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People looking at Jackson Pollock's 'One: Number 31' (1950) | © Pete/Flickr
People looking at Jackson Pollock's 'One: Number 31' (1950) | © Pete/Flickr
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If You Haven't Seen These 11 Paintings, You Need a Culture Trip in 2018

Picture of Rachel Gould
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 18 January 2018
As you knock those cities off your bucket list, take in a masterpiece or two and make 2018 a year of adventure and enrichment.

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Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, Amsterdam

Johannes Vermeer, 'The Milkmaid' (1658) | Google Cultural Institute/WikiCommons

Johannes Vermeer, ‘The Milkmaid’ (1658) | Google Cultural Institute/WikiCommons

Johannes Vermeer’s luminous portrait of a domestic servant hangs in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. The serene image is one of only 34 paintings attributed to the celebrated Delft artist, whose unparalleled attention to detail enlivened his aesthetic with a remarkable photographic quality. Painted in the mid-17th century, The Milkmaid (c. 1660) is a must-see masterpiece in a city overflowing with art history.

Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, New York City

Vincent van Gogh. The Starry Night. Saint Rémy, June 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/4″ (73.7 x 92.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest

Vincent van Gogh. The Starry Night. Saint Rémy, June 1889 | Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest.

Though letters written by the troubled artist speak of this painting with relative disregard, The Starry Night (1889) is arguably Vincent van Gogh’s most celebrated image. This charming, sleepy scene, on permanent view at the Museum of Modern Art, was painted from within a French insane asylum following the pivotal psychotic break that led to van Gogh severing his own ear. The painting is not only a visual masterwork; it also contains a fascinating secret.

Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019

Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, Vienna

Gustav Klimt, 'The Kiss' (1908) | WikiCommons
Gustav Klimt, ‘The Kiss’ (1908) | Google Art Project/WikiCommons

Gustav Klimt’s timeless double portrait hangs in the Österreichische Galerie of Vienna’s grand Belvedere Palace, where the largest collection of the famed Austrian symbolist’s work is held. Bearing the geometric characteristics of Art Nouveau in harmony with organic embellishments popular in the earlier, 19th-century Arts and Crafts movement, The Kiss (1907–1908) was painted at the height of Klimt’s “Golden Period,” and remains one of his most exquisite paintings.

Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Schloss Belvedere, Prinz Eugen-Straße 27, 1030 Vienna, Austria

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Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas, Mexico City

Frida Kahlo, The Two Fridas | Photo by Peter K. Levy/Flickr

Frida Kahlo, ‘The Two Fridas’ (1939) | Peter K. Levy/Flickr

Frida Kahlo painted The Two Fridas (1939) following a tempestuous divorce from fellow artist and revolutionary, Diego Rivera. On view at Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Moderno, the artist’s double self-portrait depicts her Mexican and European heritage, separated by form and dress yet intertwined in hand and heart. The European Frida (on the viewer’s left) bleeds from a wounded heart onto her dress, likely in reference to her former husband’s particular adoration of her Mexican identity.

Paseo de la Reforma y Ghandi S/N Bosque de Chapultepec I Secc, 11560 Miguel Hidalgo, CDMX, Mexico

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Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, Madrid


Pablo Picasso painting ‘Guernica’ in Paris, 1937 | Recuerdos de Pandora/Flickr

The legendary Spanish cubist Pablo Picasso’s jarring depiction of wartime casualties is housed within Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. The painting was inspired by newspaper photographs revealing the aftermath of a German aerial bombing in the Basque town of Guernica, though the piece is said to portray the general horrors of human conflict over the specifics of this particular event. The subjects’ harrowed fragments and tormented facial expressions convey extreme panic, while the muted color palette suggests the blinding despair of war.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Calle de Santa Isabel, 52, 28012 Madrid, Spain

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Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait, London

Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Giovanni (?) Arnolfini and his Wife (1434) | Courtesy of The National Gallery

Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Giovanni (?) Arnolfini and his Wife (1434) | Courtesy of The National Gallery

Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck famously depicts the merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini with his wife in this masterly double-portrait. On view at The National Gallery in London, van Eyck’s luminous composition showcases the shimmers and textures of the scene in exquisite detail. The couple is also not alone—in the background, between the subjects’ outstretched arms, is a mirror that reflects two additional figures. Just beneath the chandelier is a Latin tag that reads “Jan van Eyck was here in 1434,” suggesting that The Arnolfini Portrait (1434) is also something of a sneaky self-portrait.

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN, UK

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Andy Warhol’s Mao, Berlin

One of Andy Warhol’s famous portraits of Mao Tse-Tung can be found in the Kleihueshalle of the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin’s premier museum for contemporary art. The pop artist’s portraits of the Chinese Chairman are amongst his most iconic. A large-scale painting in blue and green, the Hamburger Bahnhof’s edition of Mao is a striking highlight of this must-visit museum.

Hamburger Bahnhof, Invalidenstraße 50-51, 10557 Berlin, Germany

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Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera, Florence

Sandro Botticelli, Primavera (1482) | Source: Google Art Project/WikiCommons

Sandro Botticelli, ‘Primavera’ (1482) | Google Art Project/WikiCommons

Sandro Botticelli’s jubilant springtime painting is a botanical dream; horticulturists have identified some 500 real plant species worked into the composition amid ethereal damsels and mythological deities. The stunning allegorical painting, created between 1477 and 1482, hangs in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, and stands as a keystone of Italian Renaissance art.

Uffiz Gallery, Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy

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Henri Matisse’s The Dessert: Harmony in Red, St. Petersburg

Henri Matisse, The Red Room (1908) | Photo by Gandalf's Gallery/Flickr

Henri Matisse, ‘The Dessert: Harmony in Red’ (1908) | Source: Gandalf’s Gallery/Flickr

The Dessert: Harmony in Red (1908) is one of fauvist painter Henri Matisse’s richest compositions. On view at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, this bold painting was originally created as part of a decorative panel for Russian collector Sergey Shchukin’s dining room, but it quickly garnered notoriety as a fine art masterpiece.

Palace Square, 2, Sankt-Peterburg, Russia, 190000

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Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black, Red Over Black On Red), Paris

Untitled (Black, Red over Black on Red) by Mark Rothko hanging in the Centre Pompidou | © Esther Westerveld/Flickr

‘Untitled (Black, Red over Black on Red)’ by Mark Rothko hanging in the Centre Pompidou | © Esther Westerveld/Flickr

When you (temporarily) tire from viewing the innumerable old-world masterpieces across Paris, visit the Centre Pompidou to take in a modern marvel. Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black, Red Over Black On Red) (1964) is one of the color-field artist’s most arresting. Rothko’s work is spiritually exalting, but his experimentation with a darker palette affords a deeply reflective, moving experience.

Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France

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Edvard Munch’s The Scream, Oslo

NOR Skrik, ENG The Scream

Edvard Munch, ‘The Scream’ (1893). Photo: The National Museum / Børre Høstland.

Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893) is not only the Norwegian artist’s most recognizable artwork, it’s one of the most famous images in art history. On view at the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo, The Scream is an emotive and perplexing masterpiece that no trip to the Norwegian capital should go without.

Nasjonalmuseet, Universitetsgata 13, 0164 Oslo, Norway