Georges-Pierre Seurat, Grandcamp, Evening (1885)
This post-impressionist painter helped devise the pointillism technique, in which precise dots are applied as separate colors. When viewed from afar, they result in a seamless, blended scene; up close, they have an almost dizzying effect on the viewer. Here, Seurat illustrates the seaside village of Grandcamp-Maisy in his native France.
Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night (1889)
Van Gogh, a Dutch post-impressionist, created this piece during his stay at an asylum in Southern France. The scene, executed in short brushstrokes with very thick applications of paint, depicts the view from the window of his asylum room. He focused on a bright yellow morning star viewed just before sunrise.
Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy (1897)
The subject matter of this oil painting was unlike anything the artist had done before—leading some to claim it was a forgery. Rousseau, who was largely self-taught, was a student of primitivism, which focuses on non-Western themes. The desert scene depicts a sleeping woman dressed in Eastern costume with a wandering lion behind her. The moonlight in the background gives the piece a dreamlike quality.
Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Ginger Jar, Sugar Bowl, and Oranges (1902–06)
Cézanne influenced cubism, fauvism and a generation of artists including Henri Matisse. His still lifes employ small brushstrokes and a palette of colors to build a complex, shallow field around the subject. The tilted edge of the fruit dish here is slightly curved, providing an altered perspective.
Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory (1931)
At just 9.5 x 13 inches, this painting is quite small—but remains a prime example of Dalí’s technical skill. The Spanish surrealist once claimed to work in a hallucinatory state, which would explain the melting clocks, dripping watches and ants in the piece. Dalí said he was inspired instead by the sight of Camembert cheese melting in the sun.
5 Pieces You Have to See at MoMA
Home to the world’s greatest assemblage of modern and contemporary art, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is, unsurprisingly, one of the most visited city institutions—welcoming about 3 million people annually. Unsure where to start exploring its collection, which in its entirety holds nearly 200,000 pieces? Try a free self-guided audio tour and be sure not to miss these five famous paintings, all located on the fifth-floor gallery and regularly on display.