Every year, billions of dollars’ worth of art passes through international auction houses, while leading museums each hold tens of thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of artworks in their collections. But precious few ever achieve the fame required to truly be considered household names.
Based on those results, these are the world’s 10 most searched-for paintings:
1. ‘Mona Lisa’
If you had any doubts about the wild popularity of “Mona Lisa,” the crowds at the Louvre will convince you. Credit: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images
Estimated date: 1503 to 1519
Where to see it: Louvre Museum (Paris)
It should come as no surprise that the most famous painting in the world is that mysterious woman with the enigmatic smile. But that’s one of the few certainties about this work of art.
2. ‘The Last Supper’
Visitors take photos of “The Last Supper” (“Il Cenacolo or L’Ultima Cena”) at the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. Credit: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images
Estimated date: 1495 to 1498
Where to see it: Santa Maria delle Grazie (Milan, Italy)
Leonardo, the original “Renaissance Man,” is the only artist to appear on this list twice.
Painted in an era when religious imagery was still a dominant artistic theme, “The Last Supper” depicts the last time Jesus broke bread with his disciples before his crucifixion.
Did you know? The fresco has survived two wartime threats — Napoleon’s troops used the wall of the refectory on which the fresco was painted as target practice. It also was exposed to the air for several years when bombing during World War II destroyed the roof of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.
3. ‘The Starry Night’
Tourists look at “The Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh at Museum of Modern Art in New York. Credit: Victor Fraile Rodriguez/Corbis/Getty Images
Where to see it: Museum of Modern Art (New York City)
The comparatively abstract painting is the signature example of van Gogh’s innovative and bold use of thick brushstrokes. The painting’s striking blues and yellows and the dreamy, swirling atmosphere have intrigued art lovers for decades.
4. ‘The Scream’
“The Scream” by Edvard Munch is installed for a special exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Credit: The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images
Where to see it: National Museum (Oslo, Norway — opening in 2020) and Munch Museum (Oslo — through May 2020)
Much like the case of “Mona Lisa,” daring thefts (1994 and 2004) of the two painting versions of “The Scream” helped elevate the public’s awareness of the artworks. (Both were eventually found).
View of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain. Credit: Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Where to see it: Museo Reina Sofía (Madrid)
This is the most recent painting on this list, and it depicts the German aerial bombing of the town of Guernica in the Basque region during the Spanish Civil War.
The painting has that distinctive Picasso style, and its unflinching examination of the horrors of war made it an essential part of 20th century culture and history.
6. ‘The Kiss’
Visitors admire “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt at the Upper Belvedere in Vienna, Austria. Credit: Omar Marques/Anadolu Agency/Getty Imagesges
Estimated date: 1907 to 1908
Where to see it: Upper Belvedere museum (Vienna, Austria)
With No. 6, we move from a study in hate to a study in love with Gustav Klimt’s beloved “The Kiss.”
Did you know? While “The Kiss” isn’t for sale, other works by Klimt are bought and sold for huge sums. Oprah Winfrey offloaded the 1907 artwork “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” for $150 million in 2016 — for a cool $60 million profit.
7. ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’
A journalist takes a photo of Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” at the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, Netherlands. Credit: Michel Porro/Getty Images
Estimated date: 1665
Where to see it: Mauritshuis (The Hague, Netherlands)
The oil on canvas masterpiece is brilliant in its simplicity. The girl — wearing a blue and gold turban and an oversized pearl earring — is the entire focus with only a dark backdrop behind her.
8. ‘The Birth of Venus’
A journalist examines “The Birth of Venus” by Italian painter Sandro Botticelli during a press preview at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, in October 2016. Credit: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images
Estimated date: 1485
Where to see it: Le Gallerie Degli Uffizi (Florence, Italy)
Marrying a renewed interest in classic Greek culture with Early Renaissance style, Botticelli creates an unforgettable figure with the Goddess of Love emerging from a huge scallop shell.
9. ‘Las Meninas’
Diego Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” is seen at the Prado museum on November 19, 2013 in Madrid, Spain. Credit: Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Where to see it: Museo del Prado (Madrid)
Madrid is the only city in this roundup where you’ll find two of the most 10 famous paintings, the first being “Guernica” at No. 5 and “Las Maninas” here at No. 9.
The painting does double duty as a portrait. It serves as a group portrait of Spanish royalty, but it’s also a self-portrait of Velázquez himself at work (on the left).
10. ‘Creation of Adam’
On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at The Vatican, the “Creation of Adam” rounds out the top 10 most famous paintings list. Credit: VCG/Corbis/Getty Images
Date: 1508 to 1512
Where to see it: Sistine Chapel (Vatican City)
The most famous work by renowned artist Michelangelo covers a section of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling — you have to look up to view it. The scene depicts God and Adam with outstretched arms, their fingers nearly touching. It is one of the most replicated images in history.
Adam’s muscular form hints at Michelangelo’s other talent — his “David” is possibly the world’s most famous sculpture. You can see the towering marble statue at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence.
Five more paintings that came close
Here are five more famous paintings that came close to breaking into the top 10 list:
- “American Gothic” (Grant Wood, Art Institute of Chicago)
- “Water Lilies” series (Claude Monet, various museums around the world)
- “The Persistence of Memory” (Salvador Dali, Museum of Modern Art in New York)
- “The Night Watch” (Rembrandt, Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam)
- “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (Hieronymus Bosch, Museo del Prado, Madrid)