Dare I Say It: Greatest Painters of All Time?!

Top 10 Painters of All Time | Artist Daily | Master Artists, Oil Painting, Oil Painters, Old Masters
The Ballad of the Jealous Lover of Lone Green Valley by Thomas Hart Benton, 1934, oil and tempera on canvas mounted on aluminum panel.

Even writing the words “Top 10 painters of all time” makes me cringe a little bit because … really? Really? I find it a herculean task to narrow a list down to the best 100 oil painting artists of all time, let alone just 10.

However, I wanted to look back and reflect on the artists — particularly painters of the past, in this case — and artworks that have inspired me and decide who I would put on the hallowed walls of my own art hall of fame.

The 10 Best Painters of All Time … Well, According to Me

It was tough! I definitely realize I have a few biases, but it was a good exercise and helped me discover what kind of oil on canvas works I most admire and what oil painting techniques and methods I most revere.

Remember, this list is particular to me and my ideas about painting, not a universal standard. Here, then, are my top 10 painters of all time, in no particular order, along with a little bit about why they are my picks.

Top 10 Painters of All Time | Artist Daily | Master Artists, Old Masters
Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Rome, 1508-1512, fresco

Michelangelo (Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni). The artist that opened my eyes to art! He made the human figure powerful, sensual and an artistic pinnacle.

Odilon Redon. For colors that are beyond vibrant, and narratives that are like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

John Singer Sargent. He made me realize how much there is to the action of painting.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler. For his sense of atmosphere.

Frida Kahlo. Because of the confessional and personal symbolism in her art.

Edward Hopper. He captured a sense of time and the human emotion which seemed to suffuse that time like no other artist has been able to replicate.

Top 10 Painters of All Time | Artist Daily | Master Artists, Oil Painting, Oil Painters, Old Masters
The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo, 1939, oil on canvas, 67 x 67.

Lucian Freud. As a contemporary artist, he showed painting can still be taken into uncharted territory.

Pablo Picasso. He broke with so many practices of the past and developed a new way of seeing that paved the way for modern art.

Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio). For his searing lights and rich shadows, and because he painted people with dirty fingernails and grimy feet.

Thomas Hart Benton. His work made me see how art is such a valid part of history. It can go beyond the dry timeline of dates to capture what isn’t in the history books — the workers, small towns and tall tales of people and their lives — and encompassing the zeitgeist of it all with an image.

Flower Clouds by Odilon Redon, 1903, pastel.
Flower Clouds by Odilon Redon, 1903, pastel.

If you are interested in the life and times of another master artist who is certain to be on many “great artist” lists, then gift yourself with Ever Yours: The Essential Letters of Vincent Van Gogh.

This book offers an incredible look into van Gogh’s mindset, biography and intimate moments from the artist himself. What an exceptional way to understand an artist we revere so much.

Well? What do you think? I showed you my list, now I want you to show me yours. Leave a comment and gimme one or two, maybe 10, 20, oh, 100 (if you are so inclined!) of your top artists. I am looking forward to reading all your favorites!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

47 thoughts on “Dare I Say It: Greatest Painters of All Time?!

  1. My top 5:
    Caravaggio
    J M W Turner (fav painting is “The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons”)
    Van Gogh
    Monet
    and
    Filippino Lippi (mainly b/c I spent close to a whole semester studying his “The Holy Family with John the Baptist and St. Margaret” tondo in college; it’s still one of my favorite paintings, even though I’m not Christian)

  2. -Miguel Ángel
    -Da Vinci
    -Tintoretto
    -Rafael
    -Klimt
    -Toulouse- Lautrec
    -Dalí
    -Rembrandt
    -Tiziano
    -Picasso
    And ten more…
    -Boucher
    -Bouguereau
    -Freud
    -Rubens
    -Ingres
    -Boticelli
    -Velázquez
    -Vermeer
    -Van Gogh
    -Miró

  3. These are all great artists…don’t know if I can limit the number to 75.

    I haven’t seen the entire list but I hope that Thomas Kincaid is not on this list. These are some of my favorite painters. I also have favorite sculptors and ceramic artists. That list would be h.u.g.e.

    Rosa Bonheur
    Gustave Courbet
    Lascaux Cave painters, France
    J.M.W. Turner
    Artemesia Gentileschi
    Franz Marc
    Jacob Lawrence
    Gerard ter Borch
    Jan Vermeer
    Giotto di Bondone

  4. Hi Courtney !

    Nice try on the top ten artists. Of course you are wrong!

    Here is my list (at least for this week!)

    Rembrandt Hopper
    Vermeer Gustave Caillebotte
    Chardin Tom Thomson
    Constable George Bellows
    Winslow Homer Edward Brian Seago

  5. Dali
    Rembrandt
    Van Gogh
    Vermeer
    Monet
    Sisley
    Those guys that painted the tombs in the Valley of the dead in Egypte
    Those guys that painted at Lascaux
    Renoir
    Picasso
    Kandinsky
    Mondriaan
    Rubens
    Frans Hals
    Caravaggio
    El Greco
    Titian
    Boticelli
    Michelangelo
    Not a complete list but stille

  6. Dali
    Rembrandt
    Van Gogh
    Vermeer
    Monet
    Sisley
    Those guys that painted the tombs in the Valley of the dead in Egypte
    Those guys that painted at Lascaux
    Renoir
    Picasso
    Kandinsky
    Mondriaan
    Rubens
    Frans Hals
    Caravaggio
    El Greco
    Titian
    Boticelli
    Michelangelo
    Not a complete list but stille

  7. I like many painters east and west.I think more than 75,theirs paint look great for me,and all are my heros.From west,MICHELANGELO,VANGHO,MATTISE,RANIOR,RAMBRANT,WINSLOW HOMMER,MONET,GAUGUIN,NORMAN ROCKWELL,PAUL CEZANNE..
    From east,JIA LU,WPM,KYI MYINT SAW,MIN WAI AUNG.These are some of my heros, many others are left in this.

  8. Mark Rothko
    Leon Golub
    Caravaggio
    David
    Turner
    Okada
    Basquiat
    Freud
    Hockney
    Rivera
    Fairfield Porter

    I mean, if we’re talking about painters broke ground in the medium and changed things, changed art and transformed what a painting could do – This is a good list. While most everyone else regurgitates OLD masters from 200 years ago. Not that those guys weren’t “great” but I think it’s time to move forward.

  9. Hello Courtney,
    I love your column, you are so insightful and open. Thank you for sharing your love of making art.
    My top artist is Chagall, I love his dream and memory work, and I love his flowing compositions.

  10. Maybe I could be pointed out to be a little chauvinist, but honestly, I’m not 🙂
    From Belgium (like I am):
    Magritte
    Paul Delvaux – love his ladies…
    Van Eyck brothers, with their great masterpiece, now in restauration ( http://www.inyourpocket.com/Belgium/Ghent/Het-Lam-Gods_72687 f)

    And the other masters:
    El Greco
    Velazquez
    Pablo Picasso
    Dali – love his style
    Degas
    Boticelli
    Botero
    Monet

    Ah, I give up. Too many to write down. But I’m not fund of Van Gogh, I tried to like his stuff, but even in real life (in Paris) they couldn’t warm me.

  11. -wondering how many of us change our lists daily-
    -from then
    Hopper
    Renoir
    Morisot
    Matisse
    Vlaminck
    Manet
    -from now
    Macpherson
    Burdick
    Tankersley
    Sponberg
    Jurick
    -oh wait, was that eleven?!

  12. I agree with everyone…it is impossible to limit a list of great artists. There are so many groundbreaking painters. As an Aussie I would have to list some favourites from this side of the world.
    Brett Whitely – for his purity of line, and personal vision.
    Fred Williams – for his interpretation of the Australian landscape.
    Arthur Boyd – for his classical references.
    John Olsen – a groundbreaker in technique, he gets to the ‘essence’ of a subject.

  13. My personal feel is that, there are so many great masters to list, not to consider the good comment that ” Sinewaves” mentions , – we have many great living masters of the arts among us today to look at also. I like to feel the engery of today along with the past. It is us living today the people in the future will be looking at and enjoying also. Learn from the past and create for the future in your own style.
    -W.P.-
    .

  14. My personal feel is that, there are so many great masters to list, not to consider the good comment that ” Sinewaves” mentions , – we have many great living masters of the arts among us today to look at also. I like to feel the engery of today along with the past. It is us living today the people in the future will be looking at and enjoying also. Learn from the past and create for the future in your own style.
    -W.P.-
    .

  15. My personal favorites are Matisse, Turner, Klimt, Chagall, Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec, Monet and Romare Bearden. But of course, any list of the greatest artists of all times must include Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso, Van Gogh and Rembrant

  16. Why is it that when someone asks for a list of “Great” artist, artist that are recognized commercially (but not critically) are never included. I saw one person list Norman Rockwell as one of their top ten artist. Why isn’t Elvgren, or Petty, or Vargas recognized for their treatment of the female form? We are asked to accept Jackson Pollack flinging paint at a canvas while in a drunken, drug induced stupor as art, yet pin up artist are shoved into a corner of being labeled….Illustrators (not artist). The care and emotion that moved a country to buy War Bonds with his Four Freedoms series should put Rockwell at the top of everyone’s list. Fortune 100 companies think enough of Mark Fredrickson’s work to promote their goods and services that he is constant demand, yet he will probably never be asked to show at the MET. David Uhl and Scott Jacobson bring the world of motorcycles to life, but no mention of this fine practitioners. Maybe someday the art world will listen to it’s own rhetoric and look upon these “Artist” with an open mind. Maybe one day these artist will be given credit for their care to anatomical correctness, presentation, craftsmanship, layout, and adherence to the discipline of rendering the figure in the technique of the old masters, Until then, I will follow these titans of the brush and enjoy the beauty they bring to the canvas.

  17. Why is it that when someone asks for a list of “Great” artist, artist that are recognized commercially (but not critically) are never included. I saw one person list Norman Rockwell as one of their top ten artist. Why isn’t Elvgren, or Petty, or Vargas recognized for their treatment of the female form? We are asked to accept Jackson Pollack flinging paint at a canvas while in a drunken, drug induced stupor as art, yet pin up artist are shoved into a corner of being labeled….Illustrators (not artist). The care and emotion that moved a country to buy War Bonds with his Four Freedoms series should put Rockwell at the top of everyone’s list. Fortune 100 companies think enough of Mark Fredrickson’s work to promote their goods and services that he is constant demand, yet he will probably never be asked to show at the MET. David Uhl and Scott Jacobson bring the world of motorcycles to life, but no mention of this fine practitioners. Maybe someday the art world will listen to it’s own rhetoric and look upon these “Artist” with an open mind. Maybe one day these artist will be given credit for their care to anatomical correctness, presentation, craftsmanship, layout, and adherence to the discipline of rendering the figure in the technique of the old masters, Until then, I will follow these titans of the brush and enjoy the beauty they bring to the canvas.

  18. Love that you include Hopper,captivating; beyond words. All mentioned by you and others, ditto. I am a Rembrandt fan.. Standing before the NightWatch ….epic.. Caravaggio moved me less in person, still stellar work. I’ve seen many of the art in person in various parts of the world… glorious moments… I might add, Diebenkorn ..for the blue period, #4,8,27.
    And to the viewer who pointed out an artists’ work disparaging (Kincaid) I really can think of something to gain from all work, K’s work brings you to a warm love garden, so lighten up, and look to what the artist speaks…listen for their language, and learn. A Rockwell speaks to the joys of simple life, & brings a smile, while Renoir takes us to a period of time, relish the moments… Van Gogh and Picasso, give an oddesy escape, love the ride! Some wow us, some take us so deep we must crawl away… #beinspired&inspire™ #babygrle

  19. Please. You surprise me. Speaking objectively, Rembrandt, Raphael, and Leonardo were greater painters than the sculptor/painter, Michaelangelo, despite his glorious acheivement in the Sistine Chapel. I think that any of today’s legitimate painters–portrait, still life, and landscape– will name Rembrandt as the greatest of all, the one whom their eyes study the most.

    Herb C.

  20. Please. You surprise me. Speaking objectively, Rembrandt, Raphael, and Leonardo were greater painters than the sculptor/painter, Michaelangelo, despite his glorious acheivement in the Sistine Chapel. I think that any of today’s legitimate painters–portrait, still life, and landscape– will name Rembrandt as the greatest of all, the one whom their eyes study the most.

    Herb C.

  21. Please. You surprise me. Speaking objectively, Rembrandt, Raphael, and Leonardo were greater painters than the sculptor/painter, Michaelangelo, despite his glorious acheivement in the Sistine Chapel. I think that any of today’s legitimate painters–portrait, still life, and landscape– will name Rembrandt as the greatest of all, the one whom their eyes study the most.

    Herb C.

  22. Please. You surprise me. Speaking objectively, Rembrandt, Raphael, and Leonardo were greater painters than the sculptor/painter, Michaelangelo, despite his glorious acheivement in the Sistine Chapel. I think that any of today’s legitimate painters–portrait, still life, and landscape– will name Rembrandt as the greatest of all, the one whom their eyes study the most.

    Herb C.

  23. Vibert
    Tissot
    Sargent
    Renoir
    Monet
    Cassat
    Church
    Dali
    Homer
    O’Keefe
    Rockwell
    I would also credit a heavy influence from American naturalists and photographers like Muir and Adams.

    Patty K

  24. I guess in my list I didn’t really name the top 10 of all time, so much as I identified the ones who’ve genuinely influenced how I look at art. And I might add my disappointment that I’m not seeing many women in these lists. 🙁

    Patty K

  25. This is going to be fun. Thanks for your list. I have a bunch of photos of pix in my drawer. Some famous and some not. I am going to look at them with a goal besides just loving the art.

  26. Courtney, thank you for your personal list of the Top Ten. I agree with every one of your supporting statements. I am sure if I took a while, I’d have my own unique list as well, but I have to say you’ve done a fabulous job of suiting my own esthetics and admirations. In particular, was Odilon Redon and Thomas Hart Benton. I made a personal study of Benton in undergrad school and learned a great deal. Thanks again. Always enjoy your entries. Kate N

  27. My list of all time greatest painters:
    Velasquez
    Rembrandt
    Titian
    Raphael
    Leonardo
    Picasso
    Degas
    Sargent
    Rubens
    Monet
    Manet
    Corot
    Francis Bacon
    Van Dyck
    Holbein
    Van Gogh
    Caravaggio
    Giotto
    Cezanne
    Van Eyck
    Vermeer

  28. Add these as a second tier list of the greatest painters for a total of 45 al time greats.. All great but fewer great works than 1st list:
    Franz Hals
    Correggio
    Courbet
    Veronesse
    Zurbaran
    Murillo
    Poussin
    J.L.David
    Ingres
    Gainsborough
    Giorgione
    Goya
    J. Gris
    Delacroix
    A. Carracci
    Boucher
    Tiepolo
    Memling
    Modigliani
    Pontormo
    Turner
    G. Bellini
    F. Kline
    Poussin
    Watteau

  29. Courtney,

    You asked for it, so here goes!

    Wayne Thiebaud – His use of texture and color take ordinary things — pies, cakes! — and shows how special and evocative they really are. And his paintings of people are haunting. He sold paintings out of the back of his car at the beginning, taught painting for many years at the university level, and has paintings in many tops museums around the world.

    Charles Burchfield – Amazing study of the vibrating life within things, and how it goes out into the world as incredible colors and energy fields.

    Henri Matisse – Culmination of his career in the “cutouts” of his last years… such an unyielding commitment to his art.

    Roy Lichtenstein – Teaching us all the rigors of art-making, showing us the humor in everything, and the lessons to be learned in art-making experimentation.

    Edward Hopper – I couldn’t agree with you more, and couldn’t have said it better.

    Alex Katz – Elegance, says it all.

    Paul Cezanne – His understanding of the essence of his subject, and his use of austere color, makes us all reach further into ourselves as artists.

    Gustave Caillebotte – Not only for his incredible capture of ordinary moments in people’s lives, but also his outsized role in support of his fellow artists of the time.

    Maynard Dixon – He captured the expanse and aridity of the American Southwest, and has inspired so many others like modern artists Ed Mell and Tony Abeyta.

    … and many others who have explored through their art:

    Paul Klee (great documentary Paul Klee: The Silence of the Angel)
    Josef Albers (his dedicated exploration of color is amazing)
    the Taos painters
    and of course Georgia O’Keefe.

    Bruce Nivens

  30. What about people like:

    Charles Russell
    Fredrick Remington
    Dr. Agee–A Navajo artist who showed me I didn’t have to draw like Charlie Russell to make my art good–I will never forget his admonition: “Why should you worry about your drawings? I draw like a fourth-grader and I sell my paintings very well.” Thanks to him, I am again working on my painting.

    Will James
    George Kennecott (I THINK that’s his name. His paintings hang in the St. Michael’s Hotel Art Museum at Prescott, Arizona. He is another inspiration for me.

    These are only a few I think should be added to the list of Great AMERICAN Artists.

  31. My Top Ten “Greatest Artists of All Time” List in no particular order:

    1. Picasso
    2. Klimt
    3. Caravaggio
    4. Lam
    5 Pollock
    6.Munch
    7.Dali
    8.Gogh
    9.Goya
    10.Proudhon

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