Not only was the Revolutionary War long over by the time Emanuel Leutze painted this classic piece of American history, but his country also didn’t even officially take part in the conflict — he was German. This critical moment in the fight for independence, which occurred on Christmas Day in 1776, was a moment that Leutze hoped would inspire others to make their own steps toward freedom.
The heroic pose of Washington, the hard work of the soldiers crossing the icy waters, and the smokey rays of light in the background come together to make a scene that stirs the soul and brings a tear to the eye.
“The Gross Clinic” by Thomas Eakins
In this title, the word doesn't mean disgusting – it's the name of Dr. Samuel Gross, who had decided that an infection of the femur was a teaching moment and not just something to be amputated. Gross lectures, showing how to do the least damage, as other professionals look on.
A clerk takes notes while the patient's mother turns away in horror. This painting has an important place in medicine's history since it was at the beginning of the era when surgery and medicine were becoming a true healing profession, and not just damage control.
“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” by Gustav Klimt
This portrait portrays Adele Bloch-Bauer, an art enthusiast and society hostess and the wife of a Viennese sugar magnate. The painting was seized from the Bloch-Bauer home by the Nazis more than thirty years after it was painted in 1907. After World War II ended, the painting was found in the state-run Galerie Belvedere.
Adele's niece, Maria Altmann, lobbied endlessly for the painting to be returned, and in 2006, just one year shy of the painting's hundredth birthday, she finally succeeded. The long story of the painting was turned into a film called “Woman in Gold,” which starred Helen Mirren as Altmann.
“The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci
If the “Mona Lisa” isn't da Vinci's most famous work, surely this one is. Jesus has center stage, and the twelve apostles are clustered around him in poses that have become legendary. It's said that the apostles are reacting to Jesus, saying one will betray them.
The painting was commissioned by the Duke of Milan during the renovation of an old church and monastery. Finished in 1498, it immediately became famous for the poses, the framing, and the size — fifteen feet tall and a staggering twenty-nine feet across. It took da Vinci three years to paint it, though it's thought that is because of his tendency to procrastinate.
“Composition Viii” by Wassily Kandinsky
Fascinated with color from an early age, Kandinsky always let differing shades rule the paintings he came up with. As you might have guessed from the title of this painting, he also wanted to explore the relations between sound and color and often painted in ways that musicians write songs.
The use of shapes and other mathematical ideas also speaks to his idea that geometric shapes contain some powerful properties. Colors were chosen for their emotional impact. The many compositions Kandinsky came up with have hundreds of intersecting elements that give the viewer pause and plenty to look at.