Famous works of art from 30 countries around the world
Unlike nations, art knows no boundaries. It can be forged in a vacuum, inspired solely by a burning, inner conflict, or created by wistful expatriates wishing to bridge a long-lost past with an uncertain future. It can emerge organically, in harmony with the natural landscape, or as a carefully crafted response to cultural or political touchstones.
Museums and private collections heave with such works, yet only a select few demonstrate a rare confluence of intent, emotion, and artistic genius. These masterpieces are seared into the collective consciousness, reproduced in varying sizes and shapes on walls, stationary, and coffee mugs the world over.
Traditionally, art history has sought to neatly categorize a multitude of overlapping movements and styles, geography and epochs–Impressionism, Antiquity, Romanticism, Realism, and the Middle Ages, to name just a few. Borders, however, are frequently fluid, artists often itinerant and occasionally anonymous.
With this in mind, Stacker took on the task of curating this list of 30 famous works of art from 30 countries around the globe, consulting internet databases and museum websites as well as scholarly books and journals. Residence in a given museum or collection alone was not deemed reason enough for inclusion (in addition to being a source of contention among several nations). Selected works had to express or reflect a direct relationship between the artist and their country of birth, the object and its place of production. Vincent van Gogh may be the Netherlands' most well-known artist, but most of his masterworks depict French rather than Dutch subjects. Ceremonial objects created by Pre-Columbian societies, however, speak volumes about these lost cultures.
Scroll through the list to see which masterworks made the final cut, and find out which images changed the course of Korean painting, depict a dream-like vision of an Eastern European shtetl, or were inspired by a Pagan fertility ritual.
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'At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance' by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
– France, 1890
Although an aristocrat by birth, Toulouse-Lautrec’s work captures the grit and glamour of working-class nightlife in Belle Époque Paris. Local performers and personalities inhabit his canvases, underscoring the artist’s inimitable brand of post-impressionist realism. Here, “Valentine the Boneless,” a Moulin Rouge veteran, instructs a new dancer in the art of the can-can.
'Bust of Nefertiti' by Thutmose
– Egypt, c. 1345 B.C.
This striking portrait bust of the enigmatic Egyptian queen is believed to have been executed by Thutmose—a favorite artist at the court of Akhenaten. Uncovered during the 1912 excavation headed by German archeologist Ludwig Borchardt, the painted limestone sculpture continues to be exhibited in Berlin’s Neues Museum despite repeated requests from Egyptian officials to return the celebrated work to its homeland.
Easter Island Statues
– Easter Island, c.1100–1300 A.D.
Over 300 monumental stone visages hover over the South Pacific Easter Island’s coastline. Characterized by rectangular heads, large eye sockets, and broad noses, the sculptures also have lengthy torsos now buried due to centuries of sediment deposits. Although their original purpose is unknown, it has been suggested that the carvings represent deceased members of an ancient community.
'Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird' by Frida Kahlo
– Mexico, 1940
Frida Kahlo produced 55 self-portraits during her prolific career, merging a personal iconography of pain and loss with potent symbols of her Mexican heritage. “Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” depicts Kahlo in a lush jungle wearing a necklace made of thorns. The artistic process served as a cathartic outlet for Kahlo’s traumatic split from fellow artist Diego Rivera.
'The Great Wave off Kanagawa' by Katsushika Hokusai
– Japan, 1831
One of the most celebrated works in Japanese art, “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” is part of a series of block prints known as the “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.” Hokusai began his career at the tender age of 6, and is believed to have been in his 70s when he created his masterpiece.
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'The Art of Painting' by Jan Vermeer
– The Netherlands, 1666
It’s estimated that a staggering 5 million paintings were produced in the Netherlands during the 17th century, a period dubbed by art historians as the Dutch Golden Age. No work represents this era more ambitiously than Jan Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting.” The image depicts the painter, his back to the viewer, capturing the likeness of a comely model posing as Clio, the muse of history.
'The Lady of Shalott' by John William Waterhouse
– England, 1888
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a 19th-century English aesthetic movement, were drawn to religious and literary subjects painted in a highly realistic manner. Waterhouse’s “The Lady of Shalott” illustrates a verse from Tennyson’s 1832 poem based on a medieval Arthurian legend. The landscape was painted by the artist en plein air in the English countryside.
'Karin by the Shore' by Carl Larsson
– Sweden, 1908
Dubbed the Norman Rockwell of Sweden, Carl Larsson is famous for his warm-hearted representations of middle-class Swedes engaged in work and play. This watercolor depicts Larsson’s wife walking pensively along the banks of the Sundborn River. The couple’s daughter, Brita, dressed in local costume, occupies the rowboat to the right of the scene, together with the family dog.
Nok Sculpture of a Seated Man
– Nigeria, c.500 B.C.–500 A.D.
Some of the most striking examples of Nigerian art were produced by the Nok civilization approximately 2,000 years ago. This terracotta figure, now in the Louvre, exhibits the oversized head and bold, stylized features typical of Nok sculpture.
'Guernica' by Pablo Picasso
– Spain, 1937
Few paintings pack the political or emotional punch of “Guernica”—an anguished testament to the Nazi bombing of the eponymous Basque town at the request of Spanish Nationalists. Commissioned by the Spanish Republican Government for the 1937 Paris World’s Fair, the monumental canvas brought the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War to international attention.
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