The World’s Most Famous Artists of the 20th Century

Posted by Abby

The traditional definition of artist is a person who cultivates one of the fine arts, presided over by the muses in Greek culture. In that classical definition, it was the art of poetry, writing, singing and to a few extent, history and astronomy, was considered as art and therefore the person who were skilled at those fields were called artists.

In modern concept of artist, however, the term may refer to a person who creates art or skilled in some artistic pursuit such as painting, drawing, sculpture, acting, dancing, music, photography and writing. Writing here refers to creative writing as of lyrical poetry, essays, novels, etc. Drawing refers to visual arts creating 2-dimensional objects on any medium or substrate using drawing implements such as pencils, pen and ink, crayons, pastels, charcoal, chalk and various other tools. Acting usually refers to performance art involving a person portraying a character through any medium such as theater or stage, television and film.

In the last 100 years, we saw a lot of famous artists who defined the cultural history of the world. The 20th century spanned from 1901 to 2000.

The Visual Arts

At the dawn of the 20th century, basically from 1901 to 1925, the art scene was dominated mainly by French, German and American artists and to a lesser extent Spanish, Dutch, Austrian, Italian and Russian painters who revolutionized the modern art movements cubism, fauvism, expressionism, futurism, American modernism and surrealism. Some of these modern art movements were influenced by the works of late 19th century artists.

During this period, the most notable figures in the art scene were French artists Georges Braque, Fernand Léger,  Albert Gleizes, Marcel Duchamp and Spanish Juan Gris and Pablo Picasso who pioneered and developed cubism. American artists who developed the American modernism movement include Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Patrick Henry Bruce.

Pablo Picasso in particular had earned himself the tag as one of the greatest and most influential artists to ever live in the 20th century. His extraordinary talent earned him worldwide appeal as well as respect by fellow artists and the whole world in general.

In Latin America, the most notable painters include Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco as well as Frida Kahlo who started symbolism movement. Diego Rivera was the most famous of Latin painters during that time whose works were commissioned abroad such as the gigantic mural ‘Man at the Crossroads” that adorned the lobby of the RCA Building at Rockefeller Center in New York and his Detroit Industry in Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Michigan.

Abstract expressionism and pop art emerged as the century’s two most prominent movements in America following the universal appeal of the preceding movements developed by Picasso, Matisse, Miro and the like. Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were the most prominent with the abstract expressionism while Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein predominated the Pop art.


Geometric abstraction, Op art, Minimal art, New Realism movements were developed in 1960s and 1970s as a continuation to abstract arts developed earlier in the first 20 years of the 20th century. Famous artists include Frank Stella, Gene Davis and Kenneth Nolan among others.

As the 20th century drew to a close, neo-expressionism was developed in response to pure abstraction originated by abstract expressionism. Most notables and famous artists include Eric Fischl, Susan Rothenberg, Julian Schnabel, Keith Haring among others.