6 final masterpieces from world renowned artists
We tend to see artists as having a unique insight into the human condition. Of being able to capture those thoughts and feelings that the rest of us struggle to articulate.
So there’s something especially intriguing about these 6 final works.
Do they offer a glimpse into the beyond?
6. The Goldfish Pond at Chartwell – Winston Churchill
You may not be aware that Winston Churchill was a keen painter. The former wartime prime minister took up the hobby in the mid-1910s.
Over the years he became rather good at it.
This is his last painting. It’s a view of the goldfish pond at his home in Kent - a favourite subject that he painted it on numerous occasions. Interestingly, he seems to have taken a more abstract approach than in his previous works.
Interesting because Churchill was a lifelong opponent of modernism. And yet, with his final work he appears to have a change of heart on the subject.
5. The Chapel Paintings – Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko was one of the most important figures in New York’s vibrant abstract expressionist movement. His vast colour field paintings are celebrated for their magnetic sense of space and depth.
In the mid-1960s, Rothko was commissioned to create a series of 14 paintings to be installed in a non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas.
All are executed in deep purples and blacks, lit from above by a skylight. Rothko completed the commission, but never saw the chapel. He killed himself in his studio on February 25, 1970.
The building was established the following year, in 1971.
4. Wheat Field with Crows – Van Gogh
Everyone knows a little of the Vincent Van Gogh story - the drinking, the lopped off ear and of course the slow death from a gunshot wound in the small French village of Auvers-sur-Oise.
Wheat Field with Crows, executed in July 1890, is claimed by some as his last ever painting.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know for sure. What’s certain is that it was one of his final canvases, painted in the very month he died.
The ominous work, with its foreboding sky and wheeling birds, echoes his mental state in the run-up to his death.
3. Study of a Bull – Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon painted Study of a Bull (1991) during a long period of illness. Less than a year later he would be admitted to a hospice in Madrid, where he would pass away from a heart attack at the age of 82.
The canvas is a meditation on death. Bacon was in no doubt that he wasn’t long for the world. The bull has been simultaneously interpreted as moving backwards into the void, or forward into the light.
Underneath Bacon has attached a small amount of dust from his studio.
2. Self Portrait Facing Death – Picasso
Self Portrait Facing Death (1971) is one of Picasso’s last ever self-portraits. The work is executed in crayon and took around six months to complete.
The woozy composition and sickly colours all serve to give a deeply uncomfortable effect.
While Picasso did go on to produce other works in the months before he died, this work gives a good impression of his feelings on his advancing age.
1. La Sagrada Familia - Gaudi
The biggest work on this list is no mere canvas. It’s an entire cathedral.
Work began on the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, originally designed by Francisco Paula de Villar, in 1882.
When de Villar resigned in 1883, the stage was set for Antonio Gaudi – who immediately made the project his own. The towering gothic pile is encrusted with strange organic forms, looking for all the world like the city was built up around it.
Tragedy struck in 1926, when Gaudi was hit by a tram and killed while on his way to confession. But there’s a bright side – work has continued on his masterpiece ever since.
It’s slated to be finished in 2026, on the centenary of Gaudi’s death.
The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.
Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.
Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.