The Greatest 450 Artists of all Time

History is filled with very few artists who significantly changed the course of art history – Giotto, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Goya, Courbet, Manet, Cezanne, Picasso, Kandinsky, Duchamp, Pollock, Warhol and Beuys all spring to mind. Yet, for every epoch altering figures like these, there a legion of minor talents whose gimmicks only held people’s attention for a week or two. There are also many masters like Bosch, El Greco, Dix, Balthus and Freud who did not change art history but who provided a salutatory exception to the rule.

The history of art is a capricious mistress, often quick to raise up and often just as quick to drop. The history of art is littered with artists who achieved a sizeable measure of acclaim, critical kudos, and sales but whose names that have disappeared completely under the dust of time and their reputations returned to nothingness. There are also artists like; Guido Reni, Bartolome Murillo, Anton Raphael Mengs, Lord Frederic Leighton, Ernest Meissonier, Alexandre Cabanel, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Hans Makart, Ferdinand Hodler, Bernard Buffet, Jules Olitski, and Julian Schnabel - who were critically lauded in their day and lavished with official awards and financially successful beyond the dreams of most struggling artists - but who quickly fell out of favour. Likewise, there are artists like Pontormo, La Tour, El Greco, Vermeer, and Friedrich, who were moderately known in their local area in their lifetime but who sank into oblivion after their deaths, only to be rediscovered in the early twentieth century. In fact, even the very greatest artists of art history Giotto, Raphael, Michelangelo, Rubens, Rembrandt, Poussin, Ingres and Picasso have all fallen in and out of critical favour sometimes for centuries (only Titian seems to have avoided this.) Moreover, there is a small list of artists like; Grünewald, Vermeer, Friedrich, Blake, Constable, van Gogh, and Modigliani who were unappreciated in their own life times but who in time have become famous, admired, copied and central to the canon of art.                                                

So, art is a subjective and irrational subject, individual experts may hold strongly held views on the value of one artist over another, but in the end, personal judgment is nothing but strongly held opinion. Perhaps the best we can do is garner a consensus of taste which might arrive at a more conclusive judgment, but it is subject to the whims of fad and fashion as particular artists speak more forthrightly to us at a given time. So, the following list is my very personal and subjective top four hundred and fifty Western artists of all time. This list has been based upon forty-nine years of reading art history books, watching art documentaries and making countless visits to museums in Dublin, L.A., Paris, Amsterdam, London, Barcelona, Madrid, Cork, Berlin, New York and Washington DC.       

The perfect artist has yet to be born - every artist has flaws and limitations. When I was young, I thought Picasso the greatest artist who had ever lived. I valued his capacity for invention and productivity. However, with age I have come to look with greater scepticism at Picasso’s easy facility, frenetic productivity and elevation of ideas above aesthetic quality and emotional resonance. Frankly if only van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece or Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights remained they would still be as important to art history as Picasso. Likewise, Michelangelo has also always struck me as an inhumanly gifted artist undeniably brilliant in sculpture, painting and drawing yet too heroic and domineering for my liking. That is why I now consider Rembrandt the greatest artist of all time, because painting for painting - he produced the greatest expressions of the human condition I know. Rembrandt combined incredible technical skill, with emotional integrity and human compassion, unsurpassed in art history. This compassion and insight into the human condition was also evident in his stunning drawings and etchings. However, I could easily make an argument for the top spot amongst any of the artists in my top ten.

This list is almost totally devoted to Western artists of the last seven hundred years. This is because of two fundamental reasons. Firstly – most artists before Giotto in the West were anonymous craftsmen who seldom signed their own work and thus have no individual reputation. Secondly my Western ignorance of Egyptian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian and other non-Western sources is so great – I have included only a handful of such masters who have caught my untrained eye.            

For me the greatest artists in art history have also been the greatest masters of their craft. Mere experimentalism only results in meaningless gimmickry. Yet it also has to be admitted that academically correct art rarely surprises or fascinates. Art is thus a strange balancing act between these and many other subtle extremes. My choices were based upon a number of critical factors. Firstly, the artist's capacity to create works of universal vision. Secondly, their technical skill and originality. Thirdly, their character and personality and the emotional depth of their work. Fourthly, their impact on the course of art history. Fifthly their overall intellectual achievements as indicated in their manifestos, diaries, letters and autobiographies. Finally, my judgments have been made to my direct response to their work in the flesh.                                            

I have leaned away from artists whose work was ugly, theoretical, sentimental, kitsch or simpering. Although there might be a quite solid look to my list, in fact there were many days when my choices varied slightly from the proscribed list. However, overall the following list provides a broad map of my aesthetic landscape.
1.    Rembrandt Harmenzoon Van Rijn.
2.    Pablo Picasso.
3.    Francisco Goya.
4.    Vincent van Gogh.
5.    Michelangelo Buonarroti.
6.    Jan Van Eyck.
7.    Hieronymus Bosch.
8.    Titian (Tiziano Vecellio).
9.    Diego Velázquez.
10.    Eugène Delacroix.
11.    Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto.
12.    El Greco.
13.    Giotto di Bondone.
14.    Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.
15.    Greek Sculptors of The Pergamon Alter 200 BC.
16.    Albrecht Dürer.
17.    Mathis Grünewald.
18.    Leonardo Da Vinci.
19.    Edgar Degas.
20.    August Rodin.
21.    Jan Vermeer.
22.    Frans Hals.
23.    Thèodore Géricault.
24.    Edward Manet.
25.    Egon Scheile.
26.    Jean-Michel Basquiat.
27.    William Turner.
28.    Edvard Munch.
29.    Jackson Pollock.
30.    Marcel Duchamp.
31.    Francis Bacon.
32.    Willem De Kooning.
33.    Jean-August-Dominique Ingres.
34.    Paul Cézanne.
35.    Lucian Freud.
36.    Gustav Courbet.
37.    Hans Holbein the Younger.
38.    Pieter Brueghel The Elder.
39.    The Limbourg Brothers.
40.    Salvador Dalí.
41.    Andy Warhol.
42.    Lucas Cranach the Elder.
43.    Alessandro Botticelli.
44.    Masaccio (Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone).
45.    Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini.
46.    Piero Della Francesca.
47.    Paul Klee.
48.    Jean Chardin.
49.    Jean-Antoine Watteau.
50.    Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio).
51.    Amedeo Modigliani.
52.    Paul Gauguin.
53.    Anselm Kiefer.
54.    Toulouse-Lautrec.
55.    James Ensor.
56.    Franz Xaver Messerschmidt.
57.    Jacques Louis David.
58.    José de Ribera.
59.    Balthus.
60.    Julian Schnabel.
61.    Edward Hopper.
62.    Henry Darger.
63.    Francisco Zurbarán.
64.    Agnolo Bronzino.
65.    Casper David Friedrich.
66.    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
67.    Emil Nolde.
68.    Otto Dix.
69.    Max Beckmann.
70.    John Constable.
71.    Richard Gerstl.
72.    John Singer Sargent.
73.    Oskar Kokoschka.
74.    Gustav Klimt.
75.    Georg Baselitz.
76.    Peter Paul Rubens.
77.    Katsushika Hokusai.
78.    Antonio Correggio.
79.    Ando Hiroshige.
80.    Wassily Kandinsky.
81.    Max Ernst.
82.    Fra Angeleco.
83.    Jean Dubuffet.
84.    Joseph Beuys.
85.    Paolo Veronese.
86.    Théodore Chassériau.
87.    Gerhard Richter.
88.    Piet Mondrian.
89.    Martin Kippenberger.
90.    Hans Memling.
91.    Donatello.
92.    Claude Monet.
93.    Juan Miró.
94.    Mark Rothko.
95.    Chaïm Soutine.
96.    William Blake.
97.    Alberto Giacometti.
98.    Honoré Daumier.
99.    Jean-Antoine Watteau.
100.    Antonin Artaud.
101.    Lovis Corinth.
102.    Kazimir Malevich.
103.    Pierre Bonnard.
104.    Leon Kossoff.
105.    Franz Kline.
106.    Antoni Tàpies.
107.    Francis Picabia.
108.    Petrus Christus.
109.    David Salle.
110.    Francois Boucher.
111.    Cy Twombly.
112.    Robert Motherwell.
113.    De Chirico.
114.    William Hogarth.
115.    Andrea Mantegna.
116.    Giorgione.
117.    Paolo Uccello.
118.    Albrecht Altdorfer.
119.    Fragonard.
120.    Robert Rauchenburg.
121.    Yves Kline.
122.    Sigmar Polke.
123.    René Magritte.
124.    Auguste Renoir.
125.    Bruce Nauman.
126.    Giovanni Bellini.
127.    Piero Manzoni.
128.    Kees Van Dongen.
129.    Camille Pissarro.
130.    Anthony Van Dyke.
131.    David Hockney.
132.    Antonio Canova.
133.    Van der Weyden.
134.    Winslow Homer.
135.    Adolf Von Menzel.
136.    Arnold Böcklin.
137.    Duccio.
138.    Cimabue.
139.    Henri Rousseau.
140.    Henri Matisse.
141.    Jeff Koons.
142.    Damien Hirst.
143.    Constantin Brancusi.
144.    Kurt Schwitters.
145.    Adolf Wolfi.
146.    Günter Brus.
147.    Hans Bellmer.
148.    Louise Bourgeois.
149.    Matthias Weischer.
150.    Camille Corot.
151.    Hans Baldung Grien.
152.    Heindert Hobbema.
153.    Andrea del Sarto.
154.    Andrea del Verocchio.
155.    Augustus John.
156.    Carel Fabritius.
157.    Philip Guston.
158.    Eric Fischl.
159.    Nicolas de Staël.
160.    Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida.
161.    Wang Hui.
162.    Willem Kalf.
163.    Frank Kupka.
164.    Jacek Malczewski.
165.    Kazimierz Stabrowski.
166.    Antoine-Jean Gros.
167.    Joseph Cornell.
168.    Józef Mehoffer.
169.    Antonio López Garcia.
170.    Paula Rego.
171.    Brice Marden.
172.    Diego Rivera.
173.    Maurice Vladmick.
174.    Andre Derian.
175.    Hans Arp.
176.    Pierre-Cecile Pavis de Chavannes.
177.    Man Ray.
178.    Odilon Redon.
179.    Annibale Carracci.
180.    Ferdynand Ruszczyc.
181.    Sandro Chia.
182.    Albert Oehlen.
183.    Witold Wojtkiewicz.
184.    Wojciech Weiss.
185.    Walter Sickert.
186.    Graham Sutherland.
187.    Carlo Crivelli.
188.    Germaine Richier.
189.    Joseph Kosuth.
190.    Sindey Nolan.
191.    Jasper Johns.
192.    August Strindberg.
193.    Agusta Walla.
194.    John Everett Millais.
195.    Christian Schad.
196.    Jean-Baptise Greuze.
197.    Giorgio Morandi.
198.    Il Guercino.
199.    Franz Von Stuck.
200.    Enzo Cucchi.
201.    Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.
202.    Alfred Sisley.
203.    Luc Tuymans.
204.    Lucio Fontana.
205.    Jean Fautrier.
206.    Asger Jorn.
207.    Mathew Barney.
208.    Marino Marini.
209.    Basilica de San Marco.
210.    Samual Palmer.
211.    Giambologna.
212.    Heindrick Avercamp.
213.    Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
214.    Jean Fouquet.
215.    Antonello.
216.    Tilman Riemenschneider.
217.    Sir Joshua Reynolds.
218.    Arnulf Rainer.
219.    Frida Kahlo.
220.    George Grosz.
221.    Pietro Cavallini.
222.    Wilhelm Sasnal.
223.    Michaël Borremans.
224.    Hans Josephsohn.
225.    Fred Tomaselli.
226.    Artemisa Gentileschi.
227.    Gustave Moreau.
228.    Wilhelm Hammershoi.
229.    Barnet Newman.
230.    Morris Louis.
231.    Berthe Morisot.
232.    Louis Soutter.
233.    Paula Modersohn-Becker.
234.    Maurice Utrillo.
235.    A.R. Penck.
236.    L.S. Lowry.
237.    Tracey Emin.
238.    Anders Zorn.
239.    Jules Pascin.
240.    Henri Cartier Bresson.
241.    Hannah Höch.
242.    Blinky Palermo.
243.    Neo Rauch.
244.    Juan Gris.
245.    Adolph-William Bouguerau.
246.    Raymond Pettibon.
247.    Hubert Robert.
248.    Robert Ryman.
249.    Grayson Perry.
250.    Max Liebermann.
251.    Mary Cassett.
252.    Fra Filippo Lippi.
253.    Nicolas Poussin.
254.    Claude Lorrain.
255.    Giulio Romano.
256.    Paul Delvaux.
257.    Ross Bleckner.
258.    Marcel Broodthears.
259.    Donald Judd.
260.    Umberto Boccioni.
261.    Arshil Gorky.
262.    Miquel Barcelo.
263.    Pierre Soulages.
264.    Gary Hume.
265.    Sally Mann.
266.    The Chapman Brothers.
267.    Chris Ofili.
268.    Gregor Schneider.
269.    Gilbert and George.
270.    Ilya Kabakov.
271.    Ron Mueck.
272.    Luca Signorelli.
273.    Richard Hamilton.
274.    Mark Chagall.
275.    Jack Butler Yeats.
276.    Euan Uglow.
277.    Martin Disler.
278.    Lee Krasner.
279.    Ferdinad Hodler.
280.    Henri Fuseli.
281.    Pietro de Cortona.
282.    Felicien Rops.
283.    James Whistler.
284.    George Stubbs.
285.    Jacob van Ruisdael.
286.    Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
287.    Edward Kieholz.
288.    Sir John Lavery.
289.    Erich Heckel.
290.    Benvenuto Cellini.
291.    Masolino.
292.    William Orpen.
293.    Stephen Campbell.
294.    Dorothea Tanning.
295.    Andres Gursky.
296.    Christian Boltanski.
297.    Malcolm Morley.
298.    Robert Campin.
299.    Pisanello (Antonio Pisano).
300.    Mario Merz.
301.    Jenny Saville.
302.    Alison Watt.
303.    Peter Blake.
304.    Philips Koninck.
305.    Jean-Francois Millet.
306.    Nicola Pisano.
307.    Paulus Potter.
308.    Thomas Gainsborough.
309.    Edward Burns Jones.
310.    Antonio & Piero del Pollaiuolo.
311.    Andrea Pisano.
312.    Benozzo Gozzol.
313.    Jim Dine.
314.    Luca Della Robbia.
315.    Elsworth Kelly.
316.    Santiago Sierra.
317.    Vito Acconci.
318.    Henry Moore.
319.    Juli Gonzales.
320.    William Morris.
321.    Jan Steen.
322.    Giovanni Antonio Canaletto.
323.    Konrad Klapheck.
324.    Eva Hesse.
325.    Louise Nevelson.
326.    Clifford Still.
327.    Mimmo Paladino.
328.    Jules Olitski.
329.    Kenneth Noland.
330.    Gustave Caillebotte.
331.    Eugene Boudin.
332.    Larry Poons.
333.    Adriana Varejão.
334.    Bridget Rily.
335.    William Holoman Hunt.
336.    Lorenzo Lotto.
337.    Joacme Patenier.
338.    Lorenzo Ghiberti.
339.    Christo.
340.    Albert Marquet.
341.    Henri Fantin-Latour.
342.    Verrocchio.
343.    Il Sodoma.
344.    Edouard Vuillard.
345.    Thomas Eakins.
346.    Adrian Ghenie.
347.    Jean Arp.
348.    Hernan Bas.
349.    Richard Diebenkorn.
350.    Vladimir Tatlin.
351.    Jacob Epstein.
352.    Alexander Rodchenko.
353.    Pieter be Hooch.
354.    Alexander Calder.
355.    Markus Lüpertz.
356.    Eduardo Chillida.
357.    Raoul Hausmann.
358.    Anton Raffael Mengs.
359.    Rudolf Schwarkógler.
360.    La Tour.
361.    Sir Thomas Lawrence.
362.    Betty Tomkins.
363.    Robert Smithson.
364.    Robert Morris.
365.    Richard Serre.
366.    Domenico Ghirlandaio.
367.    Carl André.
368.    Tiepolo.
369.    Parmigianino.
370.    Jacopa da Pontormo.
371.    Nicolas Hilliard.
372.    Dieric Bouts.
373.    Antonio Mancini.
374.    Leon Golub.
375.    Giovanni Boldini.
376.    Hans Makart.
377.    Karel Appel.
378.    Richard Prince.
379.    Giovanni Battista Moroni.
380.    Robert Delaunay.
381.    Meret Oppenheim.
382.    Naum Gabo.
383.    Chuck Close.
384.    Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
385.    Guido Reni.
386.    Sir Lawerence Alma-Tadema.
387.    Walter de Maria.
388.    Lazslo Moholy-Nay.
389.    Claes Oldenburg.
390.    Victor Hugo.
391.    Werner Büttner.
392.    Patrick Graham.
393.    Bodys Isek Kingelez.
394.    Ellen Gallagher.
395.    Gillian Ayres.
396.    Basil Blackshaw.
397.    Brian Maguire.
398.    Paul Doran.
399.    Rainer Fetting.
400.    Michael Landy.
401.    Marlene Dumas.
402.    Jorg Immendorf.
403.    Jiři Georg Dokoupil.
404.    Vija Celmins.
405.    Georges Mathieu.
406.    Bill Viola.
407.    Mike Kelly.
408.    Franz Marc.
409.    Günther Uecker.
410.    Colin Martin.
411.    Alexi Von Jawlensky.
412.    Arthur Boyd.
413.    Roy Lichtenstein.
414.    Corneille.
415.    Vic Muniz.
416.    Mark Quinn.
417.    Kiki Smith.
418.    Perugino.
419.    Ai Weiwei.
420.    Haim Steinbeck.
421.    Gavin Turk.
422.    Peter Doig.
423.    Victor Vasarely.
424.    Walter Stohrer.
425.    Arman.
426.    Jean Tinguely.
427.    Niki de Saint Phalle.
428.    Nathaniel Hone.
429.    Daniel Maclise.
430.    Walter Osborne.
431.    Micheal Farrell.
432.    Hughie O’Donoghue.
433.    Barrie Cooke.
434.    Nick Miller.
435.    William Leech.
436.    Camille Souter.
437.    Dorothy Cross.
438.    Gentile da Fabriano.
439.    On Karwara.
440.    Rineke Dijkstra.
441.    Cindy Sherman.
442.    Käthe Kollwitz.
443.    André Masson.
444.    John Martin.
445.    Barbara Hepworth.
446.    Werner Tubke.
447.    Rebecca Horn.
448.    Nancy Spero.
449.    Sophie Calle.
450.    Dan Flavin.

The Greatest 250 Draughtsmen of All Time

The following list contains, in my personal opinion, the greatest two hundred and fifty (mostly Western post 1300AD) draughtsmen of all time. The selection was based upon the body of drawn work that has been preserved by them and that I have seen in the flesh and in reproduction. With the exception of watercolours and pastels - drawing ability in painted work was not considered. Because watercolour was included, artists like Turner and Constable were ranked as high as they were. I also took into account printed work. Emphasis was placed upon traditional representational skills, including knowledge of anatomy but also upon creative and inventive use of works on paper. Credit was also given for the artists, ease of facility, depth of emotion, visual originality and versatility in all the drawing mediums including printmaking.

1.    Albrecht Dürer.
2.    Leonardo Da Vinci.
3.    Michelangelo Buonarroti.
4.    Francesco Goya.
5.    Rembrandt Harmeszoon Van Rijn.
6.    Egon Schiele.
7.    Edgar Degas.
8.    Jean-August-Dominique Ingres.
9.    Pablo Picasso.
10.    Eugène Delacroix.
11.    Vincent van Gogh.
12.    Katsushika Hokusai.
13.    Thèodore Géricault.
14.    Honoré Daumier.
15.    Hans Holbein the Younger.
16.    Sir Peter-Paul Rubens.
17.    Jean-Antoine Watteau.
18.    Limbourg Brothers.
19.    Il Guercino.
20.    Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.
21.    Oskar Kokoschka.
22.    Gustav Klimt.
23.    Paul Klee.
24.    August Rodin.
25.    William Turner.
26.    Salvador Dalí.
27.    Ando Hiroshige.
28.    17th Century Mughal Drawings.
29.    Edvard Munch.
30.    Alessandro Botticelli.
31.    Francois Boucher.
32.    William Blake.
33.    Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio).
34.    Paul Cézanne.
35.    Cave Paintings.
36.    Annibale Carracci.
37.    Georges Rouault.
38.    Paul Seurat.
39.    James Ensor.
40.    Andrea Mantegna.
41.    Jean-Michel Basquiat.
42.    John Singer Sargent.
43.    Emil Nolde.
44.    Max Beckman.
45.    Otto Dix.
46.    Giovanni Piranesi.
47.    Henry Darger.
48.    Edward Manet.
49.    Adolf Wolfi.
50.    Odilon Redon.
51.    George Grosz.
52.    Jacopo Carucci, gen. Pontormo.
53.    Jim Dine.
54.    Joseph Beuys.
55.    Adolf Von Menzel.
56.    José de Ribera.
57.    Giovanni Battista Naldini.
58.    Agostino Carracci.
59.    Andrea del Verrochio.
60.    John Constable.
61.    John Sell Cotman.
62.    Proudhon.
63.    Jean-Baptiste Greuze.
64.    Claude Lorrain.
65.    Pisanello (Antonio Pisano).
66.    Paul Gauguin.
67.    Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
68.    Cy Twombly.
69.    Alberto Giacometti.
70.    Antonio López Garcia.
71.    Kathe Kollowitz.
72.    Louise Bourgeois.
73.    Georg Baselitz.
74.    Anselm Kiefer.
75.    Henri Matisse.
76.    Henry Moore.
77.    Julies Pascin.
78.    Jacque-Louis David.
79.    Gustav Courbet.
80.    Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
81.    Günter Brus.
82.    Il Parmigianion.
83.    Jean Chardin.
84.    Samuel Palmer.
85.    Amedeo Modigliani.
86.    Antonin Artaud.
87.    Willem de Kooning.
88.    David Hockney.
89.    Juan Miró.
90.    Aubrey Beardsley.
91.    Hans Bellmer.
92.    John Robert Cozens.
93.    Johann Heinrich Fuseli.
94.    Thomas Gainsborough.
95.    Augustus John.
96.    Gustave Moreau.
97.    Wang Hui.
98.    Max Ernst.
99.    Nicholas Hillard.
100.    Paolo Veronese.
101.    Lucas Cranach The Elder.
102.    Thomas Rowlandson.
103.    Francois Marius Granet.
104.    Peter Brueghel The Elder.
105.    Anthony van Dyke.
106.    Felicien Rops.
107.    Antonio Correggio.
108.    Thomas Girtin.
109.    Edward Hopper.
110.    Andrew Wyeth.
111.    David Casper Friedrich.
112.    Paula Rego.
113.    Puvis de Chavannes.
114.    Albrecht Altodrfer.
115.    Kees Van Dongeen.
116.    Antonello da Messina.
117.    Raymond Pettibon.
118.    Andy Warhol.
119.    Walter Sickert.
120.    Arnulf Rainer.
121.    Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.
122.    Franz Kline.
123.    Julian Schnabel.
124.    John Everett Millais.
125.    Gustave Dore.
126.    Frank Auerbach.
127.    R. B. Katij.
128.    Francesco Clemente.
129.    Andrea Mantegna.
130.    Xu Hong.
131.    Victor Hugo.
132.    Balthus.
133.    Marcantonio Raimondi.
134.    Amico Aspertini.
135.    Philip Pearlstein.
136.    Jean Fautiner.
137.    Antoni Tàpies.
138.    Théodore Chassériau.
139.    Pierre Klossowski.
140.    Francis Picabia.
141.    William Hogarth.
142.    William Orpen.
143.    Francisco Zurbarán.
144.    Maria Fortuny I Marsal.
145.    Henry Tonks.
146.    Jacques Callot.
147.    George Stubbs.
148.    Van der Weyden.
149.    Charles Le Brun.
150.    Titian (Tiziano Vecellio).
151.    Antoine-Jean Gros.
152.    Edward Hopper.
153.    Martin Schongauer.
154.    Giovanni Benedotto Castiglione.
155.    Salvator Rosa.
156.    Frans Snyders.
157.    Albertinelli.
158.    Gossaert.
159.    Andre d’Angnolo gen. del Sarto.
160.    Francois Clouet.
161.    Wols.
162.    Robert Motherwell.
163.    Jasper Johns.
164.    Pierre Joseph Redoute.
165.    Jacques Fouquieres.
166.    John James Audubon.
167.    Martin Kippenberger.
168.    Pierre Bonnard.
169.    Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto.
170.    Carl Rottmann.
171.    Rudolf von Alt.
172.    Hundertwasser.
173.    Nicolas de Staël.
174.    Jean-Michel Atlan.
175.    Pierre Soulages.
176.    Hans Baldung Grien.
177.    Euan Uglow.
178.    Richard Diebenkorn.
179.    Camille Corot.
180.    Francesco Guardi.
181.    Stanley Spencer.
182.    Ludovico Carracci.
183.    El Greco.
184.    Jean Louis Forain.
185.    Maurice Utrillo.
186.    Jean Dubuffet.
187.    André Masson.
188.    Juan Gris.
189.    George Braque.
190.    Il Parmigianino.
191.    Pierre-Hubert Subleyras.
192.    Lorenzo Lotto.
193.    Del Piombo.
194.    Jacopo Bellini.
195.    Fra Bartolommeo.
196.    Richard Parks Bonington.
197.    Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
198.    Lorenzo di Credi.
199.    Filippino Lippi.
200.    Burne-Jones.
201.    Giovanni Bernini.
202.    Pietro da Cortona.
203.    Charles-Francois Daubigny.
204.    Corneille.
205.    Patrick Graham.
206.    Brian Maguire.
207.    Brice Marden.
208.    Werner Tubke.
209.    Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
210.    Hubert Robert.
211.    Paul Signac.
212.    Henri-Edmond Cross.
213.    Camille Pissarro.
214.    Jean Francois Millet.
215.    Maurice-Quentin de La Tour.
216.    Zoran Music.
217.    Julius Bissier.
218.    André Derain.
219.    Sam Francis.
220.    Mark Tobey.
221.    Berthe Morisot.
222.    Philip Guston.
223.    A.R. Penck.
224.    Giorgio Morandi.
225.    Giorgio de Chirico.
226.    William Mulready.
227.    Constantin Guys.
228.    Vittore Carpaccio.
229.    Giovanni Antonio Canaletto.
230.    Auguste Renoir.
231.    Johan Barthold Jongkind.
232.    Aristide Maillol.
233.    Jean Arp.
234.    Wassily Kandinsky.
235.    James McNeill Whistler.
236.    Alessandro Allori.
237.    Fernand Leger.
238.    Luca Cambiaso.
239.    Francesco Primaticcio.
240.    Hugo van der Goes.
241.    Jean Etienne Liotard.
242.    Henri Michaux.
243.    Bruce Nauman.
244.    Donald Sultan.
245.    Ellen Gallagher.
246.    Dominic McGill.
247.    Marlene Dumas.
248.    Keith Haring.
249.    Cai Guo Qiang.
250.    Hughie O’Donoghue.


Sorolla: Star of Europe's Got Painting Talent

At 2;30pm on Saturday 21st September 2019, my brother, his new wife and my sister Avril picked us up in their car and brought us to the National Gallery of Ireland to see the Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida exhibition Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light. I had not gone out to an exhibition since March 2018, when I had seen Emil Nolde: Colour is Life also in the National Gallery of Ireland and frankly I had given up any real interest most art and all contemporary art. But as part of my daily rituals, I would scan the arts pages of the various newspapers only to despair at the endless left-wing lectures on the evils of Trump, Brexit and white heterosexual men in general as well as their constant thinly-veiled propaganda for; progressive socialism, fourth-wave feminism, MeToo, LGBTQ activists, multiculturalism, disability rights, eco-warriors, veganism, and women, women, women! Yet, virtually all this avalanche of politically simplistic activist art was talentless rubbish. It seemed to me that there was no more art left in art and all there was left was cynical socio-political brainwashing. And even if I may have supported many left-wing ambitions – I refused to accept the weaponization of art for political ends or such a naïve and partisan understanding of existence. So, apart from some wonderful exhibitions of Expressionism in New York’s Neue Galerie - I saw nothing I had any desire to see. I was left bewildered by how art had radically changed from Modernist and Post-Modern counterculture and transgression, freedom of expression and “live and let live” - into left-wing liberal “do as I say” totalitarian conformism and hypocritical corporate collaboration. Frankly, the millennials were as fanatical in their political correctness as the Victorians had been in their Christian bigotry and both were just as hypocritical and unrealistic. But while the Victorians might have spent a year painstakingly painting some morally uplifting self-righteous message, today, you were lucky if a millennial handed you a post-it note with a pitiful scrawl! Moreover, while the Victorians were restricted to giving moralist diatribes in churches, parliaments and rabble-rousing street protests today’s left-wing liberals can monitor the lives, behaviour and art of everyone through social media and troll those who offend them.

So, I was fascinated to see the Sorolla exhibition because he was a star of an equally conformist period in art history when the deplorables of today were in charge and those they found deplorable were all those who would take over our decadent and fragmented Western societies. Yet, what they all shared was a complete intolerance of dissent or genuine free thinking and a merciless use of cant to further their careers.  


Sorolla was one of the forgotten orphans of art history who had been hailed as “the greatest living painter in the world” only to be written out of later texts. To Modernist fanatics, painters like Sorolla were part of the bankrupt academic system that the likes of Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse helped to overthrow. And unlike many of the early Modernists who had to endured years, even decades of rejection, ridicule, poverty and marginalisation - Sorolla’s life (apart from being orphaned at age two and having a stroke that put an end to his painting three years before his death) was free of trauma or tragedy. He was fêted as a prodigy and then went on to win countless medals, awards, exhibitions and public acclaim. He also was happily married with three beautiful children, earned great wealth from his art and travelled extensively. So, like many world-famous contemporary ‘genius’ artists today - who parrot left-wing liberal clichés and make moralistic art to educate the poor and unwashed deplorables, the way Sorolla and his peers used to parrot conservative and monarchist clichés and made moralistic work to educate the poor, unwashed and immoral - Sorolla’s ‘biography’ reads like one long list of grand exhibitions, triumphs and tub-thumping declarations of profundity. During his 1908 exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London, the galley bombastically declared him “The World’s Greatest Living Painter” and few at the time would have doubted it. The following year, at Sorolla’s exhibition in the Hispanic Society of America around 160,000 people cued over the weeks, sometimes in the snow to see his work, about half of the 356 paintings were sold and all the 20,000 catalogues for the exhibition sold out! And by the end of his tour of America, Sorolla (in an art market only a fraction of the size of todays) had made the equivalent today of five million dollars! Such public success makes the so-called popularity of artists today like Gerhard Richter, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin look laughable. 


Like John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Giovanni Boldini, Antonio Mancini and the Irishmen Sir John Lavery and William Orpen, Sorolla was one of the prodigiously gifted academic painters of the late nineteenth century who tried to bridge the gap between the drawing and painting skills of the Old Masters with the innovations of Impressionism. Sorolla declared that violet was “the only discovery of importance in the art world since Velázquez” and like most of these Belle Epoch painters, his greatest concession to modernity was his use of manufactured tubes of oil paint with all their newly developed blues, reds, yellows, oranges, purples, violets, pinks and greens. For decades these Europe Has Got Painting Talent stars won competition after competition, prize after prize, and medal after medal, and delighted their audiences with flashy skills and kitsch melodrama - only for the whole competitive system and their credibility to be ruined by a bunch of anarchistic punks on the fringes of academia and society. In the age of Modernism that prized originality, authenticity, sexual transgression and political dissent these Belle Epoch virtuoso conformists were later condemned as conservative charlatans. So, they are rarely mentioned in any text on Modernism except as bogymen. 

Yet, they remain immensely popular with amateur painters and the general public, whose interest in art is limited to a delight in exceptional skill, as a source of pleasure and form of escapism. Sorolla may not have been original or intellectually challenging but he brought immense skill to his popular form of naturalistic painting. Besides since Post-Modernism in the 1980s, the establishment of museums like the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and ground-breaking exhibitions like 1900: Art at the Crossroads in 2000,  historians and the general public have been keen to see the context for the birth of Modernism and make up their own minds about the winners and losers - even if that puts the fear of god into the artistic liberal élite with their dogmatic notions about Modernism, artistic value or political and moral virtue. Moreover, both artists and public today mix high and low forms of art and entertainment as we see fit and get pleasure in establishing unexpected connections between them. Personally, I wept with self-loathing at Sorolla’s masterful painterly skills - but I was also very inspired to try harder. Even if I only wanted to improve my skills to paint better transgressive pornographic and insane paintings that would have appalled Sorolla and his peers!

The painting I most wanted to see was Sorolla’s huge dark canvas Sad Inheritance!, from 1899,  which had been inspired by Soralla seeing young disabled boys at the sea under the care of a black-clad St. John of God brother. The painting was meant as a warning against the supposed immorality, vice, alcoholism, and venereal diseases of the children’s parents which many at the time believed had led to the deformity of such children. Originally Sorolla had called it the even more moralising title Children of Pleasure. It won a Grand Prix prize at the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition and I had first seen it in the catalogue to 1900: Art at the Crossroads and I was struck by its sad beauty and uncharacterizable style. It was the most heartrending of Sorolla’s moralistic paintings and jittered uncertainly between the academic, Impressionistic, Symbolist and almost proto-Expressionistic. I was very moved by the way Sorolla captured the poor young boys naked and deformed bodies - which was exaggerated by the fact that the figures further back were treated in a sketch like and broken manner. It may not have been a masterpiece, but it was unforgettably weird. A less successful earlier moralist painting like White Slave Trade from 1895, depicting three young prostitutes with an older procuress being moved in a train carriage to another brothel far away, was a beautifully constructed and painted work but only the title gave any insight into this ambiguous voyeuristic snapshot. Indeed, too many of Sorolla’s attempts at social commentary were undermined by the stilted stage like quality of his compositions and his subconscious, vicarious, voyeuristic indifference. Like so many celebrity multimillionaire left-wing liberals today, Sorolla and his peers loved to proclaim their moral concern and superiority – but really all they cared about was the advancement of their careers and social status. Then as now, art is the greatest fuck you buddy game!

By dividing Sorolla’s work by genre rather than hang it chronologically - the curators cleverly hid the confusion at the heart of Sorolla’s work. But it was only after his rather dutiful portraits, social realism and morality tales did the exhibition really catch fire with his famous and celebrated paintings of children at play on the beaches of Valencia in Spain which had first been inspired by his canvas Sad Inhertance!. It was in his delightful beach scenes that Sorolla really found himself. But the exhibition then ended with the huge and unsatisfactory paintings of native Spanish people in their traditional costumes - which were also serving as studies for his enormous canvas/mural for the Hispanic Society of America in New York.  Their unnecessarily large scale, broad and uninspired filling in with colour, and frozen stagey life-painting quality - weirdly reminded me of the late and equally unconvincing paintings of Edvard Munch. They also reminded me of so many brash large canvases made by gloried Post-Modern, Neo-Salon painters since the 1980s who raced to fill museum walls around the world - and who had also given up on trying to express their soul or anything authentic at all. 

Still overall, the Sorolla exhibition was the most joyous exhibition of paintings I had seen in a very long time and I not only felt the urge to paint but also to buy every tube of colour I could find at my local art materials supplier! I was dazzled by Sorolla’s acute observation of light, masterful drawing, virtuoso skills with the paint brush and kaleidoscopic colours - which nevertheless from a distance remained highly naturalistic. Sorolla’s paintings were badly served by reproduction which greatly neutered their complex colours, reduced their scale and flattened their surfaces. So, he was one of those rare painterly painters whose work had to be seen in the flesh to appreciate their skill and intensity. Pessimistic, nihilistic and cynical, I was normally sceptical of such beautiful and optimistic work, but Sorolla’s trauma free vision of the world - particularly in his beach scenes - was very sincere, believable and infectious. Perhaps, if art had not been hijacked by militant ideologs in the twentieth century and was accurately judged by data on viewing figures like the Pop charts rather than the judgements of a small Socialist and Anarchist intellectual élite - Sorolla would still be considered one of the world’s greatest painters. But the whole system of aristocratic patronage and recognition that Sorolla and other Belle Epoch painters had relied upon was wiped out by the cataclysm of the First World War which totally discredited the aristocracy in Europe, shattered the complacency of the bourgeoisie, led to the emergence of Communism, female suffrage, the undermining of the class system and the radical Socialist, Anarchist and Communist politization of art.

Overall, Sorolla’s oeuvre today, looks like the work of a very talented and hardworking man afflicted by a split-personality - who wanted to be both an Old Master and Impressionist simultaneously. As a poor working-class orphan with the skills of a prodigy, Sorolla never had the luxury of playing artistic games - like so many other artists with private wealth could do - he had to make a living! So, he only seemed to paint what he thought could win medals, gain sales, attract élite patrons and achieve mass approval. But he fatally wanted to be all things to all people. At first he wanted to carry on the tradition of Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya but his versions of their work were lifeless, facile, crass and unbelievable; he wanted to be a social realist reporting on social ills - but he lacked the outrage and intense feeling for tragedy needed to make it convincing; he wanted to be a follower of Impressionism but he lacked their originality - though he did create his greatest paintings during this period when he married his traditional skills with the visual excitement of painting outdoors and insights of Impressionism; and finally he wanted to take all he had learned to create large and complex multi-figure paintings that celebrated Hispanic life with the bright pallet of the Impressionists – but the results were dull, dutiful and unbelievable. Moreover, the spectres of decadence and kitsch hung over much of his work. His admirable technical virtuosity was merely a tactical victory because he lacked any real intellectual strategy. Or to put it another way, Sorolla could only paint with such bravura confidence because he never once questioned his academic training or the meaning of art or life. Unlike Cézanne who might have had only a tenth of Sorolla’s manual skill - but was consumed by the most extraordinary anxiety and doubt about the nature of reality that he had to deconstruct and then reconstruct reality in such a way that he foretold both Cubism and Abstraction. Likewise, while Sorolla painted psychologically healthy and innocent paintings that revelled in the joys of life – Edvard Munch was creating unsettling paintings that tapped into the alienation, angst and battle of the sexes in modern society. Finally, in Picasso’s late teens, during his omnivorous consumption of art, Picasso briefly went through a phase of emulating Sorolla - but he quickly progressed far beyond him. And as Sorolla was painting charming scenes of children at the beach – Picasso was deconstruction the whole Western representational system with Les Demoiselle d’Avignon. Still, the strategic failures and tactical triumphs of Sorolla’s painting perfectly illustrated the middle-class and conservative attempts to maintain the old world by adding just some of the stylish looks of the modern to the ancestral tradition of western academic painting. Moreover, during the seismic changes in European art and society on the fraught hinge between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when Modernism was still contentious and its future in doubt – painters like Sorolla made hay while the sun shined.

Despite Sorolla’s lack of intellectual ambition or prophesy, there were very few painters in the twentieth century and virtually none in the twenty-first century who possessed Sorolla’s combination of prodigious ability, impeccable training and bravura panache. Looking at the progression of Sorolla’s early dark brown and grey coloured paintings into his mature multicoloured work is like seeing the transition from clunky black and white films to glorious technicolour. But reinforcing the notion that he had a split-personality, Sorolla went back and forth from dark academic realism to bright en plein air painting for many years. Upon a firm foundation of academic drawing, tonal painting and the subtle modulation of brushwork that varied from soft to hard, blurred to sharp, broken to lyrical – Sorolla built a fireworks-display of idiosyncratic colour. Learning from Diego Velázquez, Sorolla used two-foot long paint brushes and stood off from his canvases to create an impressive overall effect. Just look at the white sail being mended by women in Sorolla’s huge canvas Sewing the Sail from 1896. The painting of white is one of the most difficult challenges there is for any painter and Sorolla made his task even more difficult by depicting a huge sail in an open setting, surrounded by figures and architecture and bathed in ambient light – yet he produced a seemingly effortless tour de force of naturalistic painting that would put to shame most painters of the last hundred and twenty years. The best we could come up would be Julian Schnabel taking actual sails putting them on stretchers, throwing paint at them and calling them Jane Birkin! Although Sorolla fell short of Sargent’s fine gift for glamourizing the subjects of his portraits, Sorolla was one of the most naturalistic and sympathetic painters of children in art history - and they were devoid of the perverted undertones so notable in other painters at the time or since. Seen up close, Sorolla’s paintings were full of daring juxtapositions of brushwork and unexpected colour – yet from a distance they usually coalesced into utterly convincing naturalistic depictions. Moreover, they emphatically celebrated painting from life en plein air which allowed him to catch tricks of the light that working in the studio or from photographs would never have caught. However, sometimes there were clumsy and unconvincing abbreviations of drawing and colour in the details that gave away Sorolla’s impetuous nature - and fear of the kind of finish that might kill the freshness of his canvases. Yet, these flaws too were a celebration of the human soul in its imperfect state.  It was this high-wire, dare-devil, liveliness that made the best of Sorolla’s paintings so intoxicating. 

After the exhibition my brother very kindly bought me Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light the beautiful, large and well written catalogue to the exhibition! Then we all had coffee and a bite to eat in the café before going home.