14 Famous Landscape Paintings You Should Know About
In this article, we will explore some of the most famous landscape paintings ever.
Of course, this is a genre with a long history going back to ancient times—to cover all the famous landscape paintings in one article is a daunting task. Still, this article should give you at least a taste of some of the greats and some context as to what makes them remarkable.
Before we get into the paintings, let’s talk about the genre itself. There are many reasons why artists might choose to paint a landscape. For example, they might be painting nature simply for nature’s sake, to convey a religious or mythological scene, or to discuss man’s relationship to the earth. Technically, landscape painting can be loosely defined as “a picture depicting scenery on land.”
Without further ado, let’s dive into one of the richest genres of art by highlighting some of the most famous landscape paintings across the globe and throughout the centuries (in no particular order).
The Hunters in the Snow (1565) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The Hunters in the Snow is a painting by the Dutch master made during the Northern Renaissance.
This work is in a series by the artist which depict different seasons of the year. Set under an overcast sky, the painting appears set in the depths of winter.
In the oil on wood panel composition, hunters return to their village after a seemingly unsuccessful hunt, having only caught a fox; the dogs slouch behind the hunters, adding to the resigned mood. The group is at the bottom left corner of the painting, facing away from the viewer as they begin to descend into the valley.
During the 1560s in the Netherlands, there was an abundance of religious art, which makes this work stand out—it appears secular, and perhaps Bruegal was trying to capture the ideal country life of the past. The painting has inspired many things over the centuries, including poetry, films, and television shows; maybe you already recognize it, or maybe you’ll see it around now that you’ve learned of it.
The Hay Wain (1821) by John Constable
Touted as “Constable’s most famous image”, The Hay Wain is considered one of the greatest English paintings of all time, as well as one of the most famous landscape paintings.
The title refers to the wooden wagon in the middle of the composition, making its way through shallow water. It is a peaceful countryside scene that Constable was famous for—this particular work shows a watermill operated by his family, and it still exists today. Interestingly, although the work is a Suffolk scene, Constable actually made it in his studio in London, working from many preparatory sketches.
Constable is known for his famous landscape paintings now, but he was never financially successful during his lifetime. Soft greens, ochres, and blues fill his work, alongside voluminous clouds, and almost always form a serene countryside landscape.
To give some perspective on Constable’s posthumous legacy, listen to this: in just 2019, two drawings by the artist were found in a dusty cardboard box, selling for 60,000 and 32,000 Euros.
Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California (1865) by Albert Bierstadt
Bierstadt was a landscape painter associated with the Hudson River School, a mid-19th century movement in America that saw artists making landscapes influenced by Romanticism.
Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, was Bierstadt’s first large-scale Yosemite picture, a subject for which he would become well known. Here, he paints the iconic American spot in a grand, idealized way. Intense golden rays fill the work, like many of his most famous landscapes. This glowing quality is sometimes referred to as “luminism.” The work is beautiful on a screen, of course, but to get the full effect, one needs to see the massive 163×245 centimeter work in person.
To give some insight into how much reverence Bierstadt had for the natural world, here’s a quote by the artist himself:
“The magnificent beauty of the natural world is a manifestation of the mysterious natural laws that will be forever obscured from us.”
The Horse Fair (1855) by Rosa Bonheur
This monumental painting is eight by sixteen feet and is brimming with astounding anatomical accuracy that French artist Rosa Bonheur was famed for. Born to an idealistic, artistic dad, Rosa started studying art at the Louvre at the age of 14. She was almost exclusively a painter of animals, which she rendered in a realist style.
One such masterpiece is The Horse Fair, in which she paints a collection of draft horses at a Paris horse market. She apparently went to the fair twice a week throughout 1850 and 1851—her endless sketches paid off to create an absolutely stunning work paying homage to the raw power and beauty of horses. To illustrate her devotion to art, she actually dressed as a man, with the permission of the Paris police, to avoid harassment as a female.
Rosa Bonheur, due to her obvious talent, progressive family, and ruthless determination, was a commercially successful painter during a time when very few women could pursue a career in the arts.
Impression, Sunrise (1872) by Claude Monet
Impression, Sunrise is an iconic work that depicts the port of Le Havre, Monet’s hometown, in a light and airy manner that we know and love Monet for.
Although undoubtedly we know this as one of the most famous landscapes of all time, Impression, Sunrise was ridiculed when first exhibited. In fact, critics used its name to put it down, saying it was more like an impression than a finished painting. Little did they know this painting set into motion one of the most famous art movements in modern art history—Impressionism.
We could easily include dozens of more landscape paintings by Monet. Still, this particular one was so influential in art history that it absolutely deserves mention. Monet’s love of nature can be summed up in this quote by him:
“The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration.”
Mont Sainte-Victoire (1904–06) by Paul Cézanne
Cézanne is another artist who could have many more paintings on here. However, like Monet, we want to highlight a painting that changed the course of history in addition to being beautiful.
Mont Sainte-Victoire—which depicts the magnificent mountain in southern France, where Cézanne lived—is painted with a semi-abstract vocabulary. The bright blues and greens fill the surface of the painting, forming a geometric representation of nature, which paved the way for artists such as Matisse and Picasso to take even more radical abstract approaches in art with movements such as Cubism and Fauvism.
In the words of Cezanne, “Art is a harmony parallel with nature.” You can see this philosophy echoed in his work. This was one among many famous landscape paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire.
Cliffs Beyond Abiquiu, Dry Waterfall (1943) by Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe rose to fame for her unique New York cityscapes, secluded American West desert landscapes, and up-close semi-abstract of graceful blooming flowers. She was well known as an artist as early as the 1920s, making her one of the first modern female painters to gain respect in New York.
This particular work embodies what O’Keeffe was so masterful at New Mexico desert-scapes rendered in a very stylized way. The large oil on canvas work is dominated by a magnificent beige cliff with specks of greenery throughout. Regarding her love of the American Southwest, O’Keeffe says,
“It was all so far away—there was quiet and an untouched feel to the country and I could work as I pleased.” In Cliffs Beyond Abiquiu, Dry Waterfall, you can absolutely tell that she adores this secluded sandy corner of the world.
Small Rhythmic Landscape (1920) by Paul Klee
Although we often think of landscapes as realistic, there are many other types to explore. Small Rhythmic Landscape by German artist Paul Klee, a figure who naturally resists being narrowed into any specific era of art history, is an example of a much more abstract approach to landscape.
Part of what makes Paul Klee’s approach so unique is that he thinks of rhythm as an important element in art—perhaps influenced by his love of music. In fact, he first pursued becoming a professional musician before turning to art in his teenage years.
In 1914, Klee traveled to Tunisia, where he was inspired by the colors of the region. He noted that the bushes there acted as musical notes in the landscape, forming a rhythm. This abstract thinking of art and music being closely related led to Klee’s mature style, which Small Rhythmic Landscape exemplifies.
It doesn’t represent a specific place like these other famous landscape paintings, but rather a scenario where the artist distributes the elements of nature, such as color and space, into a miniature symphony.
The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken Up (1838) by J.M.W. Turner
We can’t possibly not include a work by British artist J.M.W. Turner, the creator of some of the most famous landscape paintings of all time. He worked in the same era as the above-mentioned Constable, but while the latter favored rather straightforward depictions of rural life, Turner made extremely dramatic seascapes.
He loved spending time near the River Thames and did quite a few paintings of water scenes and ships in both watercolor and oil paint. The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken Up shows this tendency, as it depicts the warship that played a role in the Battle of Trafalgar. In the composition, it’s being towed up the river in a glorious light, shortly before it was broken up for scrap.
He made this at the height of his career, having previously enjoyed 40 years of exhibitions at the Royal Academy of London. His work was renowned for being very atmospheric and impressive in its depiction of light.
This painting remains an iconic and popular work. In 2020, the work was put on the new £20 note in the UK. You might’ve also heard of the Turner prize, a very prestigious annual award given to British artists, which was named after J.M.W. Turner.
Monk by the Sea (1808–10) by Caspar David Friedrich
Caspar David Friedrich was a German Romantic artist who made incredibly atmospheric and moody landscapes such as this one. Like most Romantic artists, his practice utilizes his emotional response to the natural world.
The Monk by the Sea is Friedrich’s most radical composition as it largely forgoes perspective and depth. The hazy planes of sea and sky emphasize the small figure of the monk, standing before the presence of God in the vast landscape. The monk is cut off from us, in his own moment, both physically and spiritually. There are no traditional landscape elements like trees or houses that might soften the effect—only a hazy sky and a flat foreground.
The Monk by the Sea is allegorical, featuring a sole person against the sublime backdrop of nature. In fact, this composition is a prime example of the sublime concept. Many landscape artists lean into this idea—some of them on this list. Essentially, the sublime refers to immense greatness, almost beyond any measurement or imitation. This is a prevalent concept in art history, especially in the most famous landscape paintings, and is a timeless concept we can all still relate to.
The Starry Night (1889) by Vincent van Gogh
You’ve probably seen this one since The Starry Night is undoubtedly one of the most famous landscape paintings of all time. Van Gogh made this in the last year of his life while living in an asylum after a long bout of mental illness.
The Starry Night is a beautiful mix between observation and emotion. Clearly, the Post-Impressionist work is not realist yet it is very much inspired by the view outside Van Gogh’s window. The work is iconic for different reasons. First, its vivid rendition of the stars, moon, and landscape resting below is one full of emotion of someone viewing the world and seeing beauty, intensity, and movement. Secondly, it’s beautiful that while Van Gogh was struggling in isolation near the end of a life defined by failure, this is what he chose to paint—a beautiful rendition of the night sky outside of his room.
Just a year before making this work, he wrote in a letter, “For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”
Today, the painting has an estimated worth of $100 million. Still, Van Gogh died broke and was financially supported by his brother Theo throughout his life.
A Bigger Grand Canyon (1998) by David Hockney
Moving a bit further into vividness and abstraction, let’s explore a work by the famous contemporary artist David Hockney.
The British artist is famous especially for his contributions to the pop art movement of the 1960s. His work is bright, full of color, and is a unique combination of the simplification of pop art and the realism of art forms such as photography. Although he’s most well known for his compositions of backyard pools, we wanted to include one of his famous landscape paintings.
A Bigger Grand Canyon is really made of 60 canvases that form a 12×6 foot arrangement. It depicts the Grand Canyon in the USA from different viewpoints and at different times of day, making a Cubist-like composition. The colors are bright, exaggerated, and the shapes of the land masses are simplified. Yet, he captures the awe-inspiring and very real experience of standing in front of an amazing natural formation with specificity.
View of Toledo (1600) by El Greco
One of the older works on this list, View of Toledo, is a Mannerist masterpiece by the Greek artist (although he lived much of his life in Spain) known as El Greco.
Part of why this work stands out in art history is due to its magnificent, vivid, and somewhat abstract depiction of the sky, similar to why The Starry Night by Van Gogh is also so stunning. The sky sits above the hillside of the Spanish city of Toledo, which is painted to emphasize greatness, almost reaching up towards heaven. Huge clouds dominate nearly half the moody landscape, with the bright sun illuminating the edges of the cloud.
View of Toledo is one of only two surviving landscapes by El Greco. Possibly, it was one of the only Spanish landscape paintings of its time. Additionally, it was made in 1600—making it very rare, as Spanish paintings of the Renaissance and Baroque periods were uncommon.
Christina’s World (1948) by Andrew Wyeth
We want to leave you with a landscape that is a bit different from the others on the list—when you look at this painting, you’ll be able to tell why. While undoubtedly a landscape, this work has a great emphasis on Christina’s sole figure. The viewer instantly wonders why Christina is crawling in the middle of a vast field, hundreds of meters away from her house, and the angle of her body is very dramatic.
Christina captured Wyeth’s attention as her next-door neighbor, and he featured her in several paintings. According to Wyeth, Christina suffered from a degenerative muscle condition, possibly from Polio. She could not walk, but preferred to drag herself using her arms rather than use a wheelchair.