Famous Paintings of Animals

Famous Paintings of Animals – A Look at Famous Animals in Art

We often expect the subjects of art to be based on things that people love, including themselves. Among the many subjects of art that artists love to paint are your favorite animals and pets. This article will introduce you to some of the most famous animal paintings by famous artists in art history that are sure to capture the hearts of animal lovers.



Animals in Painting

The appearance of animals in paintings has long been associated with heavy symbolism surrounding very human themes. Animals have been the subject of many famous paintings just as much as humans have taken up the center stage as models. Aside from serving as symbols, animals also feature in artwork intended for environmental awareness and the impact of humans on animals.

One can therefore say that the act of capturing an animal in a painting or artwork, as with any subject, creates a direct relationship and begs the viewer to question it.

Many animal painters have also collaborated with other artists since the 17th century, contributing to decorative elements of other landscape and mythological paintings. Below, we will examine the top 10 most famous animal paintings in art history.



Famous Paintings of Animals

From myths and legends to symbols and subjects of appreciation, animals have been a difficult subject to avoid for many artists. Below, you will find a list of the top 10 most famous paintings of animals that draw attention to the different relationships that humans have built around these critters.


The Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark (1613) by Jan Brueghel the Elder

Date 1613
Medium Oil on panel
Dimensions (cm)54.6 x 83.8
Where It Is HousedThe J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, United States

This incredible painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder is one of the most famous paintings of animals in art. Painted in 1613, the scene illustrates images of animals spread out across the sky and on the land, engaging with one another as they represent the popular biblical narrative of Noah shepherding the animals in preparation for their journey in the ark.

The painting features a variety of animals, from elephants to turtles, and even tiny hamsters. The sky is occupied by birds and bats flying into the horizon, where one sees a bright blue sky, symbolic of the brighter future ahead.

Iconic Animal Paintings by Famous ArtistsThe Entry of the Animals into Noah’s Ark (1613) by Jan Brueghel the Elder, located in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, United States; Jan Brueghel the Elder, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

According to the biblical narrative of Noah and the ark, God instructed Noah to construct an ark to house each kind of animal, both male and female, including every kind of bird and beast. This assignment was given to Noah so that God could initiate a great flood that would cleanse the Earth from its wickedness.

Brueghel the Elder was appointed as a court painter in 1609 for Archduke Albert and the Infanta Isabella who both amassed quite a collection of strange animals from around the world.

The emergence of the “new world” in the 1600’s also brought about a newfound interest in natural history, which saw the birth of many private collections containing animal taxidermy, natural objects, shells, and menageries with rare animals.


The Floating Feather (c. 1680) by Melchior d’Hondecoeter

Date c. 1680
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)144 x 159
Where It Is HousedRijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Melchior d’Hondecoeter was a popular Dutch animalier painter who specialized in the depiction of birds and other exotic species. This famous painting of animals, The Floating Feather, is believed to have been painted around 1680 for Stadtholder Willem III and his partner Mary for display in Het Loo Palace.

Willem III owned many menageries of exotic animals

Example of Animals in ArtThe Floating Feather (c. 1680) by Melchior d’Hondecoeter, located in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Melchior d’Hondecoeter, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This was the standard practice at the time for country homeowners. The painting can also be identified as A Pelican and Other Birds near a Pool. One of d’Hondecoeter’s earliest paintings, Tub with Fish (1655) can be seen at the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum.


Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801 – 1805) by Jacques-Louis David

Date 1801 – 1805
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)261 x 221
Where It Is HousedChâteau de Malmaison, Paris, France

Painted by Jacques-Louis David between 1801 and 1805, this iconic animal painting featuring the notorious Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most well-known depictions of the French conqueror featuring a war horse. The painting is also thought to be an ode to a war horse named Marengo who is portrayed as a fiery steed with bloodshot eyes and was admired for his courage in many battles.

The painting was commissioned by the King of Spain and illustrates an idealized depiction of the conqueror crossing over the Alps via the Great St. Bernard Pass in 1800.

Famous Animal Artists to KnowNapoleon Crossing the Alps (1801 – 1805) by Jacques-Louis David, located in the Château de Malmaison in Paris, France; Jacques-Louis David, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This painting is also one of the most reproduced images of Napoleon Bonaparte to date. At the same time, it is also one of the fewer paintings that Napoleon was not physically present in the process. The courageous horse Marengo was injured eight times in his battle career and even partook in the battle at Waterloo and Austerlitz.


The Monarch of the Glen (1851) by Edwin Landseer

Date 1851
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)163.8 x 168.9
Where It Is HousedScottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland

This is one of the most famous English animal paintings in British history from the 19th century. Landseer portrays a royal stag in all its majestic splendor, also called the 12-point stag, which refers to the different points on the creature’s antlers.

The royal stag has since served as a symbol of the grandeur of Scotland’s highlands as well as pride and loyalty.

Famous Animal ArtistsThe Monarch of the Glen (1851) by Edwin Landseer, located in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland; Edwin Landseer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Landseer is recognized as one of the most famous animal artists, portraying the relationships between humans and animals with The Monarch of the Glen (1851) ranking high up on the top of Landseer’s best animal paintings. The image of the stag was highly admired during its time and was even reproduced through prints well into the 20th century.

This resulted in the painting becoming one of the most recognized animal paintings in the world.


Tiger in a Tropical Storm (1891) by Henri Rousseau

Date 1891
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)130 x 162
Where It Is HousedThe National Gallery, London, United Kingdom

Also titled Surprised! (1891), Tiger in a Tropical Storm was the first of many jungle paintings by Henri Rousseau, who was a famous post-Impressionist painter. The painting depicts a tiger, which is only highlighted by the flash of lightning as it prepares to catch its prey. This famous tiger painting received mixed reviews when first exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants.

Although his approach to composition was criticized as being naive and childish, his work was also admired by Swiss artists like Félix Vallotton, who was soon to be a major influential figure in modern woodcut practices.

Animals in Art PiecesTiger in a Tropical Storm (1891) by Henri Rousseau, located in the National Gallery in London, United Kingdom; Henri Rousseau, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The motif of the tiger was originally inspired by the artwork of Eugène Delacroix and was thought to be an image of a memory from the artist’s time in the jungle in Mexico in 1860. It was later found that the artist never left France and that the inspiration for the image was derived from the local Parisian botanical gardens, which contained zoological galleries with specimens of exotic creatures and taxidermy.

The tiger has also been one of the most frequently depicted animals in art.


Le Chat Blanc (1894) by Pierre Bonnard

Date 1894
Medium Oil on cardboard
Dimensions (cm)51.9 x 33.5
Where It Is HousedMusée d’Orsay, Paris, France

Pierre Bonnard is considered one of the pioneering members of the post-Impressionist group called the Les Nabis as well as one of the most famous animal artists. Bonnard was also a key contributor to the Impressionist movement who championed modern and expressive painting techniques. His works feature bold brushstrokes with vivid color palettes that were inspired by artists like Paul Gauguin and Japanese woodblock prints. Bonnard also had a keen eye for design, which helped him create intimate scenes of urban and domestic environments.

This is perhaps one of the most famous animal paintings by Bonnard that captures the distorted image of a white cat.

The cat is seen oddly arching its back with its head facing down towards its shoulders and donning a cunning expression. Bonnard paints the cat in such a way that it appears as though the cat is both wild and tame. The position of the cat’s paws and shape was given quite a bit of attention and can be seen in some of Bonnard’s preparatory drawings. X-rays of the painting reveal that Bonnard had made many changes to the cat with some previous markings already being visible to the naked eye.

Today, Bonnard’s image of a white cat has become a caricature through its excellent use of sinuous lines and the absence of any depth for the cat’s body. It is believed that Bonnard was also inspired by Japanese artists like Hokusai and Kuniyoshi who often painted feline subjects. Bonnard’s use of asymmetrical compositions and the decorative nature of the animal painting is also characteristic of the Nabi tradition.

Bonnard was known to produce numerous paintings that featured cats, rendered via simple details yet displaying a lot of character.


A Friend in Need (1903) by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge

Date 1903
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)Unavailable
Series/EditionPart of a series of 18 paintings called Dogs Playing Poker (1894 – 1910) commissioned by Brown & Bigelow

This famous animal painting was part of an 18-part series commissioned for advertising cigars under Brown & Bigelow. The series features various anthropomorphized dogs seen engaged in poker while seated at different tables. Coolidge’s series also featured in many popular culture films and theater shows. The painting is also considered a common example of the Kitsch art style that, according to Annette Ferrara, is an image that was burned into the American collective-schlock subconscious.

The first painting in the series sold at an auction for $658 000 in 2015.

Animals in ArtA Friend in Need (1903) by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge; Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Spahi Attacked by a Lion (1919) by Georges-Charles Dufresne

Date 1919
Medium Watercolor and gouache on paper
Dimensions (cm)45.6 x 59.2
Where It Is HousedTate Gallery, London, United Kingdom

This painting by famous French painter, Georges-Charles Dufresne in 1919 depicts a Spahi soldier being attacked by a lion, as the title suggests. The Spahi were known to be a part of a specific division of the Arab cavalry regiments in Tunisia and Algeria.

This painting was supposedly a study for a larger painting reproduced in L’Amour de l’Art (1920) on page 81 and was described as Spahi attacked by a Lion.

Famous Animals in ArtSpahi Attacked by a Lion (1919) by Georges-Charles Dufresne, located in the Tate Gallery in London, United Kingdom; Charles Dufresne, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dufresne was also a sculptor and engraver who was raised by a family of fishermen and sailors. Although his subjects were not solely dedicated to animals, his depiction of this scene with a soldier on a white horse being attacked by a lion makes clear his interest in Cubist painting.

In the small painting, the lion is seen pouncing on the horse with its full might while the soldier struggles to stay on.


Cat and Bird (1928) by Paul Klee

Date 1928
Medium Oil and ink on gessoed canvas mounted on wood
Dimensions (cm)38 x 53
Where It Is HousedMuseum of Modern Art, New York City, United States

This famous Paul Klee painting is also one of the most famous animal paintings due to its striking depiction of a cat pondering over a bird and the quite literal positioning of the bird over the cat’s head, which occupies the majority of the canvas. The painting also gives us insight into Klee’s love of cats and was originally titled Katze und Vogel.

Like Pablo Picasso, Klee was also devoted to his love for cats and beautifully captures the simple yet intriguing nature of cats that seem to capture our hearts.

Animal Paintings by Famous ArtistsCat and Bird (1928) by Paul Klee, located in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, United States; Paul Klee, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Klee strove towards cultivating the purity of painting itself through simple uses of lines, colors, and shapes as elements on their own as opposed to the execution of something visible. By illustrating the cat with a large head, it becomes the main subject of the painting and stresses the focus on the cat’s mind and its desire for the bird. The red heart representing the cat’s nose is also a symbol of the cat’s desire.

Klee’s childlike approach to execution is also what amplifies the striking visual nature of this famous animal painting.


Head of a Dog (1930) by Edvard Munch

Date 1930
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions (cm)46 x 38
Where It Is HousedMunch Museum, Oslo, Norway

This famous Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch, who is most famous for painting The Scream (1893), is also famous for his animal painting, Head of a Dog (1930). In the latter stages of his life, the artist was known to have formed a close attachment to dogs after he suffered from a panic attack due to the death of both his mother and sister around 1908.

Munch withdrew from society during this time and took to forming a bond with dogs. Munch took his dogs everywhere and became a part of his daily life.

What Are Famous Paintings of AnimalsHead of a Dog (1930) by Edvard Munch, located in the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway; Edvard Munch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Munch even took his dogs with him to the cinema and if his dogs barked too much during a film, then it was a sign to Munch that the film was probably bad and it was time for him to leave. His strong attachment to these friendly creatures is what inspired this painting of a pooch. Perhaps it can be called a portrait of a pooch, Munch portrays the dog without a hint of its neck in an Expressionist style.

While including many bright colors on the right of the painting, Munch also contrasts this with many darker colors on the left side of the portrait.

Green and black appear to be very dominant colors around the dog’s ears, eyes, and head while orange and red shades appear on the other side. Over the years, many artists have recreated this image of a dog, including Édouard Manet. Before this painting, Munch also displayed his interest in dogs and these can be thought of as insight into his inner psychological world.


Animals, both wild and domestic, have captured the attention of many popular artists since the early 17th century. Accompanied by both historical events and artistic genius, animals in art have definitely taken the spotlight. There are numerous animal paintings by famous artists that could have you studying for weeks but we hope that these top 10 paintings have inspired you to include your furry friends in your masterpieces.



Take a look at our animal paintings webstory here!



Frequently Asked Questions


Why Are Animal Paintings Important?

Animal paintings are important since they form an important aspect of art history and are further understood as divided into different genres. The relationships between humans and animals have been at the forefront of art and culture for many centuries. There is also a genre of animal painting dedicated to capturing the portraits of horses called equine painting.


What Does Animalier Mean?

The term animalier refers to both paintings of animals and small-scale antique sculptures of animals.


What Is the Most Popular Animal Portrait Painting?

The Goldfinch (1654) by Carel Fabritius is considered the most popular animal portrait painting and was also mentioned in 2014 as the finest animal portrait to exist. The painting also inspired the 2013 novel of the same name by Donna Tartt, which was later turned into a 2019 film directed by John Crowley.


Cite this Article

Jordan, Anthony, “Famous Paintings of Animals – A Look at Famous Animals in Art.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. October 14, 2022. URL: https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-paintings-of-animals/

Anthony, J. (2022, 14 October). Famous Paintings of Animals – A Look at Famous Animals in Art. artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source. https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-paintings-of-animals/

Anthony, Jordan. “Famous Paintings of Animals – A Look at Famous Animals in Art.” artfilemagazine – Your Online Art Source, October 14, 2022. https://artfilemagazine.com/famous-paintings-of-animals/.

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