The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
This one has probably crossed your mind, but we just couldn’t help mentioning what is probably the most famous painting in the world, drawn between 1503 and 1517. It’s supposed to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo (hence La Gioconda). Bought by King Francis I of France, it has been held in the Palace of Fontainebleau, the Palace of Versailles and at the Tuileries Palace, where it stayed briefly in Napoleon’s bedroom. You can see it at the Louvre Museum, where it has been on permanent display since 1797.
Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet
The painting, shown in Paris in April 1874, is known as the work of art the marks the beginning of the Impressionist movement. Monet depicted the fleeting sunrise over the port of Le Havre, his hometown. The word ‘Impressionism’ came from a cynical review of the 1874 exhibition written by critic Louis Leroy, who described this new style of art (demonstrated by Monet’s painting) as the impression of a scene rather than the real thing. It is currently on display at the Musée Marmottan Monet, from where it was stolen in 1985 by Philippe Jamin and Youssef Khimoun, and recovered in 1990.
The Origin Of The World by Gustave Courbet
Calling all feminists! This painting captures the genitals and abdomen of a young woman, Joanna Hiffernan. Courbet subverted the depiction of the female nude in his provocative, The Origin Of The World, creating an entirely new perspective. The painting still shocks visitors today and triggers censorship over 150 years after it was first created. In fact, in 2011, the social networking site, Facebook, censored Courbet’s work after it was posted by Copenhagen-based artist Frode Steinicke. Its controversial nature makes a visit to The Origin Of The World at the Musée d’Orsay even more worthwhile!
Poppy Field by Claude Monet
Monet again. This painting was finished in 1873, and was also shown at the first Impressionist Exhibition in April 1874, along with Impression, Sunrise. The two characters depicted are most probably the artist’s wife Camille and their son Jean. The painting is set in the Paris suburb of Argenteuil, where Monet settled in 1871 until 1878. As most of the impressionist paintings, Poppy Field is on display at theMusée d’Orsay.
The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet
The painting from 1857 illustrates Millet’s favorite topic: peasant life. The Gleaners is a culmination of ten years of research on the work of gleaners, the incarnation of the working class in the French countryside. They were allowed to go in the fields before sunrise and quickly collect the ears of corn missed by the harvesters during the day. Again, it is a revolutionary work, as it is centered on peasants, which was inconceivable at the time. The piece is on display at the Musée d’Orsay.
Starry Night Over the Rhone by Vincent van Gogh
The Musée d’Orsay is also home of this view of the Rhône river painted by Van Gogh in 1888. The artist produced another similar Starry Night a few months later, while confined in a mental institution. That one is on display at the MOMA in New York, but it’s much more violent than the one you can find in Paris, in which the atmosphere is serene and romantic.
In A Café by Edgar Degas
While Degas is most famous for his interest in ballet dancers, he also explored the underbelly of Paris, notably in his work In a Café (also known as Absinthe) in 1873. Along with his fellow Impressionists, the artist was attracted by the rapidly-changing urban life of Belle Époque Paris. At the time, many working women supplemented their meager income with part-time prostitution, and would sit alone in cafés to signal their availability. In this particular painting, the empty and sad eyes of the characters may also hint at the dangers of consuming absinthe, a very powerful alcohol that was later prohibited. You can find this work on display at the Musée d’Orsay.
Dance At Le Moulin De La Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Painted in 1876, this is one of Renoir’s (and the world’s) most famous paintings. It was shown at the Impressionist Exhibition in 1877. The artist’s goal was to depict the Parisian popular life with the vivacious and joyful atmosphere in Montmartre (which was once a suburb of the city). The Moulin de la Galette still exists today, along with the windmill that made it famous. As you have probably already deduced, you can see it at the Musée d’Orsay.
Luncheon On The Grass by Edouard Manet
In 1863, this painting was rejected by the jury of the Salon, and Manet exhibited it at the Salon des Réfusés (literally, ‘Salon for the rejected’), intiated by Napoléon III. Manet’s work combines classical elements along with modern and provocative ones. While the nudity of the woman isn’t necessarily provocative in and of itself – Manet wasn’t the first man to paint naked women in art – her direct and challenging gaze, as well as her seeming participation in the animated conversation of the gentlemen, was considered provocative. With her unflinching stare, this woman displays a powerful sense of self and assertiveness that subverts the male gaze and upends the passive beauty traditionally depicted in the nudes of the time. Check it out at the Musée d’Orsay.
The Coronation Of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David
Last but not least, Napoleon. Completed in 1807 by the official painter of Napoleon I, this painting is designed to impress with its imposing dimensions – nearly 10 meters wide and 6 meters tall. The scene took place at Notre-Dame de Paris, where Napoleon (bored with the Pope’s speech), snatched the crown from the Pope’s hands and crowned himself. Today, it is on display at the Louvre, and you can hardly miss it. However, David also made a replica of the painting, which is now on display at the Palace of Versailles.