Infographic: Painters in the Making

“In what period of their life did the most famous artists in the last 8 centuries paint their masterpieces? Were they young or experienced? And what about the colors and techniques that were used? This analysis and visualization tries, humbly, to sum up centuries of art and artist in a double spread…”

Painters in the Making

Painters in the Making

Thanks, Accurat! It’s an nicely designed infographic, though that isn’t the only reason I am posting it. Looking through the artists’ “masterpieces”, I realized that I disagreed with a few (OK, many) of the choices. How in the world did the authors go about choosing these particular works? I know I’ve read essays and books by respected scholars who would band together with pitchforks and torches to categorically disagree with some of them (i.e. Cezanne’s masterpiece being the Bathers? or The Hanged Man’s House? ).

Perhaps the choice of artwork is merely based of the desginers’ opinions. Or which paintings are the most expensive. Or how many prints hang in the dorm rooms of college freshman. Either way, “masterpiece” may not be the best word choice.

–  a work of outstanding artistry, skill, or workmanship:a great literary masterpiece
–  an artist’s or craftsman’s best piece of work:the painting is arguably Picasso’s masterpiece
–  historical a piece of work by a craftsman accepted as qualification for membership of a guild as an acknowledged master.
(from the Oxford Dictionary)

And now begins an interesting line of questioning: how do you judge a work of art to be a masterpiece? What is the basis for comparison? Who has such authority? Would that judgement be more subjective or objective?

Here’s what a few other folks had to say on the subject:

“To me, a masterpiece is something that stands the test of time and is viewed as a masterpiece from generation to generation…Secondly, it must influence generations of artists and change the way that people look at the medium — be it painting, sculpture, decorative art or whatever. It must be so original that once you’ve seen it, you’re indelibly influenced by its power, and any artist who goes in that direction is accused of studying under or being in the shadow of the original.”  -Dar Reedy, art collector 1

“I’m really interested in traditional painting and art, so to me certain Vermeers or Rembrandts or Gericaults sum up what a masterpiece is…They crystallize a whole set of artistic and cultural values and are technically brilliant above reproach. That’s a pretty old-fashioned way of looking at things, but I’m such a romantic that I buy into the whole myth. I believe in the transformative power of art; I do believe that. And those paintings that move you so much words fail you — those are the masterpieces.” –Michael Kareken, a professor of painting and drawing1

“There were, and perhaps still are, people who used to maintain that the word “masterpiece” was merely the expression of a personal opinion deriving from whim and fashion. This belief seems to me to undermine the whole fabric of human greatness. In four-thousand years human beings have committed many follies. Cruelty and intolerance fill the pages of history books and often, as we read about the past- and for that matter, the present- we are aghast and feel like withdrawing, as men did for almost four centuries, into some form of life where isolation is achieved by painful discipline. But just as we are beginning to despair of the human race we remember Vézelay or Chartres, Raphael’s ‘School of Athens’, or Titian’s ‘Sacred and Profane Love’, and once more we are proud of our equivocal humanity. Our confidence has been saved by the existence of masterpieces, and by the extraordinary fact that they can speak to us, as they have spoken to our ancestors, for centuries.” – Kenneth Clark, English author, museum director, broadcaster and one of the most famous art historians of his generation.2

“Once the masterpiece has emerged, the lesser works surrounding it fall into place; and it then gives the impression of having been led up to and foreseeable, though actually it is inconceivable — or, rather, it can only be conceived of once it is there for us to see it. It is not a scene that has come alive, but a latent potentiality that has materialized. Suppose that one of the world’s masterpieces were to disappear, leaving no trace behind it, not even a reproduction; even the completest knowledge of its maker’s other works would not enable the next generation to visualize it.” – André Malraux, was a French novelist, adventurer, art historian and statesman.3 

“If you do not remember while you are writing, it may seem confused to others but actually it is clear and eventually that clarity will be clear, that is what a master-piece is, but if you remember while you are writing it will seem clear at the time to any one but the clarity will go out of it that is what a master-piece is not.” – Gertrude Stein, American expatriate writer, poet, feminist, and playwright4

“In sculpture did ever anybody call the Apollo a fancy piece? Or say of the Laocoön how it might be made different? A masterpiece of art has in the mind a fixed place in the chain of being, as much as a plant or a crystal.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson,  American philosopher, essayist, and poet5


1. Abbe, Mary. “Art: What Makes a Masterpiece?” Art: What Makes a Masterpiece?StarTribune, 14 Oct. 2009. Web. 29 Jan. 2014. <;.

2. Clark, Kenneth. What Is a Masterpiece? London: Thames, 1979. Print.

3. Malraux, André. Les voix du silence. Vol. 3. NRF, 1951.

4. Stein, Gertrude. What are Masterpieces: And why are There So Few of Them?. Pitman, 1970.

5. Emerson, Ralph Waldo, et al. The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Society and Solitude. Vol. 7. Belknap Pr, 1971.


3 responses to “Infographic: Painters in the Making

  1. What an interesting infographic. It is fascinating to see the overlaps, but who and what’s been chosen – the canon – always controversial. At least nowadays we are hopefully a million miles away from the received opinions of Kenneth Clarke. Whenever I see his name I immediately think of Griselda Pollock’s “Old Mistresses” feminist approach to art history as a counterbalance.

  2. This is such a good source of information. Happy to see that the painters that I appreciate the most have “produced” these pieces in their adult period.
    I find it a bit complicated though, to point at one piece of work when an artist has had different stages and styles with great pieces throughout their lifetime.

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