• Leslie

Guide To Modern Art Masterpieces In Europe (and Where To Find Them!)


The Reina Sofia in Madrid
The Reina Sofia in Madrid

Hungry for art or cultural inspiration? Do you want to see Europe's best modern art on vacation?


This list, created with my own subjective views and the objectively immortal status of the listed artists, will satisfy your cravings. I identify the most famous and groundbreaking works of modern art in Europe and tell you where to find them.



guide to modern art masterpieces Europe, for your Europe art bucket list

I created this list because travelers typically just find listicles of museums to visit, without specifying the best individual works of art to see.


I've picked a smattering of amazing museums throughout Europe, for your art bucket list. No matter where your travels take you in Europe, you'll find some great modern art.


Guernica, 1937, Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937


28 Famous Modern Art Masterpieces In Europe


Here are my top 28 must see paintings and masterpieces of modern art in Europe, to hunt down and admire.


1. Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937

Guernica is the star of the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. The famous painting is Pablo Picasso's most famous work of art. Guernica is the town that was casually bombed by Nazi planes in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.


The dark chaotic subject matter is shown in gruesome detail, complete with a modern pieta, a hidden human skull, and daggers. The monochromatic color only heightens the emotional impact.



detail of a horse, one of the central figures of Guernica
detail of a horse, one of the central figures of Guernica


Picasso's haunting painting depicts the horrors of war and the human face of collateral damage. It's become an anti-war symbol. The surrealist photographs of Picasso's then paramour Dora Maar are said to have influenced the piece.


READ: Best Art Museums in Spain


Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

Address: Calle de Santa Isabel 52, Madrid

Hours: Mon, Wed-Sat 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, closed Tues

Entry: 10 €, free admission on Mon 7:00 to 9:00 pm, Wed-Sat 7:00 to 9:00 pm, Sun 1:30 to 7:00 pm


Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893
Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893


2. Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893-1910


The open mouthed agonized face of the waif-like figure in Edvard Munch's The Scream has become an iconic image of art. It's effectively the Mona Lisa of the modern art world. In what Munch described as a "soul painting," he reveals an honest and perhaps even ugly glimpse of his inner anxiety.

As in any true expressionist painting, The Scream vibrates with swirling color and overwhelming feeling and emotion. There are three versions of the The Scream in Europe. Two are at the National Gallery Oslo and one is at the Munch Museum in Oslo.



Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1910 -- the version stolen from the Munch Museum and eventually recovered with some damage
Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1910 -- the version stolen from the Munch Museum

The Scream in the Munch Museum was stolen at a gunpoint in 2004. Two years later, the robbers were arrested in a sting operation when they tried to ransom the paintings. They were jailed and the painting was recovered with some minor damage.


National Gallery Oslo

Address: Universitetsgata 13, Oslo

Hours: Mon-Fri, 10:00 am to 9:00 pm, Sat-Sun, 11:00 am to 9:00 pm

Note: Beginning Jan 13, 2919, the museum is closed to facilitate a move to a new museum in 2020.


Munch Museum Oslo Norway

Address: Tøyengata 53, 0578 Oslo Norway

Hours: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

Entry: 120 Norweigan Krone, approximately $14

Note: The collection is currently closed and moved to a new museum in the fall of 2021.


Alchemy is one of Pollock's earliest poured paintings, executed in the revolutionary technique that was his most significant contribution to 20th century art. After long deliberation before the empty canvas, Pollock used his entire body in a picture-making process that is essentially drawing in paint. By pouring streams of paint onto the canvas from a can with the aid of a stick, Pollock made obsolete the conventions and tools of traditional easel painting.
Jackson Pollack, Alchemy, 1947 -- an early poured painting

3. Jackson Pollack, Alchemy, 1947

Alchemy is one of Pollock's earliest poured paintings, executed in the revolutionary technique that was his most singular contribution to 20th century art. After long deliberation before the empty canvas, Pollock used his entire body in a rapid fire picture-making process that is essentially drawing in paint.

By pouring streams of paint onto the canvas from a can with the aid of a stick, Pollock made obsolete the conventions and tools of traditional easel painting.


Pollack had immense help in his endeavors. He was essentially discovered by the eccentric art collector Peggy Guggenheim in New York. She gave the destitute artist a retainer and sponsored his first four shows. She even commissioned Pollock to paint a massive mural for her Manhattan apartment in New York, which is now one of his seminal works.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Address: 704 Dorsoduro Venice Italy

Hours: Open daily 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, closed Tuesday

Entry: €15, Under 26 (with ID) € 9, Under 10, free



The Marilyn Diptich, Andy Warhol, 1962
Andy Warhol, The Marilyn Diptich, 1962

4. Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptich, 1961

Is there any artist more American than Andy Warhol? He was obsessed with celebrity and wanted to be a superstar painter. He ambitiously sought to revise the idea of art, to blur the distinction between fine art and commercial art.


When Marilyn Monroe died in August 1962, Warhol made more than 20 silkscreen paintings of her. The paintings are all based on the same publicity photograph from the film Niagara.


READ: Guide To the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh


In Monroe, Warhold found a fusion of two of his consistent themes: death and the cult of celebrity. By repeating the image, he evokes her ubiquitous presence in the media. The contrast of vivid color with black and white and the effect of fading in the right panel suggest the star’s harrowing fate.

The Tate Modern

Address: Bankside, London SE1 9TG, UK

Hours: Sun-Thurs, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Fri-Sat, 10:00 am to 10:00 pm

Entry: free, except for special exhibitions



Wassilly Kandinsky, On White II, 192
Wassilly Kandinsky, On White II, 192


5. Wassilly Kandinsky, On White II, 1923

Kandinsky was one of the pioneers of modern art. This early example of geometric abstract art is said to be Kandinsky’s most famous painting. On White II is a colorful and imaginative abstract painting on white canvas with various abstract geometrical shapes.

The vibrant colors of the painting are Kandinsky's "transcendental expression" of life and opportunity. The color black represents death and how opportunity can vanish in an instant.

Centre Pompidou

Address: Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France

Hours: Wed to Mon 11 am to 10 pm, Thur open until 11 pm, closed Tues

Entry: Adults: 14 €, Youth free



Richard Serra, Matter of Time 2005
Richard Serra, Matter of Time 2005


6. Richard Serra, The Matter of Time, 2005


Richard Serra is one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. The Matter of Time is an installation comprised of eight pieces of torqued ellipses made of weathering steel. In this installation, the entire room is a sculptural field.

Serra's minimalist scupture encourages viewers to move around -- and sometimes on, in, and through -- the work and encounter it from multiple perspectives. The unique installation creates an unforgettable, dizzying feeling of space in motion.

I loved it, a full mind and body experience. Plus, the setting of the piece is perfect. It's housed in the world famous Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain.


READ: 2 Day itinerary for Bilbao

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Address: Abandoibarra Etorb., 2, 48009 Bilbao Spain

Hours: Tues-Sun 10 am to 8 pm., closed Mon

Entry: Adults: 16 €, Youth free



This is possibly my favorite piece in the Picasso Museum. Dora Maar is represented majestically seated in an armchair, smiling and resting her head on a long-fingered hand. The face is shown in a combined frontal and profile view, with a red eye and a green eye facing in different directions. These deformations are the very hallmark of Picasso's art. They primarily serve an expressive purpose: the idea is less to remake reality than to express its possibilities, to capture all the aspects of the sitter.
Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937, Picasso


7. Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937


There's no doubt that the art of Pablo Picasso was revolutionary and unparalleled in terms of quality and quality. Most art historians consider him the greatest artist of the 20th century. He certainly had plenty of charisma and genius.


This is possibly my favorite Picasso piece in Paris' Picasso Museum in the Marais neighborhood. Dora Maar, then Picasso's mistress, is represented majestically seated in an armchair, smiling and resting her head on a long-fingered hand. The face is shown in a combined frontal and profile view, with a red eye and a green eye facing in different directions.


READ: Guide To All the Picasso Museum in Europe

These deformations are the very hallmark of Picasso's art. They primarily serve an expressive purpose: the idea is less to remake reality than to express its possibilities and to capture all aspects of the sitter.

Musée Picasso

Address: 5 Rue de Thorigny, 75003 Paris, France

Hours: Tues-Fri 10.30 am to 6 pm, Sat-Sun 9.30 am to 6 pm, closed Mon

Entry: Adults: 14 €, Youth free



Originally commissioned to create murals for a New York restaurant, Rothko quit the job as his work took a darker and more contemplative turn. Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence influenced these meditations on red, grey and brown, as Rothko sought to recreate the library’s claustrophobic atmosphere. Rothko gave the final collection to the Tate, and they are displayed as he originally intended in an enclosed, dimly lit space that allows the viewer to take in their morose and meditative character.
Seagram Murals, 1950s, Mark Rothko


8. Mark Rothko, Seagram Murals, 1950s


Rothko was originally commissioned by Seagrams to create these murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York. In 1959, Rothko abruptly quit the prestigious gig. Apparently, he didn't want his art to be mere decoration for wealthy patrons.


Instead, the Seagram Murals took on a darker and more contemplative turn. Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence influenced Rothko's meditations on red, grey and brown. Rothko sought to re-create the library’s claustrophobic and sepulchral atmosphere. At the time, some criticized them as "Apolcalypse Wallpaper."



one of the Seagram Murals, 1950s, Mark Rothko
one of the Seagram Murals, 1950s, Mark Rothko

In the 1960s, Rothko gave nine of the Seagram murals to the Tate Modern, which the director called "a princely gesture." Rothko insisted on a permanent, exclusive room for the murals, resisting any attempt to mix the bleak murals with sunnier examples of his work.


The murals are therefore displayed as Rothko intended -- in an enclosed, dimly lit space that allows the viewer to take in their morose and meditative character.

The Tate Modern

Address: Bankside, London SE1 9TG, UK

Hours: Sun-Thurs, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Fri-Sat, 10:00 am to 10:00 pm

Entry: free, except for special exhibitions


Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917
Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917


9. Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917


As few artists did, Marcel Duchamp challenged the very nature of art. He rejected what he called "retinal pleasure." His first "readymades" sent shock waves through the art world. Appropriately, Duchamp viewed art as an "inner current in a human being."


Fountain is one of Duchamp’s most famous mass-produced, readymade works.

It prompted aesthetics specialists to analyze and question the definition of art.


Fountain's widely seen as an icon of 20th century conceptual art. The original, long lost, consisted of a standard urinal, usually presented on its back for exhibition purposes rather than upright, and was signed and dated "R. Mutt 1917."


The Tate Modern

Address: Bankside, London SE1 9TG, UK

Hours: Sun-Thurs, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Fri-Sat, 10:00 am to 10:00 pm

Entry: free, except for special exhibitions



Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden, 1926, Otto Dix
Otto Dix, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden, 1926


10. Otto Dix, Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden, 1926


Dix is know for his ruthless and unflattering portraits depicting German society. He painted what he called "life undiluted."


This expressionist painting is representative of the Neue Sachlichkeit, New Objectivity, wave of art. It was a German art movement that appeared around 1920 and refers back to the German masters of the 16th century.

Dix ressucitated the use of older technics, such as tempera on wood, but still used a modern choice of subject. While other artists abandoned portraiture, Dix embraced the genre with savagery and satire.

Centre Pompidou

Address: Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France

Hours: Wed to Mon 11 am to 10 pm, Thur open until 11 pm, closed Tues

Entry: Adults: 14 €, Youth free


The Man Who Measures Clouds, Jean Fabre, 1998
Jean Fabre, The Man Who Measures Clouds, 1998


11. Jean Fabre, The Man Who Measures Clouds, 1998

Most visitors to Ghent or Bruges aren't aware that a contemporary masterpiece is hidden on the roof of an old casino, now converted into the SMAK museum.


The SMAK Museum is renowned both for its permanent collection and for its provocative exhibitions. You'll have to actively look for the 450 kilo silicon bronze sculpture of The Man Who Measures Clouds by Jen Favre.

The sculpture shows "Fabre himself balancing on a small stepladder, both arms outstretched in an effort to do something impossible" -- measure the clouds with a school ruler. Suffused with poetic imagery, the sculpture is Fabre's tribute to his brother and a stunning public work.

"SMAK" - Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst

Address: Jan Hoetplein 1, 9000 Ghent, Belgium

Hours: Tues-Fri, 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, Sat-Sun 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, closed Mondays

Entry: € 12, Youth under 18 free



The Bedroom, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1888



12. Vincent Van Gogh, The Bedroom, 1888


Vincent Van Gogh has cast almost a religious spell on art history and his avid fans. We're spellbound by the unstable artist who locked himself in a Provencal asylum and may have killed himself. I say "may" because there's a theory that his death might have been the result of murder or accidental manslaughter.


Van Gogh's Post-Impressionist work is beloved -- notable for its swirling line, emotional honesty, and bold vivid color. Van Gogh had a profound impact on 20th century art. Who else do you think inspired The Scream?


When he lived in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh made this iconic painting of The Bedroom in his "Yellow House." It may be the most famous painting of a bedroom in art history. The bright colors and straight lines were meant to express absolute repose and serenity.



Van Gogh, Self Portrait, 1889  -- this one is in Paris' Musee d'Orsay
Van Gogh, Self Portrait, 1889 -- this one is in Paris' Musee d'Orsay


Although the picture symbolized relaxation to the artist, The Bedroom canvas seems to teem with nervous energy, instability, and turmoil, and the effect is heightened by the sharply receding perspective. The rules of perspective are not accurately applied in the painting. This was a deliberate choice.

Van Gogh Museum

Address: Museumplein 6, 1071 DJ Amsterdam, Netherlands

Hours: 9:00 am to 9:0p pm, except holiday

Entry: € 19, Under 28 free, accepts Amsterdam Card


Elasticity, 1912, Umberto Boccioni
Umberto Boccioni, Elasticity, 1912

13. Umberto Boccioni, Elasticity, 1912


Boccioni was the leading artist of Italian Futurism. He was based in Milan.


READ: 1 Day Itinerary for Milan


During his short life, he produced some of the movement’s most iconic paintings and sculptures. He captured the color and dynamism of modern life in a pre-Cubist style. A style that he theorized and defended in manifestos, books, and articles. Boccioni termed his style "physical transcendentalism."


Boccioni's Elasticity is a literal demonstration of horsepower. It has a mechanistic, cubist appearance. But it's not quiet like Cubism. This painting is so dynamic it seems like it might burst.


Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Milano

Address: Via Palestro, 16, 20121 Milano MI, Italy

Hours: Tues-Sun, 9:100 to 5:30, closed Mon & holidays

Entry: € 5.00, Under 18 free



Cafe Terrace at Night, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh, Cafe Terrace at Night, 1888


14. Van Gogh, Cafe Terrace at Night, 1888

The Kröller-Müller Museum boasts the second-largest Van Gogh collection in the world, at almost 90 paintings and over 180 drawings. Cafe Terrace at Night was one of the first scenes Van Gogh painted during his time in Arles France. More significantly, it was the first painting in which he used a nocturnal background.

Using contrasting colors and tones, Van Gogh achieved a luminous surface that pulses with an interior light, almost in defiance of the darkening sky. He thought that "the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day."


The cafe in the painting still exists. It's been renamed the Café Van Gogh. And it's now a bit of a tourist trap.

Kröller-Müller Museum

Address: Houtkampweg 6, 6731 AW Otterlo, The Netherlands

Hours: Tues-Sun 10:00 am to 5:00 pm except holidays

Entry: 19.90 €, Youth 6-12 € 10.00, Under 6 free



The Dance, 1909-10, Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse, The Dance, 1909-10


15. Henri Matisse, The Dance, 1909-10


The Dance by Henri Matisse is housed in St. Petersburg's Winter Palace, one of the most breathtaking buildings in the world.


Matisse created this painting in 1910, at the request of Russian businessman and art collector Sergei Shchukin. Shchukin then bequeathed the large decorative panel to the Hermitage Museum.

The composition of dancing figures is commonly recognized as a key point of Matisse's career and in the development of modern painting. The dancers are largely formless and have a childlike spontaneity.



La Danse  by Henri Matisse, 1933 -- in the Paris Museum of Modern Art
La Danse by Henri Matisse, 1933 -- in the Paris Museum of Modern Art


Other versions of Matisse's dance theme can be found in the Matisse Room at the Paris Museum of Modern Art. There, you can see his large free flowing cut out murals of La Danse and La Danse inachevée. There's also a prepartory sketch of The Dance at New York's Museum of Modern Art and an arched Dance II triptych in Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation.

St. Petersburg's Hermitage

Address: Palace Square, 2, Dvortsovaya Square

Hours: Tues, Thurs, Sat, Sun: 10.30 am to 6:00 pm, Wed & Fri: 10.30 am to 9:30 pm, closed Mondays

Entry: 700 rubles, approx $10.50


Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Address: 11 Avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris, France. Until Fall 2019 entrance is on 12-14 avenue de New York - 75116 Paris

Hours: Tues-Sun, 10:100 am to 6:00 pm

Entry: Free except for special exhibitions


The Peasant Boy, 1918, Amedeo Modigliani
Modigliani, The Peasant Boy, 1918


16. Amedeo Modigliani, The Peasant Boy, 1918


Amedeo Modigliani is an Italian painter that worked mostly in France, living with Picasso and the bohemian crowd at the Bateau Lavoir in Paris' Montmartre neighborhood. Modigiliani's style is characterized by elongated faces and bodies, a style which modernized figurative painting.


The Peasant Boy is one of a small group of paintings of youths by Modigliani. The artist inscribed the work's title on the bottom right of the canvas, identifying the sitter as a "peasant boy."



Amedeo Modigiliani, The Young Apprentice, 1918-19
Amedeo Modigiliani, The Young Apprentice, 1918-19


The same model appears in a painting in the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Collection in the Orangerie Museum in Paris, titled The Young Apprentice.


Modigliani had long been deeply influenced by the painter Paul Cézanne. It seems likely that this series of paintings was a homage to the latter's series of country workers.


The Tate Modern

Address: Bankside, London SE1 9TG, UK

Hours: Sun-Thurs, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Fri-Sat, 10:00 am to 10:00 pm

Entry: free, except for special exhibitions


The Orangerie Museum

Address: Place de la Concorde 75001 Paris

Tel: +33 (0)1 44 77 80 07, +33 (0)1 44 50 43 00

Hours: Open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, last admission 5:15 pm, closed Tuesday

Entry fees: Full rate: € 12.50, reduced rate € 10


 Jasper Johns, Target With Four Faces, 1955
Jasper Johns, Target With Four Faces, 1955


17. Jasper Johns, Target With Four Faces, 1955


Jasper Johns rose to fame in the 1950s, the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. But he is usually placed in the Neo-Dada or the Minimalist school of Pop Art. Johns liked to use familiar objects that "the mind already knows."


The image of the target emerges in John's work in 1955, in paintings that incorporate frieze like arrangements of plaster casts taken from parts of the body.