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September 24, 2021

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Home » Legends Behind These 5 Famous Paintings You Probably Were Not Aware Of

Legends Behind These 5 Famous Paintings You Probably Were Not Aware Of

4 min read
Famous Paintings

Every painting tells a story some more profound and mysterious than the other. Paintings are a window to the artist’s innermost thoughts and desires. The stories surrounding the paintings are sometimes even more fascinating than the actual paintings themselves. Here are some interesting stories behind these famous paintings.

The Starry Night 

One of the masterpieces to ever grace the world is The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, painted in June 1889 The Starry Night is an oil painting. It is a beautiful blend of a composite of a few elements. The landscape of the painting mimics the night-view from the east-facing window of his room during his stay at an asylum named Saint-Paul-de-Mausole. The masterpiece is a composite of a Cypress tree which is associated with an imaginary village said to be from Van Gogh’s memory of the Netherlands finished off with an ethereal sky with Van Gogh’s famous halos swirling around the stars. 

The signature halos might not just be his artistic choice but the way he saw the world. Famous to eat paint or at least trying to eat paint because he wanted to kill himself caused lead poisoning. One of the symptoms is swollen retinas which can cause halos to appear around the light as seen in his painting. 

The Girl With  A Pearl Earring  

Internationally revered as the “Mona Lisa of the North”, The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer is one of the most mysterious masterpieces of all time. The painting very incredibly displays a girl adorning a turban and a beautiful dangling pearl earring. The mystery that surrounds the painting is because of little to no knowledge about the subject or the relationship the artist and the subject shared. 

This mystery surrounding the painting has inspired many literary works’ famous poem “Vermeer’s Head of a Girl” to five short-story novellas set named “Girl with a Turban”. It also inspired the novel of the same title as the painting by Tracy Chevalier with the Girl with her dangling pearl earrings and blue headscarf as the protagonist which subsequently was adapted to a Hollywood film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Girth.


This beautiful and tragic oil painting was inspired by none other than the greatest William Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’. The painting immaculately portrays the tragic fate of one of the characters of the play who is driven mad after her lover cruelly murders her father. Painted between the years 1851 and 1852 in two separate locations is one of the most popular Pre-Raphalite works of Sir John Everett Millais’s Tate collection. 

The beautiful landscape was painted outside, by the Hogmill River in Surrey while Ophelia was painted in his studio in London. The model pretending to be Ophelia posed in a bath teeming with water to create the clever illusion of drowning. Later the model became quite ill when Millais engrossed in his painting didn’t notice when the oil lamps used to keep the water warm went out. Thankfully the model recovered and the tragic fate was only endured by the subject of the painting.

The Scream 

The Scream is irrefutably one of the most iconic masterpieces that effortlessly demonstrates the intense anxiety experienced by several individuals. Painted by a Norwegian expressionist Edvard munch. The painting features an agonizing face which was originally titled Der Schrei der Natur (the scream of nature) in German and Skrik (Shriek) in Norwegian by Munch. The inspiration for the painting is recorded in his diary as “Nice 22 January 1892”. 

As per the entry, Munch was walking along the road with two of his friends when he saw a blood-red sky and it seemed to him that nature was screaming at him. In 1893, Munch created four different versions of the iconic painting. The painting has five versions, two in pastel and paints each and one in lithograph stone. 

This painting has been stolen and recovered twice. One of the pastel versions of the painting is owned by an American investor for a whopping price of nearly US$ 120 million at auction.

Mona Lisa

The world-famous painting Mona Lisa is a masterpiece of an oil painting on a poplar wood panel by Leonardo da Vinci assumed to be painted between the years 1503-1519 in Florence. It is a half-length portrait of a woman exuding atmospheric illusion with a mysterious smile and enigmatic expression, a source of fascination and investigation throughout centuries. 

The identity of the subject has been speculated and debated for years, Giorgio Vasari an artist biographer suggests the subject in the painting is Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of merchant Francesco di Bartolomeo del Giocondo living in Florence. While some scholars believe the model in the painting is Vinci’s mother Caterina and the mysterious smile is from a memory of his mother’s smile. 

The third theory speculates that the painting is a self-portrait of Vinci himself due to his resemblance with the subject. The theory further suggests Vinci disguised himself as a woman for the painting. Though the subject’s identity is not proven it is one of the most famous, inspiring, and parodied pieces of art. It is displayed in the Louvre Museum but many own the reproduced piece of this mysterious art.

The Bottom Line 

Sometimes a couple of minutes in front of your favorite piece of art is all you need to decompress from your hectic schedule, deadlines, and stressed lives. Strokes of paint can brighten your day, the landscape could be calming, abstract images could be provoking. Some most popular paintings could inspire you and some could just make you marvel at the beauty of a simple swirl.

As famously quoted by Picasso:

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. Maybe a piece of art is just what you need.”

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