Women have been the subject of art for as long as art has existed – from cave paintings and ancient sculptures to modern-day masterpieces.
In this article, we will be exploring some of the most famous paintings of women – including iconic subjects such as Marilyn Monroe, Dora Maar and Queen Elizabeth II.
Read on for our list of the 10 most famous paintings of women created by some of the most famous artists such as Warhol, da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, and many more.
1 – Leonardo da Vinci – Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa is often referred to as the most famous painting in all of art history. Depicting a female figure dressed in Florentine fashion of the time with a mysterious smile, the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci has to take the number one spot on our list of the top 10 famous paintings of women.
The Mona Lisa is an oil painting on poplar wood, and measures just 77×53 cm – which is considered rather small for such an iconic painting. Da Vinci began painting the Mona Lisa back in 1503 – and the painting was found in his studio following his death in 1519.
2 – Sandro Botticelli – Birth of Venus
Much like the Mona Lisa, Birth of Venus is one of the most iconic paintings of all time. Sandro Botticelli painted Birth of Venus around 1485 – and was the first Tuscany artist to paint tempera on canvas.
Botticelli, born in 1445 in Florence, Italy, is known for his mythological paintings, religious paintings, and of course, his iconic paintings of women/ female portraits. Birth of Venus depicts the Roman goddess of love and beauty arriving on land standing on a shell.
This painting was the cause of much controversy – this is due to the nudity in the painting which contrasted with the Christian values and conservative art of the time.
3 – Édouard Manet – Olympia
Édouard Manet was one of the first artists in the 19th century to paint modern life. The French modernist painter reworked the ‘female nude’ with Olympia with his bold and unique technique. Much like Birth of Venus, Olympia was the cause of controversy – and the depiction created a scandal at the 1865 Salon.
Olympia caused outrage in Paris due to the fact that it essentially humanised prostitution – something frowned upon at the time. Likewise, the eyes of the subject also caused controversy. This is because female subjects wouldn’t usually stare in paintings, let alone nude women.
4 – Andy Warhol – Marilyn Diptych
Iconic actress, model and singer Marilyn Monroe was the subject of many paintings – and she even dabbled in painting herself – but the most iconic painting of Marilyn was painted by Andy Warhol in 1962, shortly after Marilyn Monroe’s death.
The Marilyn Diptych is a silkscreen painting, created by famous pop artist Andy Warhol. Consisting of 50 images, each image of Marilyn was taken from a photograph from the 1953 Niagara film. Check out this blog to learn some interesting facts about Warhol’s art.
5 – Pablo Picasso – Portrait of Dora Maar
It wouldn’t be a top ten list without Pablo Picasso – one of the most notable names in the art world. Picasso’s catalogue is huge – he painted around 13,500 paintings throughout his career.
One of Picasso’s most famous paintings is his 1937 piece, Portrait of Dora Maar. The female subject of the painting is Dora Maar, one of Pablo Picasso’s lovers.
Blue-chip artist Pablo Picasso is known for his abstract paintings, highlighting aspects of the female form in a unique way. Many of his paintings depicted nude women – but Portrait of Dora Maar features a clothed woman sitting in a chair, featuring both a frontal and profile view.
6 – Johannes Vermeer – Girl with a Pearl Earring
When you think of portraits of women, Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) is sure to spring to mind. Girl with a Pearl Earring was created by Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.
Vermeer’s work wasn’t widely known during his lifetime – possibly because only produced 36 known pieces. Girl with a Pearl Earring is one of the most iconic female portraits – and rose to fame once it was restored for the 1995 exhibition at the National Gallery of Art (Washington DC).
7 – Claude Monet – Woman With a Parasol
Woman With a Parasol by French artist Claude Money depicts a woman and her son in a field. This famous woman painting represents an intimate moment between a family. The main subject of the painting is Monet’s first wife Camille, and the boy is their son, Jean.
Monet is recognised as one of the most famous painters of all time, and one of the leaders of the Impressionist movement.
8 – Rob Munday – Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II
It wouldn’t be a list of the top ten famous paintings of women without including a painting of Queen Elizabeth II.
Rob Munday’s name became cemented in the art world in 2003 when he was asked to create the first official holographic portrait of Her Majesty the Queen – becoming the first Royal holograph.
The painting was commissioned to commemorate New Jersey’s 800-year allegiance to the English throne. Later, Munday was commissioned to create the first holographic postage stamp containing a holographic portrait of the Queen, which can also be found on the first £100 banknote.
9 – Frida Kahlo – Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace And Hummingbird
At number nine on our list of the most famous paintings of women, we have a self-portrait by Frida Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo produced 55 self-portraits in her lifetime, but the most notable has to be Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. This powerful self-portrait was created following her divorce from Diego Rivera.
The fauna featured in the background of the portrait creates a cluttered and claustrophobic atmosphere. The religious imagery with the thorn necklace, and the hummingbird symbolising luck all reference resurrection – so despite the haunting appearance of the portrait, it is actually a portrait of hope.
10 – James Abbott McNeill Whistler – Whistler’s Mother
Finally, on our list of famous paintings of women, we have Whistler’s Mother by James Abbott McNeill Whistler.
Beloved by art critics and art lovers around the world, this oil painting has been displayed around the globe and is one of the most notable pieces of art in the world. The painting, as suggested in the name, is dedicated to James McNeill Whistler’s Mother.