5 Classic Paintings That Nobody Liked

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5 Classic Paintings That Nobody Liked At The Time

Everybody knows that the art world is a very fickle place. Many artists die poor and unappreciated, only to have their works sold for millions of dollars after their death. It might be said that some artists are simply too far ahead of their time, while others simply fail to gain the critical acclaim that they rightfully deserve during their lives. With this unfortunate, but true, tendency in mind, here are history’s five greatest paintings that were not appreciated in their own time.

Calude Monet: Impression, Sunrise

Claude Monet: Arguably the most famous and accomplished painters of the influential impressionist movement, was not always seen as the master that he was. Monet was involved in a groundbreaking movement within the impressionist era known as “en plein air,” which refers to the act of painting outside. One of Monet’s most revered pieces, “Impression, Sunrise,” painted in 1872, was the result of Monet’s participation in the technique of “en plein air.” In fact, it was through the title of this work that Impressionism was given a name. Though the painting is considered to be a masterpiece today, critics at the time were not as impressed. “Impression, Sunrise,” and Impressionism in general, was thought to look unfinished and hastily completed, as if a sketch for a future work rather than the work itself. Many famed critics saw Impressionism, embodied in “Sunrise,” as a threat to traditional Parisian painting, which was firmly rooted in realism. “Impression, Sunrise” is painted so that the viewer can determine for himself what the subject matter or message of the piece is. This participation of the viewer, in discerning meaning, was thought by critics to be a weakness of the work in the mid-nineteenth century. The artist, after all, was thought to be the authority, not the viewer. Since this time, modern critics have come to see the skillful nature and groundbreaking craft employed in the painting of “Impressionism, Sunrise,” as Monet painted the beauty he found in the ordinary, physical world, rather than the elevated, metaphysical world.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: La Grande Odalisque

“La Grande Odalisque,” an oil painting by the revered Romanticist, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful and sensual paintings of the early nineteenth century. In fact, it is now displayed at The Louvre, in Paris, along with many other touchstone paintings of Western culture. At the time of its creation, however, it created much controversy within the art world due to its subject matter (a nude concubine, or “odalisque”), as well as its style, which defies realistic interpretation. In line with other painters interested in depicting exotic Romanticism, “La Grande Odalisque” depicts the woman’s proportions as elongated and not entirely realistic. Romanticism was a movement about emotion, about how the artists felt about the world he saw rather than the realism of what he saw. Critics complained that the woman shown in the picture did not look realistic and argued that Ingres should have imitated rather than interpreted her beauty. Painted in 1814, “La Grande Odalisque” was not given favorable reviews until over a decade later. It is now widely considered to be one of the most remarkable works of exotic Romanticism in the world.

Francisco Goya: La Maja Desnuda

Though Francisco Goya is most often associated with his collection of eerie paintings known as “Las Pinturas Negras,” or “The Black Paintings,” one of his most famous earlier paintings is “La Maja Desnuda,” which translates to “The Nude Maja.” Displayed in Madrid’s Museo del Prado since 1910, “La Maja Desnuda” is one of the most admired works of Spanish art, but this wasn’t always the case. When it was first commissioned and painted, many critics found the painting obscene and offensive. In 1815, the United States even banned and returned mail that was sent with stamps featuring the painting. The painting portrays a naked woman lying suggestively on a bed with her arms behind her head. It is the first depiction of a female, in this manner, in Western artwork and, as such, created much controversy at the time of its creation. One of the most outspoken offended parties was the Catholic Church, a great authority in Spain at the time. Church authorities thought the painting was pornographic and should be destroyed. It was not destroyed, however, and went on to inspire countless other artists and draw tourists from all over the world to view the naked Maja for themselves.

Pablo Picasso: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

Pablo Picasso is perhaps one of the most recognized names in the art world. He is most famous for pioneering the cubist movement which revolutionized European art in the early 1900s. Like French impressionism, cubism is not rooted in realism, but rather defies realistic interpretation of the world for the artist’s interpretation of the world. Most works of cubism depict objects in a surrealistic, multi-layered perspective. One of the first works of cubism is Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” or “The Young Ladies of Avignon,” which portrays five nude prostitutes. The five women who served as models were all prostitutes from a brothel in Barcelona, Spain. Though naked, two of the five women appear to be wearing African tribal masks to cover their faces. Now considered to be one of the most important paintings in the cubist movement, many critics were outraged by the painting when it was first completed. Painted in 1907, the painting was not displayed until 1916 and did not begin to get favorable attention until about a decade after that. Much of the public was offended by the subject matter, and the few that were not, found the women to be portrayed as ugly and almost animalistic. Henri Matisse, the famed French artist and contemporary of Picasso’s, was especially critical of the painting, saying that it was hideous and that he hoped Picasso would eventually beg forgiveness for painting it. It now hangs along some of the most famous paintings in the world at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

John Singer: Madame X

John Singer Sargent was an American painter of the Edwardian Era, painting most of his pieces in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One of his most recognized and admired paintings is “Madame X” or “Portrait of Madame X,” which depicts a young woman standing in a black, silk gown. The model for the painting was an American woman named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, who was a wealthy socialite and the wife of a prominent French banker. When first displayed at the Paris Salon in 1884, “Madame X” received harsh criticism. Viewers saw the painting as obscene, due to the low-cut dress and suggestive nature of the woman’s pose. The model’s own mother even demanded that the painting be taken down. Gautreau was embarrassed by the incident and Sargent, angered and disappointed by the unfavorable reception, left Paris for London and never returned. It is now considered a masterpiece and is housed in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This post was generously provided by Roman Sharf.

Roman Sharf is the founder of Luxury Bazaar, an online boutique that deals in high-quality goods including luxury watches and designer jewelry. Having always had a taste for the good things in life, Roman has been a lifelong fan of fine art, with a particular fascination for early-20th-century pieces. He lives in Pennsylvania with his family.
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Leave a Comment

  • Alexander Millar September 23, 2013, 11:41 am

    Amazing article, so sad that the artist died already. Who would have thought that it will become so famous today.

  • Jason Macuha February 26, 2016, 4:48 pm

    I am dreaming of the time that Art Community will be appreciating contemporary of the living artists in the same level as the artist who had passed. Apprexiation is sweeter if it could be appreciated by the artist himself.

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