top of page

Iconic Oil Paintings...

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

To be iconic is to have the nature of an icon, regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.

What Makes A Painting Iconic

So what makes paintings iconic? I believe that when a painting becomes a representation of a philosophy, a style, or a concept it can turn into an icon.

The main developer of Oil Painting...Iconic Oil Paintings by Jan van Eyck

Jan van Eyck (1390 – 9 July 1441) was one of the early innovators of what became known as Early Netherlandish painting, and one of the most significant representatives of Early Northern Renaissance art. Art historians consider Jan van Eyck to be the main developer of oil painting.

Jan van Eyck , Portrait Of A Man
Jan van Eyck , Portrait Of A Man

Jan van Eyck achieved a new level of virtuosity through his developments in the use of oil paint. Jan van Eyck's techniques and style were adopted and refined by the Early Netherlandish painters.

The surviving records indicate that Jan van Eyck was born around 1380 or 1390, most likely in Maaseik, Limburg, which is located in present-day Belgium.

Van Eyck painted both secular and religious subject matter, including altarpieces, single-panel religious figures, and commissioned portraits. His work includes single panels, diptychs, triptychs, and polyptych panels. Van Eyck's work emphasizes naturalism and realism.

Impressionism...Claude Monet

Sunrise Impression is an 1872 painting by Claude Monet first shown at the "Exhibition of the Impressionists" in Paris in April 1874. The painting is credited with inspiring the name of Impressionism.

The exhibition of the Impressionists was led by Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley.

Monet claimed that he titled the painting Impression, Sunrise due to his hazy painting style in his depiction of the subject.

Monet's new style had received all the accusations of being unfinished or lacking descriptive detail.

Before the 1860s and the debut of Impression, Sunrise, the term "impressionism" was originally used to describe the effect of a natural scene on a painter and the effect of a painting on the viewer.

Sunrise Impression depicts the port of Le Havre, Monet's hometown. It is now displayed at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.
Sunrise Impression depicts the port of Le Havre, Monet's hometown. It is now displayed at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.

Monet visited his hometown of Le Havre in the Northwest of France in 1872 and proceeded to create a series of works depicting the port.

The six painted canvases depict the port "during dawn, day, dusk, and dark and from varying viewpoints, some from the water itself and others from a hotel room looking down over the port".

The studies from Monet's hotel room were made from canvas with a base layer of gray in different tones.

The layered effect provides depth in spite of imprecise details, creating a rich and tangible environment that seems like Le Havre, though not an exact likeness.

The hazy scene of Impression, Sunrise strayed from traditional landscape painting and classic, idealized beauty.

Loose brush strokes are meant to suggest the scene rather than to mimetically represent it. In the wake of an emergent industrialization in France, this style expressed innovative individuality. Impression, Sunrise was about Monet’s search for spontaneous expression.

The sky and water in Impression, Sunrise are hardly distinguishable and boundaries between objects are not obvious.

Monet meant to express "other beliefs about artistic quality which might be tied to the ideologies being consolidated by the emergent bourgeoisie from which he came.

The term "Impressionism" was not new. It had been used for some time to describe the effect of paintings from the Barbizon School. Both associated with the school, Daubigny and Manet had been known to use the term to describe their own works.

Impression, Sunrise depicts the port of Le Havre at sunrise, the red Sun being the focal element, and the two small rowboats. In the middle ground, more fishing boats are included, while in the background on the left side of the painting are clipper ships with tall masts.

Although it may seem that the Sun is the brightest spot on the canvas, it is in fact, when measured with a photometer, the same brightness as the sky. i.e. in a black-and-white copy of Impression: Sunrise, the Sun disappears almost entirely.

this caused the painting to have a very realistic quality, as the older part of the visual cortex in the brain — shared with the majority of other mammals — registers only luminance and not color, so that the Sun in the painting would be invisible to it, while it is just the newer part of the visual cortex — only found in humans and other primates — which perceives color.

Other researchers have found that these same luminance properties can cause the Sun to fade from view and that changes in microsaccades underlie this effect.

Art From the Asylum... Iconic Paintings by Vincent Van Gogh.

Van Gogh Saint-Paul Asylum collection is a collection of paintings that Vincent van Gogh made from May 1889 until May 1890.

On 8 May 1889, Van Gogh, in his late thirties, was a self-admitted patient at the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. During his stay at Saint-Paul asylum, Van Gogh experienced periods of illness when he could not paint.

When Van Gogh was able to resume, painting provided solace for him. While, works of the interior of the hospital corridors and cells convey the isolation and sadness that he felt, painting depicting trees, flowers were a symbol of the cycle of life.

Hospital at Saint Remy, 1889, Van Gogh.
Hospital at Saint Remy, 1889, Van Gogh.

In Saint-Paul asylum, Van Gogh had two cells with barred windows, one of which he used as a studio, some of his works from this time are characterized by swirls, such as The Starry Night.

From the window of his cell, he saw an enclosed wheat field, the subject of many paintings made from his room. When he could leave the grounds of the asylum, he made other works, such as Olive Trees (Van Gogh series) and landscapes of the local area.

As Van Gogh ventured outside of the asylum walls, he painted the wheat fields, olive groves, and cypress trees of the surrounding countryside, Over the course of the year, he painted about 150 canvases.

The imposed regimen of asylum life gave Van Gogh a hard-won stability: "I feel happier here with my work than I could be outside. By staying here for a good long time, I shall have learned regular habits and in the long run the result will be more order in my life."

While his time at Saint-Rémy forced his management of his vices, such as coffee, alcohol, poor eating habits and periodic attempts to consume turpentine and paint, his stay was not ideal. He needed to obtain permission to leave the asylum grounds. The food was poor; he generally ate only bread and soup.

By early 1890 van Gogh's attacks of illness had worsened and he believed that his stay at the asylum was not helping to make him better. This led to his plans to move to Auvers-sur-Oise just north of Paris in May 1890.

The corridor

The Corridor of the Asylum, Iconic Painting by Van Gogh.
The Corridor of the Asylum, Iconic Painting by Van Gogh.

A lonely figure in the corridor appears confused, similar to the way Van Gogh was feeling. The view down the corridor of many arches coveyed too much solitude.  

In a letter to Theo in May 1889 he explains the sounds that travel through the quiet-seeming halls, "There is someone here who has been shouting and talking like me all the time for a fortnight.

Van Gogh thinks he heared voices and words in the echoes of the corridors, probably because the auditory nerve is diseased and over-sensitive.

The Starry Night

The Starry Night, Iconic Painting by Van Gogh.
The Starry Night, Iconic Painting by Van Gogh.

The painting is widely hailed as Van Gogh's best paintings, the Starry Night depicts the view outside his sanitarium room window at night, although it was painted from memory during the day.

Since 1941 it has been in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

10 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page