Top 15 most controversial art paintings of all time

Paintings can catch an audience attention within a second when they first lay eyes on them. When they do, they can either give good feedback or bad but there are many paintings that can offend people that will make them turn away. Today I am counting down the top 15 most controversial art paintings of all time. Be warned because this is for mature audiences only so if you do not want to take a look, I advise you to turn away now. Every painting, I will give a brief description to why they are controversial. Now let’s start the countdown.

15. One Nation Under Socialism by Jon McNaughton (2012)


One of the most modern paintings on this list, this painting by Jon McNaughton has been very controversial because it puts U.S. President Barack Obama in a bad light. This painting shows the U.S. president burning the constitution of the United States while pointing at the flame.

14. Burial at Ornans by Gustav Courbet (1850)


The Burial at Ornans is considered one of the turning points of French Art during the 19th century. It basically portrays a funeral scenario, which was inspired by the funeral of the uncle of Courbet in Ornans. This larger than life representation was considered offensive by the public and many critics because of its intense expression of grief.

13. The Guitar Lesson by Balthasar Klossowski de Rola (1934)

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In this painting, Polish-French painter De Rola depicted young girls in several erotic positions. It sparked controversies because of its erotic nature, both among older women and young girls. This painting shows an old woman with a young girl on her lap, pulling her genitals like a guitar.

12. Self-Portrait by Albrecht Dürer (1500)


This self-portrait was created at a time when northern Europe was already starting to adopt Renaissance art. It became highly controversial because the position of Durer was supposed to be the position of Christ. In this painting, Durer was facing the viewer and has his other hand right at the middle of his chest, as if offering a blessing. This was found blasphemous by the Catholic Church and the public.

11. Olympia by Edouard Manet (1863)

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Olympia by Edouard Manet features a female nude as its subject and is said to be reminiscent of the La Maja Desnuda masterpiece of Goya. The self-assured prostitute depicted in this painting is considered a form of vulgarity by many, especially because the nudity is very brightly stressed through the use of light colors.

10. The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins (1875)


Painted by Thomas Eakins, The Gross Clinic was first submitted to an exposition but was rejected because of its gruesomeness. This painting became highly controversial because of its odd representation, which involved a sexually vague patient and a mother sitting beside him/her. The painting was also spattered with blood.

9.The Rape by René Magritte (1945)

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Painted by the famed Belgian artist in 1945, The Rape both looks and sounds like a violation, however political the painting might be. Appearing like a portrait, the painting shows the face of a woman but instead of the familiar features, her eyes have been replaced by breasts, her nose by a belly button and her mouth by her pubis. Utilizing the ideas of Surrealism and a sense of metaphor in tandem, the painting seems to offer up a harsh opinion of how men might see women, particularly destined, as they were at that time, by their anatomy.

8. The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst (1991)


Never one to shy away from controversy, Hirst financed by Charles Saatchi arranged for a Tiger Shark to be caught of the coast of Queensland Australia and shipped over to the UK. Costing some £50,000 to catch and preserve the beast in a giant glass and steal box, he wrote on the on the technical specifications of the painting; Tiger shark, glass, steel, 5% formaldehyde solution, 213 x 518 x 213 cm. Upon its unveiling, in 1992, The Sun called it “£50,000 for fish without chips”, art critic Robert Hughes blamed Hirst directly for the art market’s “cultural obscenity” and animal rights groups attacked Hirst’s use of a living animal for the purpose of art. Needless to say, Hirst sold the shark for millions.

7. The Prophet by Cedric Chambers (2013)


This painting by Cedric Chambers has sparked controversies because of its depiction of Jesus Christ being carried by Darth Vader, with images of the Twin Towers at the background. This painting was found offensive by at least three parties, including the Roman Catholic Church, the fans of Star Wars and New Yorkers.

6. Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo Da Vinci (between 1483-1486)


An painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Virgin of the Rocks currently hangs at the Louvre and has been a major source of controversy since it was introduced. This painting basically depicts the Immaculate Concepcion, which the Roman Catholic Church finds offensive because Mary and Jesus Christ do not have halos.

5. Madame X by John Singer (1884)


This portrait of Madame X was made to depict the infamous adulterous woman of the French society named Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau. It spurred controversy due to suggestive pose of the subject which was described as self-centered, arrogant, and vulgar. Such flaunting was simply not done by women of social standing. This painting is currently on display in Manhattan, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

4.The Enigma of William Tell by Salvador Dali (1933)

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This weird, shocking and offensive painting by Salvador Dali is considered one of the most unusual paintings that could ever be exhibited in a museum. This painting depicts Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Linen so outrageously that event the founder of surrealism himself sought to destroy it.

3. Sick Bacchus by Caravaggio (1593)


Sick Bacchus features as its subject a pale figure with blue lips which closely resembles someone with a sexually transmitted disease called syphilis. By the time Caravaggio painted this, he himself was suffering from the disease because of his multiple partners. Many found this painting offensive because it symbolizes sexual liberation.

2. The Death of Marat by Jacques Louis David (1793)


This famous and controversial painting was created by Jacques Louis David; a French revolutionary leader. What made this painting so offensive to observers at that time was that it depicted the painter himself dead in his bath tub. This painting is currently exhibited in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Belgium.

1. The Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet (1866)

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This bold painting (censored due to graphic material) by Gustave Courbet depicts graphical yet realistic eroticism in an effort to protest against academic paintings and their smooth, idealised nudes.

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