van Rijn painted this piece in 1633, and it remained his only piece of art containing a maritime scene. 

This painting prominently features a sailboat, tumbling around in the open water, surrounded by crashing waves. Inside the boat, Jesus Christ sits calmly as his disciples appear rattled by the storm around them. Various disciples clamber around for something to hold onto, and one retches off the side of the boat; in the back of the boat, several of them appear to be imploring Christ for something.

Among the disciples, Rembrandt also painted himself, looking directly at the viewer with his hand on his head. This is certainly Rembrandt, as it is identical to a small self portrait that he had painted around the same time. 

Amidst the darkness and turbulence, Christ’s expression appears serene and unbothered, glowing slightly. The clouds appear to have parted slightly to the left of the boat, as light streams in past the sail, but behind them is a menacing gray sky. 

This painting could be seen until 1990 at The Gardner Museum, but no more. In that year, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee was stolen along with a number of other paintings by men dressed as police officers. It has never been recovered, and so remains one of the largest and most successful art heists in history. 

Famous Passage

Rembrandt’s inspiration for this piece is fairly self-evident to anyone who is familiar with the Bible. In the New Testament, in the Book of Matthew, the Bible lays out exactly this scene. Christ and his disciples have boarded a ship, and they come upon a storm that pelts them with waves. 

During this commotion, Christ has fallen asleep. The disciples wake him, and ask him to save them as they fear they will perish. Christ famously states, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” before he exerts his force on the winds and the sea, resulting in great calm. 

Rembrandt’s painting, of course, depicts the moments just before Christ quiets the turbulent waves. The wild brush strokes present in this piece are a departure from Rembrandt’s normally collected and precise style, a testament to the passion that went into creating this work. 

Detail and Drama

Rembrandt was an important figure in the Baroque Period. This time in art was defined by elaborate scenes, opulent design, extreme detail, and an overarching sense of drama in every work. A cursory glance at any of Rembrandt’s work, but particularly The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, demonstrates how fully he meets these standards. 

Artists like Carvaggio and Rubens were also masters of the Baroque style, incorporating a great deal of detail and movement into their works. This style extended beyond painting, though. Sculpture and architecture we also important vestiges of the Baroque period, similar in their grandeur and opulence to the art of the time. Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee gave life to one of the Bible’s most beloved passages; with luck, perhaps it will someday be recovered for posterity to behold.

The Ninth Wave

It’s any sea farer’s worst nightmare: a mounting series of waves, each more destructive than the last, until the one that finally does the ship in.

That large and devastating wave is referred to in legend as the “Ninth Wave,” and Ivan Aivazovsky’s painting by the same name depicts the aftermath of such an event. 

Watery Terror

Aivazovsky completed The Ninth Wave in 1850, at which point he was already considered one of the world’s most accomplished Marinist painters, and probably the single most accomplished of his sort in Russia. 

The Ninth Wave depicts the ravaged aftermath of a terrible shipwreck, where survivors cling to life surrounded by turbulent water. At the bottom of the painting, just left of center, several of the wrecked ship’s crew appear to have climbed atop the mast as a last ditch effort for life. They are soaked and desperate. 

Rough, greenish waves can be seen all around the remaining crew, and the horizon of the water blends into the sky to add a sense of confusion and hopelessness. However, before you assume that this crew has no hope for survival, you must turn your attention to the sky itself.

Peeking out from around thick cloud cover, the sun heralds a new day with better chances for survival than could have been expected in the night. The painting elicits a sense of desperation and horror, but tempers that sting with the feeling of hope. 

The Ninth Wave also contains more subtle Christian undertones, as the men are clinging to a cross-like structure and are bound to encounter yet another Ninth Wave in only a matter of moments. Still, they are afforded the luxury of sunlight to help give them strength to weather the storm. 

Today, the painting can be viewed at The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. 

For the Love of the Sea

Aivazovsky focused primarily on the sea as his muse. He created prolific work with this subject—around 6,000 paintings to be exact. No doubt fueled by his love for the ocean was his interest in creating a painting that depicted one of its worst phenomena. 

Not all of Aivazovsky’s paintings featured sailors in dangerous positions; in fact, not all of his paintings featured humans at all, but perhaps that is where the special poignancy of The Ninth Wave lies. It helps convey the enormity of the sea, and how comparatively inconsequential man is compared with nature’s vast power. 

Russia and Romance

Aivazovsky painted in a style known as Russian Romanticism, which was a specific sect of the Romanticism movement. Artists who worked within Romanticism still valued subjective skill, but much less than in previous times. Instead, they believed that a glimpse into a subjective viewpoint could be just as valuable as a wholly accurate rendering of a scene. 

In terms of subject, Romanticism varied by region, but did tend to lean heavily on questions about class, struggle, and justice. Painting nature was another common theme in Romanticism, as is evidenced by famous art such as The Ninth Wave

Alexei Venetsianov was another important figure in Russian Romanticism; he employed similarly dramatic and poignant techniques as Aivazovsky. The overarching theme within this style was the ability to see something, perceive it in a unique way, and convey that personal perception adeptly. Art is a fleeting cultural addition, but nature is constant. Combining the two as Aivazovsky did in The Ninth Wave creates a lasting institution with evergreen relevance.

The Tower of Babel

Wars have been fought, unions formed, and families parted all in the name of the Bible.

Given the severity of these possibilities, the fact that this scripture has also inspired many great works of art may seem of little consequence, but the Tower of Babel is an important piece of human history, catalogued for modern enjoyment. 

Truly Monumental

Peter Bruegel the Elder completed his most famous version of The Tower of Babel in 1563. He created three depictions of the same structure, the first of which was lost and the last of which now resides in a museum in Rotterdam. 

This, the largest of the three, can now be seen at the KunstHistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. 

The overwhelmingly central figure in this painting is a large, spiraling structure that dwarfs everything in its vicinity. The tower appears to be under construction in the painting, which is a central plot point in the story behind the work.  

In the foreground, a group of men (the leader of whom appears to be a very important figure) approach what appear to be workers. Even though they are substantially closer to the point of perspective than the building, the tower still looks massive compared with the figures. 

All around the tower, other buildings appear as mere pebbles compared to the boulder that is the Tower of Babel. On one side, what are apparently great ships appear to be about as tall as one level of the giant structure. 

Biblical Inspiration

Bruegel is not the only artist throughout history to have painted a version of the Tower of Babel, and that’s because it is a central figure in the Bible’s Book of Genesis. 

Evidently, the story attempts to explain why so many different languages exist on Earth. To do this, it describes a Babylonian attempt to build a tower that reached heaven. Displeased with this pursuit as a show of arrogance, God disrupted the building process by confusing the language of all the workers. 

This meant that the tower could never be completed, since no one could communicate well enough to execute building plans. After this point, people of different languages scattered around the globe and the Tower of Babel fell into disrepair as the ground zero site for this humbling event. 

Because the Roman Colosseum was similarly viewed as a show of excess, Bruegel’s depiction bears obvious similarities to the famed structure. 

Other artists also chose the Colosseum as a means of inspiration for their version of the Tower of Babel. In reality, the structure that actually inspired the biblical story was likely much smaller, and looked more like a ridged pyramid. If this temple was, indeed, the one that inspired the story in Genesis, then it was destroyed in 689 B.C. by an Assyrian king. 

Reacting to Renaissance

The Tower of Babel was painted in a style known as Mannerism, which came about in the aftermath of the Renaissance. Where Renaissance painters attempted to be hyper-realistic in aspects like proportion, Mannerists frequently exaggerated features. This tendency is evident in Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel, as it is unnaturally massive. 

It wasn’t just buildings that were depicted this way in Mannerism—the human form was frequently made to appear unnatural in some way, either too perfect or too flawed, such as in Madonna with the Long Neck.Bruegel’s The Tower of Babel will never fall out of reverie or the public eye so long as the Bible remains an important focal point across the world.

The Triumph of Galatea

Imagine being wealthy enough that you could afford to hire one of the greatest artists of all time to create a painting specifically for your home.

That was precisely the case when Agostino Chigi commissioned Raphael to create a painting for his Roman villa in 1511. 

Strong and Supple

Though Raphael had been commissioned to create the painting by Chigi, it is believed that the painter chose the subject matter as a reaction to a popular poem of the time called “Stanze per la Giostra.” 

The subject of the painting is actually based upon mythology, but Raphael chose to overlook certain aspects of the ancient stories in favor of glorifying the poem. In his painting, the central figure is a woman draped in red, standing atop a seashell. Her face is turned toward the sky, where two cupids are pointing arrows directly at her. 

All around her, commotion ensues in the water with at least seven other figures surrounding Galatea, the female figure in the center of the composition. Flesh and blue are the central colors in the palette for this famous artwork, with all of the bodies wearing little to no clothing and exposing their soft, round curves and muscles. 

The silver-gray water and the view of the sky behind them is hardly visible past the busy forefront of the painting. 

Today, The Triumph of Galatea is still viewable in the same villa for which it was designed, now known as Villa Farnesina in Rome, a vestige of Renaissance architecture and art as the walls are graced with many famous works. 

No Love Lost

The mythology upon which The Triumph of Galatea is based revolves around a love triangle involving a nymph named Galatea, a young man with whom she was in love, and a jealous cyclops who struck down the young man out of spite. This love triangle is, perhaps, depicted in the painting by the two cupids directing their arrows at Galatea’s head. 

Raphael chose to paint the moment of Galatea’s death, when she might be transported to live among divine beings as a sort of reward for bearing Earthly pain. This is why Galatea’s face, turned toward the Heavens, appears serene despite the havoc going on around her. 

The fact that Galatea is standing upon a seashell seems a nod to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, in which the Roman goddess of love is also standing on a seashell as she is shepherded to land after being born. 

One of the Greats

This oil painting and the others like it that Raphael completed were part of the Italian Renaissance, a period that valued realism and produced some of the most iconic works of art in history. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (a masterpiece also painted directly into a building) were both completed during this same period. 

Artworks of this time are marked by extreme attention to detail, careful labor with light and shadows, and an interest in conveying the human form. It was also a period where artists seemed acutely aware of the fact that every part of the painting, even the background, could convey a central theme. More than 500 years have passed since Raphael completed his famous painting The Triumph of Galatea, but the painting still earns as much (or more) admiration from viewers as ever before.

Napoleon Crossing The Alps

Most everyone has heard of Napoleon Bonaparte, but fewer have likely heard of Jacques-Louis David.

A French painter who specialized in cataloging history with his brush, David immortalized Napoleon on more than one occasion, but most recognizably in his piece Napoleon Crossing The Alps. 

Victory in Hindsight

Jacques-Louis David had first attempted to paint Napoleon in 1797 following the Treaty of Campoformio, but abandoned that project before it was finished; the unfinished piece now hangs in the Louvre. 

Sometime in the first few years of the 19th century, David completed a new portrait of Napoleon meant to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Marengo. Napoleon had boldly led troops through Great St. Bernard Pass in the Alps in order to surprise Austrian troops. 

The painting prominently features a cool, calm, and collected vision of Napoleon on the back of a rearing horse. Napoleon has one hand pointed toward the sky, the other gripped around his horse’s reins, and is draped in a flowing cape. Napoleon, his garments, and his horse are the only sources of color in the painting, so they pop out vividly against the bleak backdrop of wintry mountains. 

David had been commissioned to create the portrait, but was also a great admirer of Napoleon, and had established a reputation for creating stunning depictions of historically significant events. These two facts in combination created especially favorable conditions for David’s painting of this particular work. 

Napoleon so loved the portrait that he asked David for more. Not just additional paintings of other victories, but replicas of that exact famous art work; David went on to make four replicas of the painting with minor differences like the color of Napoleon’s cape and horse. Today, the original painting can be seen at Chateau de Malmaison in France. 

Grand Gesture

In the height of Napoleon’s rise to great power, King Charles IV of Spain commissioned the original portrait as a gesture of his belief in Napoleon’s military and leadership prowess. Because of this, the original painting remained in Madrid with King Charles once it was completed (which is why Napoleon had to ask David to create more).

Though Napoleon’s troops really did cross the treacherous pass at his behest, he wasn’t exactly involved the way that the painting would have you believe. Napoleon did join his troops, but several days after they had made the initial trek, and on a mule rather than a horse as they are more skilled in navigating mountainous terrain. 

In all likelihood, David’s ability to accurately freeze this moment in time was clouded by his admiration for Napoleon—something that eventually got him exiled from France. 

Depicting Grandeur

Jacques-Louis David was a principal player in an artistic movement called Neoclassicism. This style was a reaction to excessive tendencies of Baroque and Rococo. Instead, this style returned to older sensibilities, and rested on the laurels of past artistic masters. 

Other Neoclassical artists, like Antonio Canova, worked in sculpture rather than paint, but they all employed the same revivalist sensibilities. This style is immediately evident in Napoleon Crossing The Alps, as David seems fixated with accurately detailing every wrinkle in Napoleon’s clothing, and less so with adding excessive color or putting similar effort into the background. 

Some works of art can lead to an artist’s undoing; David’s eventual exile was due in large part to his support for Napoleon, but his famous art contributions cannot be overlooked or erased from history simply because Napoleon fell from power.

The Creation of Adam

It is a question man has asked since the dawn of time: who are we, and how did we come to be?

Michelangelo’s famous art contributions in the Sistine Chapel prominently feature a depiction that answers this question in The Creation of Adam.

In a Sea of Beauty

Michelangelo will live forever through his work painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel more than 500 years ago, and perhaps the most iconic of all of the panels painted therein is The Creation of Adam. This work of art depicts a scene from the Bible’s Genesis when God first created man. 

In this vivid yet soft oil painting, God appears to be floating away from Earth, and in turn, floating away from Adam. On the right side of the composition, God is outstretched in a convex position, surrounded by an assortment of angelic figures who appear to be ascending with him. 

On the left, Adam appears concave, a sort of reaction to God’s presence. Perhaps Michelangelo intended for Adam to appear too weak to have yet gained a strong posture, or perhaps the figures were meant as symbols. Since Adam (and all of man) is supposed to have been created in God’s image, the body language may be a nod to the fact that man has always reacted subordinately to God’s presence. 

The center of the panel is quite empty save for the hands of God and Adam, nearly touching with their index fingers, but not quite. This is thought to represent the moment at which God actually gave life to Adam, who would in turn give life to the entire human race. The additional figures next to God are sometimes assigned some importance, with speculation about whether or not one of them may represent Eve or the Virgin Mary. 

Michelangelo had mostly worked as a sculptor before taking on the Sistine Chapel. He began painting this iconic work in 1508, and it is still viewable today in Vatican City. 

An Origin Story

Like all of the panels on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, The Creation of Adam comes from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. While the story itself is fairly standard and doesn’t allow for much wiggle room, Michelangelo took some new creative licenses with his depiction. 

Up until that point, plenty of creation stories had been painted, but all of them featured God as a fairly unattainable cosmic entity. This was consistent with the sort of awe and reverie that had always been applied to religious works. Instead, Michelangelo chose to focus on the fact that Adam was supposedly created in the divine image, and painted God looking strikingly human. 

From his wrinkled face to his flowing white hair and casual garments, this version of God may feel so endearing simply because it is more approachable than conventional depictions. 

History’s Greats

Michelangelo belonged to an era in art history called the Italian Renaissance, due largely to him and two other prolific painters. Along with Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Raphael were central to the Renaissance. 

During this period, realism was the preferred method, and these masters depicted serene and impactful moments through their storied works. Whether the subject matter was religious, scientific, or personal, the art created during the Italian Renaissance is some of history’s best known. Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam may not answer every burning question about the origin of man, but it certainly gives life to one of the most popular theories ever put forth.

Mona Lisa

With a coy smile that both invites and warns away, the Mona Lisa has been an object of fascination and reverie for centuries—and she’s only getting more famous as the years pass. 

A Masterpiece and Mystery

The Mona Lisa, also known as La Giocanda or La Joconde, was painted by Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci, and is perhaps the most famous work of art in the world. 

Da Vinci began work on this piece in the early 1500s; at first glance, it is simply a sitting portrait of a woman brushed in oil paint into a plank of poplar wood. It is not until you more closely inspect the technique of the painting, and compare it with what had previously been done in the art world, that the true genius of the Mona Lisa emerges. 

The subject of the painting sits at a ¾ turn, a departure from the conventional profile that had previously been standard in Italiant portraiture. Her face and clothing demonstrate Da Vinci’s masterful use of delicate shading with oils, an adept technique that was only so successful here due to the fact that Da Vinci employed great attention to detail. 

What’s more, the soft, supple lines of the sitter in the Mona Lisa echo the same texture in the landscape behind her. This is a more subtle communication of Da Vinci’s belief that man and nature share an unbreakable link that may be observed, if one looks close enough. 

Da Vinci spent more than a decade perfecting the Mona Lisa; in fact, it was still in his studio when he died in 1519. The painting was immediately lauded as a masterpiece in the art world, and hung in the personal residences of King Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Today, the Mona Lisa can be viewed at the Louvre in Paris; it is owned by the French Government, and is considered a priceless piece of culture belonging to the entire public rather than one entity or person. The painting sits behind bulletproof glass in front of a large viewing area where crowds regularly gather. 

In spite of its fame, the Mona Lisa has inspired generations of controversy, as the mystery of the woman in the painting swirls. 

Storied Subject

Perhaps as aloof and enigmatic as her is expression is the identity of the Mona Lisa’s subject. There has been plenty of time to speculate about whose face has become one of the most recognizable in the world, since the painting has now enjoyed 400 years of fame. 

The most likely candidate is a Florentine merchant’s wife named Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo. She was first proposed as the subject in 1550 by an art historian; personal notes to Da Vinci about creating “Lisa’s portrait” have confirmed this theory for many, but others remain unconvinced. 

Perhaps one of the most counterintuitive parts of this particular theory is that Da Vinci was still in possession of the portrait when he died, and if this Florentine merchant had commissioned a portrait of his wife from Da Vinci, it would stand to reason that it should have been given to the family. 

Other proposed sitters are Da Vinci’s mother (a hypothesis put forth largely by none other than Sigmund Freud), Princess Isabella of Naples, a Spanish noblewoman, or an unnamed courtesan. None of these theories have taken on much steam.

Historians in 2015 attempted to recover the remains of Lisa Gherardini; they believed that with a skull and DNA, they could create a rendering of what Gherardini might have looked like, and compare that with the face in the Mona Lisa. Though they did recover bone fragments, they never found a skull, so renderings of the real life subject depend entirely upon the painting; these adaptations provide interesting insight into the subject’s appearance, but do little in the way of uncovering her identity. 

Art in Rebirth

Da Vinci lived and worked in a period of art history known as the Italian Renaissance, and so this is the movement to which the Mona Lisa belongs. This movement didn’t just affect art, but extended to science as well, and essentially translated to an entirely renewed interest in cultural and technological innovation.

For this reason, Da Vinci was regarded as the embodiment of a Renaissance Man—not only was he a prodigiously skilled artist, but he also had a distinctly keen mind for many different branches of science. 

Works from this period took convention in stride as they portrayed the human figure in great detail, played with light and shadow in unusual ways, and conveyed a perceived connection between subjects and their surroundings. While Da Vinci was certainly an important Renaissance figure, he was joined by two other great masters of the time: Michelangelo and Raphael. 

It was around the same time that Da Vinci was working on the Mona Lisa that Michelangelo completed another of history’s most beloved works: the Sistine Chapel. 

Though the Mona Lisa was widely regarded as a triumph by those in-the-know, it did not reach international stardom until 1911, when it was stolen from the Louvre. The sensational story gripped the world, and the entire globe waited with bated breath to see what fate would befall the masterpiece. 

The scandal of the theft was exacerbated by the fact that French authorities suspected another major artist of having carried out the deed. Pablo Picasso was scrutinized due to his association with a murky figure who had previously stolen items from the Louvre, but both men were eventually cleared. 

Vincenzo Perugia, who had been employed at the Louvre, was the actual thief. He had simply removed the painting from its frame and smuggled it out under his garment. The Mona Lisa was rediscovered two years later when Perugia attempted to sell it to a Florentine art dealer, who alerted the authorities once it was in his possession. 

Perugia served only a brief sentence for carrying out the heist. Though the period of time that the Mona Lisa spent away from the Louvre was wrought with anxiety, it served to propel the painting to its current state of fame. The world may never know for sure who sat as the subject of the Mona Lisa, or what exactly her small smile is meant to convey, but she will remain an important vestige of history and a famous artwork to be enjoyed by the public eye for centuries to come.

The Scream

They say a picture paints a thousand words, and The Scream by Edvard Munch is proof positive that this is true.

Anxious, flighty, and wracked with discomfort, this painting embodies more of Munch’s inner character than an entire autobiography could. 

Pain and Panic

The Scream is aptly named, as this famous artwork inspires a great deal of discomfort when examined at any length. In the forefront, a central, ghost-like figure seems to be moving past in a dark cloak with hands clasped on either side of his head. His face betrays a look of horror, mouth hanging ajar and eyes round as saucers. 

In the background, a warm sky contrasts with an amorphous section of black and blue to create an unsettling sense of unrest that extends beyond the main figure into the rest of the world. 

Edvard Munch, an otherwise little-known Norweigan artist, painted The Scream in 1893. He painted two versions, as well as pastel-on-board recreations and lithographs. 

The National Museum in Oslo houses The Scream, along with other important pieces of Munch’s work, much of which remained holed up in his home until after his death. 

Inner Turmoil

The Scream is largely thought to be a reflection upon Munch’s own internal struggles. His mother and sister both died when he was very young, and his father subsequently became quite distant, leaving Munch feeling isolated and uneasy. 

Munch gave accounts of the moment that actually inspired him to paint The Scream several times. Apparently, Munch was walking with several friends in Oslo when he suddenly felt ill and agitated. He noticed that the sky appeared quite red, and felt as if he could hear the entire world let out a collective scream. 

In this sense, the figure depicted in the painting isn’t Munch himself at all (as is sometimes assumed), but instead a depiction of man collectively. This means that, yes, Munch is the subject of The Scream, but so are you, and so is everyone else. Perhaps this is the reason for the painting’s great success: it speaks to a collective sense of anxiety and turmoil experienced by every modern human. 

Indeed, kinship to The Scream is still felt today, as modern graphic artists have even adapted the painting into 3D, computer generated works. This is certainly a nod to the lasting significance of this work. 

Munch was interested in depicting such universal concerns with his work, and often regarded his paintings as if they were his children. Munch’s style was born out of the freedom that the Impressionists had forged, allowing for bolder colors and more abstract subject matter. 

Lasting Influence

Munch and his contemporaries were known as Expressionists, a sort of riff off of the slightly earlier Impressionist movement which began in France. These artists, and Munch in particular, employed graphic depictions, vivid colors, and open-ended symbolism to speak to universal truths. 

Like many great artists, Munch was battling his own demons, and they often expressed themselves in his work. Other important Expressionist artists were names like Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee, who also used color liberally and weren’t all that hung up on literal depictions. 

The Scream was painted more than 120 years ago, but it’s never been more relevant. The same afflictions that the painting represents and evokes plague global cultures the world around us today as much as they did in 1893. Munch certainly succeeded in plucking out the root of a universal truth with this iconic work.

Water Lilies (Claude Monet)

A work of art may be deemed truly successful when it enchants viewers with its very essence as much as with its subject.

Few works in history have achieved this aim quite so thoroughly as Claude Monet’s Water Lilies

Prolific Pursuit

Monet’s Water Lilies aren’t a single work of art but are instead a series of more than 250 paintings. Monet’s debut collection of Water Lilies was first displayed in 1900, and his fixation with the subject did not cease until he died in 1926. 

All of these paintings are oil on canvas, and in their entirety betray the heart of the age’s artistic style: free, subjective, and sometimes bordering on abstract. The subject for Monet’s Water Lilies was actually his own property in Giverny, where he planted and manipulated the lilies to create the greatest possible source of inspiration. 

Though some of these works feature additional pops of color, they are largely imbued with coolness: blues, greens, and even purple dominate the palettes. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Monet’s Water Lilies is the fact that, although they are technically landscape portraits, they do not feature a horizon line at all. 

Instead, Monet focused all of his attention on the water’s surface. Sometimes willows will creep their way into the foreground, other times the only acknowledgment of anything outside the water is through reflection. This method of perspective resulted in paintings that are spatially disorienting in a very beautiful way. 

Thanks to Monet’s prolific painting of this subject, different pieces of this 250 piece collection can be viewed all over the world. From the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris to the Art Institute of Chicago and the Toledo Museum of Art, Monet’s Water Lilies are bound to be within reach of most of the world’s citizens. 

Perhaps one of the most famous (and permanent) installations of Monet’s Water Lilies can be found at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. It was here that Monet was commissioned to create a permanent Water Lilies installation that would take up an entire room—and that it does. The oval-shaped room’s walls are covered with Water Lilies, a striking section of vivid color against an otherwise neutral backdrop. 

Labor of Love

Monet described his fixation with the water lilies as an obsession, and it proved to be a deep love rather than a fleeting infatuation. The earliest shreds of this obsession can, perhaps, be traced back to 1883 when he first rented his house in Giverny. It was here that his eventual love for the lilies would blossom, though that took some time and effort to come to fruition.

When Monet purchased the house 10 years later in 1893, he also bought an adjacent meadow which contained a pond that was fed by a branch of the Seine. He hired a team of gardeners to transform the area into a Japanese Garden, as he had imported a number of plants from that region. 

Giverny residents tried to fight Monet’s installation of these plants in the water, as they bathed in the river and believed that his efforts would contaminate it. Obviously, these complaints did not deter Monet’s efforts, which were carried out as he had planned. 

Though he began by painting the land around his Giverny home, he turned his attention to the water in the late 1890s. He had installed a bridge over the pond, and so he had a perfect vantage point from which to view the aquatic vegetation. Monet was fixated on the water lilies, with waxing and waning fervor, from this point on until his death. 

He briefly stepped away from the Water Lilies series following the death of his wife in 1910, but eventually returned to creating these depictions. 

In his later years, Monet developed a vision impairment that transformed his Water Lilies from recognizable to entirely abstract, as they became swaths of color more than distinguishable portraits. Monet was acutely aware of the fact that he could no longer see (and therefore, no longer paint) in the same way that he had for most of his life.  All the same, he continued painting the lilies up until his death in December of 1926. 

Important Impressions

Monet is one of the most famous artists belonging to a group called the Impressionists, which originated in Paris in the 1880s. These artists were frustrated with the conventions that required them to work within a box in order to achieve notoriety, and so rebelled by employing greater freedom. As the name suggests, Impressionism aimed to convey the impression of a scene rather than every detail of its reality. 

The great Impressionists achieved this aim by using looser brush strokes and brighter color, as well as expanding the horizons of what constituted a good subject. Rather than focusing on things that were innately lovely and nearly perfect, Impressionists embraced the world’s imperfections, striving to find beauty therein. 

Along with Monet, other important Impressionists were Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas. Like Monet, Degas became fixated on painting one subject prolifically. He frequently depicted ballerinas dressed in full garb. 

Directly related to the Impressionist movement was something called Post-Impressionism (though they did happen concurrently for a period). One of history’s most beloved artists, Vincent Van Gogh worked in Post-Impressionism, so it could be deduced that Monet and the other Impressionists not only contributed their own work to the world but also helped to shape future great works as well. Monet saw in the vision of his pond’s water lilies a magnificent natural beauty that stole his heart and became his muse. What makes his Water Lilies truly great is the fact that they offer a specific perspective: a peek inside the mind of an artistic genius. Everyone sees the world through their own lens, and Monet gave the beauty of this fact credence through his famous artwork.