Whether or not art is at the forefront of your mind when you travel, no trip is complete without taking in at least one visual masterpiece. From London to St. Petersburg, New York to Jerusalem, these 13 paintings simply cannot be missed.
On view at the National Gallery of Australia, David Hockney’s A Bigger Grand Canyon (1998) tackles one of America’s most expansive natural wonders in 60 individual oil paintings. Boasting a fiery color palette and fluid perspectives, this 24-foot-wide landscape is paradigmatic of the beloved English artist’s bold and sunny oeuvre.
The ceiling of the magnificent Palais Garnier boasts one of modernist painter Marc Chagall’s most astounding works of art: a 2,600-square-foot (241.5-square-meter) masterpiece commemorating great composers, actors, and dancers. Executed over the course of eight months in Chagall’s Parisian studio spaces, the project, completed in 1964, required over 400 pounds of paint to complete.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection holds a number of paintings by the eclectic surrealist Max Ernst, and Attirement of the Bride (1940) is one of the German artist’s most arresting. Ernst depicts two mysterious figures: one cloaked in a red robe with a large hood of feathers akin to an owl’s head; the other, a bird-like woman positioned towards a picture on the wall that seemingly portrays the same central figure. Green hybrid creatures, one of which resembles an egret, lurk in the periphery. Ernst was known to have a bird alter ego called Loplop, thus a number of his paintings feature avian motifs.
Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, New York City…
Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907 | Neue Galerie New York. Acquired through the generosity of Ronald S. Lauder, the heirs of the Estates of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer, and the Estée Lauder Fund
Marking the grand finale of Gustav Klimt’s ‘Golden Phase,’ this gilded masterpiece (1907) is the first of two spectacular depictions the artist would paint of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Klimt’s staggering portrait of his friend and possible lover also comes with one of art history’s most infamous back stories. Stolen by Nazi art thieves, unlawfully claimed by the Austrian government and subsequently at the center of a fierce legal battle, Adele was ultimately sold for a record-breaking $135 million to hang in the Neue Galerie for the public to behold.
A highlight of The Courtauld Gallery in London, Female Nude(c. 1916) is a prime example of the elegant, elongated figures which define Amedeo Modigliani’s oeuvre, inspired by the aesthetic of African and Oceanic sculpture. The subject’s features are soft yet textured, captured in a seductive pose.
Frida Kahlo’s relationship with Diego Rivera was historically tumultuous, and their divorce inspired her to paint one of her most important artworks. The Two Fridas (1939), on view at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, channels the artist’s dual heritage (her mother was Mexican, her father, a German immigrant). Both Fridas bear their hearts, but the ‘European’ Frida’s heart is wide open, causing her to bleed stoically on her dress. Referencing Rivera’s particular adoration for Kahlo’s Mexican identity, The Two Fridas hints at the artist’s resentment of her European blood after their separation.
On view at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Figure Study I (c. 1946) is one of Francis Bacon’s few surviving paintings from his early career. Most of Bacon’s subseqent figures are ethereal though substantially represented, while Figure Study I merely implies a figure hunched beneath a heavy, textured overcoat and trilby hat. For the first time in decades, Figure Study I hangs beside Figure Study II(c. 1945/46) (on loan from the Kirklees Collection at Huddersfield Art Gallery), a companion piece featuring another hunched figure, partially concealed by the same tweed coat, screaming.
Henri Matisse's The Dessert: Harmony in Red, St. Petersburg...
Henri Matisse, The Dessert: Harmony in Red (1908) | Source: Gandalf's Gallery/Flickr
Brilliant in both color and composition, Henri Matisse’s The Dessert:Harmony in Red(1908) is a luxurious masterpiece on view at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Matisse imbued his flat fauvist perspective with depth and dimension through a bold yet pleasant floral motif, offset by complementary hues of deep blue, calming green, and sunny golden tones. Originally intended as a “decorative panel” for the dining room of Russian collector Sergey Shchukin, Harmony in Red (also referred to as TheRed Room) became one of the artist’s most important paintings.
Inside Madrid’s Museo del Prado is one of history’s most whimsical works of art. When Hieronymus Bosch completed the masterpiece over 500 years ago, The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1515) both terrified and delighted God-fearing viewers with its strange hybrid creatures and alien vessels. Five centuries later, the surreal dreamscapes of Bosch’s time-tested triptych still enrapture onlookers from around the world.
One of the Belgian surrealist’s most recognizable works, The Castle of the Pyrenees (1959) hangs in Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. A fairytale-like fortification stands atop a colossal boulder, hovering amid the clouds over a rolling seascape. Completed in 1959, the fantastical painting was commissioned by writer, lawyer, and a friend of the artist, Harry Torczyner, and serves as one of Magritte’s more mysterious compositions.
Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch was known to struggle with anxiety and depression, which inspired a legacy of deeply emotive, oftentimes harrowing works—most notably, The Scream(1893). But Dance of Life(1899–1900), on view at Oslo’s National Museum of Art, is a luminous composition depicting the various stages of a woman’s life, set against the backdrop of a moonlit coastline.
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Hubert and Jan Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece, Ghent...
Hubert and Jan van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece (wings closed), 1432 | WikiCommons
Also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the Ghent Altarpiece(1432) is considered one of the world’s most important and coveted masterworks—The Guardiancalled it “the most stolen artwork of all time.” In 2012, the Koninklijk Instituut voor het Kunstpatrimonium (KIK) kicked off a seven-year restoration project, which is due for completion in 2019. Two-thirds of the original altarpiece remain on view in St. Bavo Cathedral, while the panels being restored are temporarily replaced by black and white replicas. The Just Judges panel was stolen in 1934—and a reproduction stands in its place.
Few faces are as timeless as that of Johannes Vermeer’sGirl with a Pearl Earring (1665), whose mysterious gaze has captivated audiences for over 300 years. On view at the Mauritshuis, the girl’s radiant portrait—Vermeer’s unquestionable magnum opus—stands as an enduring icon of the Dutch Golden Age.