Of the many different representations of artistic imagery, from stern portraits, to solemn landscapes and other still life paintings, perhaps none are more exciting or famous than those scenes that depict groups of people.
Whether realistic or otherwise, this art category has captivated audiences for thousands of years. Perhaps no other topic in art is greater at evoking emotion than that of people engaging in various activities together, whether it be acts of love or hate.
Although the act of art is seen predominantly as a solo affair, it cannot be denied that art is something that can be understood and appreciated through experience by a group of people. For the artist it would be nothing without an audience. Give the art its meaning; just the art provides the audience with theirs.
The Last Supper – Leonardo Di Vinci
The Last Supper is a magnificent mural painted by Italian master Leonardo da Vinci.
It is painted in the High Renaissance style and was completed in the year 1498, and as far as the most famous art containing people, it might be the number one painting of all time.
The painting lavishly portrays the scene from the New Testament of the last supper of Jesus Christ and his disciples. More precisely, it portrays the people’s reactions when Jesus tells them that he will be betrayed by one of them.
The piece has been particularly praised for its handling of space, layers of symbolism, and display of motion and emotion. The outcome has led Leonardo’s masterpiece to be one of the most famous and recognizable paintings the western world has ever known.
The Night Watch – Rembrandt
The Night Watch is a Dutch Golden Age painting painted by the great Dutch painter Rembrandt Van Rijn in 1642. Widely regarded as Rembrandt’s greatest work, this painting is one of the largest and most famous paintings of people ever created.
It is simply a group portrait of a company of militia soldiers on its surface. It is a portrait of “The Shooting Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch” which was a real battalion. It is a gorgeously detailed piece and is also laced with symbolism.
In particular, the painting is famous and highly regarded for three main things. Firstly, it stands twelve feet high and fourteen feet wide for its colossal size. Secondly, for its tremendous use of shadow and lighting, and finally, and perhaps most impressive of all, for its perception of motion, as most military portraits were painted statically up until that point.
A Sunday Afternoon – George Seurat
A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte is another monumental painting containing people by French Pointillist painter Georges Pierre Seurat. It is widely considered the leading example of the technique of Pointillism and is credited as being the founding work of the Neo-Impressionist movement.
George Seurat labored extensively for over two years until the painting was finally finished in 1886. He began with many preliminary drawings and sketches and reworked the painting until, eventually, he was satisfied. As a result, Seurat had achieved a completely new style of painting that advanced the medium as a whole.
Like Rembrandt’s Night Watch, A Sunday Afternoon is also colossal. Standing at over two meters tall and three meters wide, the canvas painting stands as one of the most delicate pieces ever created and arguably the most influential art depicting people of all time.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – Pablo Picasso
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, or The Young Ladies of Avignon as it is known in English, is an oil painting by Spanish artist Pablo Ruiz Picasso and was painted in 1907. It is a cubist rendering and depicts five nude women on the street in Barcelona.
Each of the people involved in the painting is represented in a distorted and disorientating manner. Each figure is presented in a confrontational way, and none of them seem conventionally feminine in their presentation. Instead, the five women seem almost menacing in posture as their bodies warp angular and abstract.
This is a typical style of Picasso’s work and what he is most famous for. It is an abandonment of the rational perspective of reality to embody a more primal and instinctual aesthetic. This is perhaps his most famous and his most weird of all Picasso’s gorgeous paintings of people.
Liberty Leading the People – Eugène Delacroix
Liberty Leading the People is an epic painting by French artist Eugène Delacroix. It was painted in 1830 in a style known as Romanticism and depicted the historical scene of the French revolution of 1830 when the people overthrew King Charles X.
The painting is of a woman of the people with a gun in one hand while proudly holding the tri-colored flag of France over her head with the other. She leads a group of people to victory over a barricade of fallen dead bodies.
The woman, known as “Liberty,” would be a powerful symbol to the French, representing freedom. She would also become the same Liberty used for the Statue of Liberty in New York City. The tri-colored blue, white, and red flag was the people’s flag and would become the national flag after the events.
The Bottom Line
These are some of the most famous paintings involving people as their subject matter, but this is honestly just scratching the surface. There are hundreds of beautiful works of a similar nature that are worth looking at, and if you take the time to look at the faces of the people within the paintings, you might see yourself looking back.