If men are like pencil sketches and pen-and-ink drawings on the canvass of planet Earth, then women are the most attractive, rich, and vibrant colors filling them which bring the pictures to life. Women have been invariably the favorite subject of almost all the famous painters. Masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, Edgar Degas, John Singer Sargent, and many others have painted women, and quite a few of them have been immortalized by these paintings. Whereas most of them are a stunning embodiment of beauty, a few are not, yet they are considered among the world’s famous works of fine art. It is not only the expressionist paintings or portraits only but also some of the allegorical portraits which are such eye-catching treats for the eyes and irresistibly attractive. There is no famous museum or an art gallery in the world which does not have work of some master painter relating to women. A thing of beauty is a joy for ever, and most of the famous paintings of women qualify in the criteria of that ‘thing of beauty.’ There is perhaps no one there who has never heard of Mona Lisa, and similarly it is unimaginable that there existed a master painter who never considered a woman as the subject of his study for painting.
1. ‘Mona Lisa’ by Leonardo da Vinci
The word ‘Mona’ is derived from ‘Madonna’ meaning ‘my lady.’ The subject of the painting, Lisa del Giocondo, was the wife of a rich Florentine silk merchant, and she belonged to the Gherardini family of Florence. The painting was intended to celebrate their new home and the birth of their second son. This half-size portrait is reputed as ‘the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most parodied work of art in the world.’ It was painted between 1503 and 1506. King Francis I of France acquired it from the pupil of Leonardo. It had been in the bedroom of Napoleon for a short time. It is permanently displayed at Musee de Louvre in Paris. The composition of the painting is its illusionary atmosphere, modeling of form, and the subtle and inexplicable smile of Lisa that are the salient features of this painting. An air hostess’s smile is a pleasing experience for the passengers of a flight, and the smile of ‘Mona Lisa’ has been an enjoyable experience by innumerable visitors to the Musee de Louvre from all over the world since the Mona Lisa has been displayed there.
2. ‘Flaming June’ by Sir Fredrick Leighton
‘Flaming June’ is an oil painting by Sir Fredrick Leighton on a 47’ x 7’ square canvas. It is regarded as the masterpiece of Leighton. It is thought the woman portrayed represents a sleeping nymph from Greek mythology. The painting is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s ‘Night in the Medici Chapel of Florence.’ According to Leighton, the setup was unintentional and caused by the resting of the exhausted model Dorothy Dene. The painting was auctioned in 1960 and purchased by the Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico where it is displayed presently.
3. ‘Woman with Book’ by Pablo Picasso
‘Woman with Book’ is an oil painting by Pablo Picasso on a 20’ x 24’ square canvas. It was painted in 1932. Picasso painted many other women on large canvases the same year. These pictures are characterized by heavy, dark lines and rich, bright colors. His mistress, Marie- Therese Walter, was the model for this picture who gives a momentary break while reading and then looks as if daydreaming. The mirror in the background reflects the similarities of the subject impressively.
4. ‘Madame Ginoux’ by Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh painted ‘Madame Ginoux’ in 1890 as one of the five works he created during the year to pay homage to his friend Paul Gauguin. The painting ‘Madame Ginoux’ was the hot topic when it was auctioned in New York in the year 2006 for $40 million. Madame Ginoux was the proprietress of CafÃ© de la Gare, and she was the wife of Joseph Michel Ginoux. Both artists met in this cafÃ©. Van Gogh dedicated his work to Gauguin who wrote about his painting: ‘It is a synthesis of Arlesiennes if you like; as a synthesis of the Arlesiennes is rare, take this as a work belonging to you and me as a summary of our months of work together.’
5. ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Jan Vermeer
‘Girl with a Pearl Earring,’ also known as ‘Mona Lisa of the North,’ or ‘The Dutch Mona Lisa,’ is the masterpiece of the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. His eldest daughter Maria, or Magdalena, the daughter of his patron, are considered the models for the painting Girl with a Pearl Earring. The pearl is the focal point of the painting. Even having painted only 35 paintings, Vermeer is considered one of the greatest artists of the Dutch golden age.
6. ‘Whistler’s Mother’ by James McNeill Whistler
‘Whistler’s Mother’ is one of the most famous paintings of women. It was painted by the American painter James McNeill Whistler and was originally titled as ‘Arrangement in Grey and Black.’ It is said that the model was not on time; therefore, Whistler took his mother as the subject. Another story is that Whistler’s mother was 67 and was supposed to keep standing for the portrait but, being tired, she reclined in the chair. ‘Whistler’s Mother’ has been the central point in one of Mr. Bean’s movies. The painting was engraved on a commemorative postal stamp of America in 1934 bearing a note ‘In memory and in honor of the Mothers of America.’
7. ‘Portrait of Dora Maar’ by Pablo Picasso
Henrietta Theodora Markovitch, better known as Dora Maar, was an amazingly beautiful French poet, photographer, and painter. She lived with Picasso from 1930 to 1940 as a couple. As was the habit of Picasso to tease his lovers, he often painted grotesque paintings of Dora, and she said about them, ‘All his portraits of me are lies. They are all Picasso’s. Not one is Dora Maar.’ Her portraits painted by Picasso won great admiration in this era. One portrait of this series titled ‘Dora Maar ay Chat’ meaning ‘Dora Maar with Cat’ has been auctioned at such an exorbitant price that it is now one of the most expensive paintings of all time.
8. ‘The Tub’ by Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas was born in on July 19, 1834 and died on September 27, 1917. He is one of the founders of impressionism, but he preferred the term ‘realism’ over ‘impressionism.’ He is famous for his paintings of dancers, and almost half of his work is related to dancers. His painting titled ‘Le Tub’ was painted in 1884 in pastel on a 70’ x 70’ square canvas. The painting is on display in the Musee D’ Orsay, a famous museum of France located in the left bank of the river Seine in Paris.
9. ‘Adele Bloch’ by Bauer Gustav Klimt
‘Adele Bloch’ is a famous painting of a woman by Gustav Klimt. He worked for three years on the painting. It was painted in Vienna in oil and gold on a 138’ x 138’ square canvas. Ferdinand Bloch-Baur, a rich sugar industrialist, supported Klimt for his works including this painting. It was sold for U.S. $135 million to Ronald Lauder in New York in June, 2006. It was the most expensive painting sold at that time. The painting is on display in Lauder’s Neue Galerie since July, 2006.
10. ‘Woman in a Garden’ by Oscar Claude Monet
‘Woman in a Garden’ was painted by Oscar Claude Monet who had also painted some remarkable paintings of women. Monet was born in Paris in November, 1840 and died on December 5, 1926 at the age of 86. He is one of the founding members of the Impressionist Movement. He is best known for painting water lilies, poplars, and haystacks. His painting ‘Woman in a Garden’ is on display in the Hermitage which is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. It is located in St. Petersburg, Russia.
No creature can come into existence without the will of the Creator, and similarly, no painting can come into being without its painter. A creation cannot be seen in isolation, and all of the creative works have their creators behind them. Both coexist with the only difference that creation is on display while the Creator is invisible. Yet there is very much there for all those who have known the true relationship between the Creator and the creation. How could a painting have become famous had the painter behind it not put his or her best into each and every stroke of it? Those who immortalized their subjects have indeliberately immortalized themselves.