“Des Glaneuses” is French for “The Gleaners,” and so this painting (finished in 1857) depicts three peasant women gathering what they can after a field has been harvested. While it portrays the lower classes in a sympathetic way, the upper classes didn’t appreciate the sentiment.
The revolution was fresh in some people’s minds, and there were whispers that another revolution – that of the growing Socialist movement – wasn’t far away. There were far more lower-class workers than upper-class rulers, and so the painting was panned by those in power.
“Déjeuner sur L'herbe” by Edouard Manet
There have been plenty of paintings about people enjoying a picnic, and that's exactly what is being portrayed here, despite initial thoughts. The painting “Luncheon on the Grass” was, indeed, a scandal when Manet painted it in 1863, but not just because there was nudity – it's because nudity was the purview of only classical settings, not modern life.
Many people have assumed that the nude woman, giving the viewer an unapologetic look, was in the business of offering carnal pleasures for money, but she was actually Victorine-Louise Meurent — a famous model and a painter in her own right. Due to her inclusion in the painting, people called it obscene.
“The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai
With a towering wave, a trio of boats, and a distant snow-capped mountain, “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” is a towering staple of Japanese art. This was undoubtedly Hokusai's best work, but he only did it due to being forced back into work to pay off his grandson's debts.
It just goes to show you that even if you're getting up there in the years, you can still make something wonderful. The wave is estimated to be twelve meters tall, showing off the great power of the sea – it even towers over Mount Fuji, a sacred symbol of beauty for the people of Japan.
“Frescoes in Villa of the Mysteries” by Unknown
It's impossible to figure out who created these frescoes, found in the Roman city of Pompeii. It had been buried and preserved under thirty feet of ash. The frescoes, while beautiful, are also baffling. Dozens of life-size figures dance around an unclothed woman, who is one of the frescoes is dancing, and in another is playing the cymbals.
Scholars have tried their hardest to uncover what the scenes are depicting, but the best they can come up with is scenes of a Dionysian ritual. Now more than two thousand years old, most of the secrets have been lost to time.
“Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck
From the Dutch master Jan van Eyck, this painting is stepped with questions. Many have tried to answer them, but we'll never truly know the answers. The subjects are Giovanni di Nicolao di Arnolfini and his wife Costanza Trenta, a wealthy Italian couple – or are at least thought to be – but the interesting composition raises the most discussion.
Why the odd stance? What is the event pictured? Is the wife pregnant? Most cryptically, there are figures depicted in the mirror in the center of the portrait, but why should it take center stage? And who are the people? Some have said one of them is van Eyck himself.