The Stories Behind 5 Famous Paintings

Everyone has seen the paintings such as "American Gothic" or the "Mona Lisa", but little know the stories behind the famous paintings. With many of the artists no longer in this life they can't verbally explain today what they meant when they drew their paintings, but with the help of historians and recorded documents throughout the ages we can make well educated guesses for the reasoning behind these famous works.


Artist: Grant Wood

Title: American Gothic

Grant Wood's Painting, "American Gothic", seems to depict Depression Era Farmers. Many people assume that people in the painting are supposed to be husband and wife, but grant actually intended for them to be father an daughter. In reality the two in the painting are actually Wood's dentist, Bryon Mckeeby with the pitchfork, and the artist's sister, Nan Wood Graham.


Artist: Leonardo da Vinci

Title: Mona Lisa

Painted in 1503, the "Mona Lisa" is a painting exuding mystery. Most historians traditionally agree that the painting depicts Italian noblewoman Lisa Del Giocondo, but countless hypothesis have been made about the identity of the woman that have not been disproved. In 2006, Lumiere Technology conducted multi-spectral imaging to remove years of varnish from the painting to reveal that her smile was originally broader than it appears today.


Artist: Edvard Munch

Title: The Scream

Norwegian artist Edvard Munch's painting, "The Scream", instils a sense of uneasiness into his painting. Some depict the painting as a metaphor for pressures of modern life, but Munch himself stated it was a response to the environment that inspired the painting. In his diary Munch wrote, "I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked.” A strange, but honest reaction to a sun set.


Artist: Vincent van Gogh

Title: Starry Night

Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is one of the most iconic paintings in culture and is known by many, but many do not know the circumstances which Van Gogh was under while producing "Starry Night". When Van Gogh had painted "Starry Night" he was under the supervision of an asylum where he was being held for frequent epileptic fits. Van Gogh would have hallucinations and suicidal thoughts which are depicted through the darker colors. Blue dominates the painting and give it that somber appearance.


Artist: Edward Hopper

Title: Nighthawks

Edward Hopper's painting "Nighthawks" depicts a well lit dinner in the midst of the night filled with the late staying customers, the nighthawks. Hopper draws inspiration from a dinner on New York’s Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet. while the diner goers are all there together they seem separate and isolated from each other. Hopper insists that he didn't intentionally paint with the idea of human isolation or urban emptiness, but was “unconsciously, probably … painting the loneliness of a large city.” The painting seems simple and just a frame of a slice of life, but also supplies a beacon that is the diner to the otherwise dark and gloomy city.


Many paintings have deeper meanings that sometimes the painter unconsciously includes dependent on what was happening in their lives and the circumstances in which the painting came into creation. While art will always be subjective, it's interesting to recognize the inspiration and plans an artist has for their work.

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