5 Famous Landmarks Immortalized by Modern Artists

A landscape of a mountain range in the background with trees and greenery in the foreground Image: Paul Cézanne, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, circa 1890. Musée d'Orsay. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Much like an artist can find inspiration in a sitter or a muse, artists have long found inspiration in a landmark or place. They will often return to that place over and over again in their work, depicting it in varying light and at different times of the year. Like muses, these places meant a lot to the artist, and held a special place in their ouvres. Not surprisingly, many artists became inextricably connected with these places and ultimately contributed to their popularity. Here are five landmarks that have been immortalized by the artists that chose to represent them time and time again.

1. Giverny, France

Water lilies at Fondation Claude Monet in Giverny, France

Image: Fondation Claude Monet, Giverny, France. Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta via Wikimedia Commons.

Artist: Claude Monet

Whether you’ve seen endless reproductions of his works, or have been lucky enough to see an original in person, Claude Monet’s depiction of water lilies is practically synonymous with — and instantly recognizable as — the artist. Like other Impressionist artists, Monet relished painting outdoors and especially loved painting the same scene at different times throughout the day. For the Impressionists, who were obsessed with the portrayal of light and color on canvas, this sort of meticulous study of one scene was essential to their practice.

From 1883 until his death in 1926, Monet lived in Giverny, France. He bought a picturesque home and soon after, set out to recreate the idyllic garden which would later serve as the setting for many of his paintings and studies. Today, Monet’s Garden at Giverny is a top attraction for those visiting France. Visitors can see Monet’s monumental paintings literally brought to life, while getting to walk along the same paths that inspired one of modern art’s most prolific artists.

Rouen Cathedral dappled with sunlight, as painted by Claude Monet

Image: Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral: The Portal (Sunlight), 1894. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Theodore M. Davis Collection, Bequest of Theodore M. Davis, 1915. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Similarly in 1894, Monet made repeated visits to Rouen Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church located in the heart of Rouen, France (located approximately one hour from Giverny). The artist painted the facade of the landmark more than thirty times, each at different times of day to depict how sunlight changes according to its angle.

2. Mont Sainte-Victoire

Image of Mont Sainte-Victoire in the background with trees and greenery in the foreground

Image: Mont Sainte-Victoire. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Artist: Paul Cézanne

Like the Impressionists that came before him, Paul Cézanne also relished in creating multiple iterations of the same subject in order to study the effects of light. Unlike his predecessors, Cézanne laid the foundation for the transition from Impressionism and into more radical modern styles, like Cubism. He referred to his work as an “abbreviated Impressionism,” focusing on simple, concentrated colors and viewed each brush stroke as one unit that made up the whole painting.

A landscape of a mountain range in the background with trees and greenery in the foreground

Image: Paul Cézanne, La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, circa 1890. Musée d’Orsay. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

In a letter, Cézanne praised the mountainscape he often viewed from the train on his way to the family home as a “beautiful motif.” The limestone mountain overlooked southern France’s Aix-en-Provence and possessed some mystique for its connection to an ancient Roman victory as well as several early Christian festivals. In 1882, Cézanne painted the landscape for the first time, but it wasn’t until 1886 that it began to feature prominently in his work. In the last four years of his life (1902–1906), he created one last series of the iconic mountain as seen from the north.

3. The Moulin Rouge

Facade of the Moulin Rouge in present day, featuring neon red signage

Image: Paris, Montmartre, Moulin Rouge. Photo by David Monniaux via Wikimedia Commons.

Artist: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Before The Moulin Rouge was sensationalized in contemporary pop culture, artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec spent a considerable portion of his career depicting the raunchy cabaret. When The Moulin Rouge first opened, Toulouse-Lautrec was hired to produce a series of posters advertising the nightclub. In order to produce these posters, the cabaret reserved a seat for the artist nightly, and it wasn’t long before he became immersed in the world of dancers and debauchery.

Painting depicting men and women seated at a turn-of-the-century cabaret

Image: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Au Moulin Rouge, 1892/95. Art Institute of Chicago.

While present-day depictions of the Moulin Rouge often romanticize the nightclub, it was Toulouse-Lautrec that captured the reality of it. The dramatic cropping, dark color palette, and ghostly faces in his Moulin Rouge posters reveal the far less glamorous, unsavory environment in which patrons from all walks of life gathered to seek pleasure and entertainment. Though the original building burned down in 1915, it was later rebuilt and is still visited today. There is no doubt that Toulouse-Lautrec’s haunting posters attributed to its international success.

4. New Mexico

Artist: Georgia O’Keeffe

While some artists gravitate to a specific location or landmark, Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings were practically a love letter to the entire desert landscape of New Mexico. Originally from the American Midwest, O’Keeffe first visited New Mexico in 1917 at the age of 30. From there, she would intermittently return to the desert state, and in 1934 began spending her summers in an area called Ghost Ranch. In 1940, she bought a home in Ghost Ranch overlooking the now famous red cliffs that eventually dominated her work.

O’Keeffe bought a second home in Abiquiu, New Mexico in 1945, splitting her time between her new locale and Ghost Ranch. Today, her Abiquiu home can be toured by visitors and provides insight into the artist’s love and respect for New Mexico’s desert landscape.

5. Yosemite National Park

Image of vast landscape in Yosemite National Park

Ansel Adams, “Portfolio Three: Yosemite Valley.” One of an edition of 200, printed 1960. The present image, together with two other prints, sold for $57,500 via Swann Auction Galleries (April 2019).

Artist: Ansel Adams

Everything changed for fourteen-year-old Ansel Adams when he read James Mason’s In the Heart of the Sierras while sick in bed. The book sparked Adams’ curiosity for nature and adventure, and soon after he began photographing mountainous regions with his Kodak Brownie camera.

As an adult, Adams worked as a commercial photographer. In the 1930s, he was hired by Yosemite National Park to capture skiing, ice skating, and sledding events for its winter tourism publications. Not long after this, Adams joined the f/64 group, a cohort of San Francisco-based photographers. The group focused on natural forms and sharply focused images, a style which features prominently in Adams’ photographs of Yosemite.

Adams soon began using his photography as a platform for raising awareness for wilderness preservation. In 1938, he created the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail, filled with Adams’ stunning photographs of the area within Yosemite Valley in an attempt to designate it as a national park. His efforts paid off; congress designated the area as such in 1940. Shortly after Adams’ death in 1984, the area south of Yosemite National Park was named Ansel Adams Wilderness in the photographer’s honor and the following year, an 11,760-foot peak at the edge of Yosemite was named Mount Ansel Adams.