Many of the world’s most highly-praised artists throughout the last few centuries have come from different portions of Europe.
It’s no secret that European culture has played a significant role in the advancement of the arts as the production of painting, sculpture, and other forms of artwork have been a centerpiece of most European cultures.
The different art movements and eras that historians consider to be among the most influential and notable have originated in Europe—specifically in France and Italy.
Over the last several centuries, the most prominent artists in Europe have enjoyed worldwide fame, even during their own lifetimes.
In this article, we will recognize some of the most famous European artists to have ever live and more closely consider how their artwork impacted other artists and movements, as well as the world as a whole.
Famous European Artists
1. Leonardo da Vinci
There are few other artists from European descent that enjoy as much acclaim as Leonardo da Vinci. He is considered by many to be the “Father of the Renaissance” and his works have vaunted him into a status that no other artist can really compare.
Da Vinci was born in Florence, Italy in 1452 when the Italian Renaissance period was just beginning to gain more widely-recognized fame across Europe and other parts of the world.
He is remembered as a prolific painter, as well as a sculptor and inventor. Many of his works are considered to be among the greatest masterpieces ever produced.
During his youth, he was educated by Andrea del Verrocchio, a renowned sculptor and painter who lived in Florence at the time.
One of da Vinci’s most famous works is the Mona Lisa, which is considered by many art historians and critics to be one of the greatest paintings of all time. Another notable work is The Last Supper, which is among the most iconic Christian paintings from history.
2. Vincent Van Gogh
There is no denying that Vincent Van Gogh is among the most famous European artists to have ever lived. He is recognized as one of the most gifted artists in history, despite being afflicted with various mental illnesses throughout his life.
Van Gogh was born in the Netherlands in 1853 and showed significant artistic ability from a very early age.
Although his artwork is among the most celebrated of any artist in human history, Van Gogh did not enjoy widespread fame or notoriety during his lifetime.
He suffered from severe mental illness, which forced him to live for years in various asylums in France and would end his life at just 37 years old.
His most notable paintings include different natural scenes such as landscapes or nature paintings, but he also completed a number of portraits and still-lifes that would later draw scrutiny from art critics across the world. Some of his most famous works include various series of flower paintings and other colorful, natural scenery.
3. Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso was another European artist who actually enjoyed significant recognition throughout his lifetime. He was known for his unique style of painting that focused more on abstract elements of the world around him instead of using the same techniques that other painters did during the early 20th century.
Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain in 1881 and began his career as an artist at an early age. His works captured much of the distinct culture of his home country of Spain, which was also enduring a lengthy and brutal war for many years of his life.
Some of Picasso’s most celebrated works were focused on the Spanish Civil War and its impact on Spanish society. Picasso is known to have been inspired by Henri Matisse, a French painter who famously experimented with a variety of new ideas and concepts as it related to painting.
His own art style would change drastically over the course of his life as he would dabble in everything from Cubism to Surrealism and many other forms of expression.
4. Claude Monet
Claude Monet is considered to be one of the most well-recognized French painters, as well as one of the most famous European artists in history. His paintings were mostly of the Impressionist style, but would take on a more distinct appearance as his career progressed.
Monet was born in 1840 in Paris. His upbringing in the city that was widely-acclaimed as a hub of the arts in Europe certainly played a pivotal role in influencing the young Monet to take a special interest in the arts.
He painted a range of works in his early career and is credited as being one of the most notable Impressionist artists from the period. Monet’s paintings centered around nature or different social settings from Paris and other metropolitan areas from the time period.
He painted with an iconic sense of the elemental form of nature and many of his most famous works depicted scenes in radiant sunlight or even stormy weather.
5. Rembrandt van Rijn
One of the most widely-recognized Dutch painters in history is Rembrandt van Rijn, who was simply known as ‘Rembrandt.’ He painted with a sense of realism that would become almost characteristic of the Baroque period in which he worked.
He was born in the Netherlands in 1606 and is credited for playing a major role in what many consider to be the Dutch Golden Age. The Baroque style was one that followed soon after the Renaissance and Rembrandt drew inspiration from some of the most prolific Italian artists that had come just a century earlier.
Rembrandt painted with a clear devotion to the Christian faith as many of his most well-known works feature scenes from famous Biblical stories.
He also famously painted many different self-portraits throughout his life that depicted himself in a very sincere manner compared to other artists who would often dress-up their own portrayals of themselves.
6. Michelangelo Buonarrotti
Michelangelo Buonarrotti is another notable figure from the Renaissance era who is often mentioned as one of the main artists among the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and others.
He is more commonly referred to simply as Michelangelo and was an extremely talented painter and sculptor during his career.
Michelangelo was born in Tuscany, Italy in 1475 and quickly drew acclaim for his prowess as an artist thanks to his incredibly beautiful sculptures.
One of his most notable works is Pietà, which has been displayed at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City in Rome. Michelangelo’s Statue of David is considered to be the most famous sculpture of all time.
He also drew widespread acclaim for his efforts to cover the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Rome with paintings and scenes from the Bible, as well as various religious figures of Italian descent.
7. Johannes Vermeer
Another well-known Dutch artist that is also known as one of the most famous European painters is Johannes Vermeer.
Like Rembrandt, Vermeer worked in the Baroque era and produced many works that were recognized for their exuberant detail and movement.
Vermeer was born in Holland in 1632 and would gain an interest in art from an early age as his father was an art dealer who bought and sold paintings.
When Vermeer’s father passed away in 1652, he would carry on the family business and fill his father’s role despite his country being racked with plague, war and financial ruin during this time.
Vermeer’s most notable works included a number of cityscapes that are celebrated as some of the greatest ever created. He had a knack for painting various cities in an almost photo-realistic fashion that other artists simply couldn’t match.
8. Raphael Sanzio da Urbino
Raphael Sanzio da Urbino is an artist that many art critics and historians consider to be a member of the trio that is considered to be the most prominent figures from the Renaissance era.
Known simply as ‘Raphael’, he preceded da Vinci and others from the movement and would serve as a source of inspiration for many Renaissance artists.
Raphael was born in 1483 in the city of Urbino, which was an independent state of its own at the time. He became an orphan at the age of 11 and would live with his uncle and his stepmother before serving as an apprentice. Raphael showed a clear inclination for the arts from a very early age and would begin working as a painter in his youth.
Many of his most notable works focus on various religious scenes from the Bible, as well as others involving various religious figures from Italy at the time. He died from what many historians believe to be some form of acute illness at the age of 37.
9. Salvador Dalí
One of the most prestigious artists from modern times and one that is also noted among the most famous European artists is Salvador Dalí.
He is remembered as one of the most celebrated artists from his native Spain and his unique style of Surrealism was one that many artists after him attempted to replicate.
Dalí was born in Catalonia in 1904 to a somewhat prominent family as his father was a lawyer and notary who also happened to be a staunch atheist.
His father’s unique way of seeing the world undoubtedly had an effect on Dalí as many of his works focused on the world around him instead of religious matters like so many other artists before him had done.
Dalí was famous for his distinct Surrealist painting style in which he would bend the laws of physics and reality in a way that forced the viewer to consider the subjects in a different light.
He worked in both painting and sculpture and would create a variety of notable works during his career.
10. Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot is considered to be one of the most famous female artists in history and one that also played a prominent role in the Impressionist movement. Her works featured a litany of vivid colors and were described as having a sense of feminine touch that was simply not found among her male peers.
Morisot was born in 1841 to a prominent family in the city of Bourges, France. Her mother was a relative of the famous Rococo artist, Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Morisot would experience an early exposure to the arts of the mid-19th century when her family moved to Paris in 1852.
While it was not permitted for women to work in various roles in the arts during this time, Morisot and her family managed to skirt around many of the rules in place and see that she received training as a painter.
Many of her most notable paintings feature women and children in various social settings around the city of Paris.
Michelangelo Merisi or Amerighi, otherwise known as ‘Caravaggio’ was one of the most well-known artists from Europe who is perhaps the most famous Baroque painter to have ever lived.
His works feature a high amount of contrast between light and darkness that became characteristic of Baroque painting.
He was born in Milan in 1571, but his family would soon move just a few years later to escape the ravages of the plague to a city in Italy known as Caravaggio.
He would return to Milan as a young adult where he received training from Simone Peterzano, a notable painter from the era.
Caravaggio would become one of the most esteemed artists of his day and his works featured a high level of realistic detail that would become evident in other artists’ work during the Baroque era.
His death at the age of 38 is one that is shrouded in mystery as there are conflicting accounts.
12. Édouard Manet
Another prominent French artist is Édouard Manet. His works were distinctly memorable and the artist is known to have played a pivotal role in the transition between the popularity in Realism and the Impressionist movements.
Manet was born in Paris in 1832 and didn’t enter into any formal training as an artist until 1850 when he studied under Thomas Couture.
In the years following, he would visit various parts of Europe and study under prominent painters. He was especially influenced by Spanish painters Diego Velázquez and Francisco José de Goya.
Manet’s paintings were memorable during a time when Realism dominated the French art landscape. His early masterpieces include Music in the Tuileries and The Luncheon on the Grass (Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe) which displayed a more loose brushwork than other artists displayed at the time. His relaxed and exploratory style would eventually give rise to the Impressionist era.
13. Joseph Mallord William Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner is noted as one of the most famous British artists from an array of distinguished English painters of the 19th century. He is best known for his imaginative landscapes and action-filled marine works that feature various ships and their crews at the mercy of the sea.
Turner was born in 1775 in a portion of London to a lower-class family. He was quickly recognized for his artistic ability and would study at the Royal Arts Academy at the age of 14.
Turner was a master when it came to perspective, so much so that he would serve as a professor specializing in teaching perspective at the Royal Arts Academy when he was 32 years old.
He is among the most celebrated landscape artists in history and many of his works were among the most famous of the Romanticism movement in which he worked.
Turner’s most famous works featured a layered approach that seemed to have as much detail in the distant background as any other part of the painting.