5 controversial paintings that later became masterpieces



Art has the unique ability to provoke intense emotions, challenge societal norms, and spark debates.

Throughout history, certain paintings have pushed the boundaries of what is considered acceptable or appropriate by society, leading to intense controversy and discussions.

Be it the portrayal of women or the depiction of religious or holy figures, people react differently to artworks.

In fact, over the years the paintings which were initially deemed controversial or inappropriate by the masses have now become masterpieces.

Here we list some such paintings from across the world.

1. ​Edouard Manet’s ‘Olympia’

Edouard Manet’s “Olympia” is often cited as one of the most controversial paintings in art history. This 1863 masterpiece depicts a reclining nude woman, Olympia, gazing directly at the viewer. What made this painting so scandalous during its time was the frank and unapologetic representation of a nude woman, a subject that was considered shocking and immoral in 19th-century France.

The controversy surrounding “Olympia” was exacerbated by the fact that she is not portrayed as a classical or mythological figure but as a contemporary Parisian courtesan.

2. Pablo Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’

Pablo Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ depicts five naked figures in a distorted and abstract style. The controversial aspect of this painting is the stark departure from traditional notions of beauty.

Picasso’s portrayal of the female form is angular and fragmented. The figures appear almost distorted, challenging the traditional norms of art and beauty. The straight female gaze seems to look right through you and is opposite to the submissive gaze women held in those times. The painting was met with outrage and condemnation when it was first exhibited, as it defied conventional standards of aesthetics.

3. Caravaggio’s ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’

Caravaggio’s ‘Judith Beheading Holofernes’ is a gruesome depiction of the biblical story of Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes. The painting shows Judith and her servant brutally murdering Holofernes, with blood splattering, which shocked the art world

Caravaggio’s choice to portray a biblical scene with such brutal realism was controversial. Some viewed it as a powerful statement about the brutality of war, while others saw it as a violation of the sanctity of religious art.

​4. Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’

‘Salvator Mundi,’ attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, holds the record as the most expensive painting ever sold at $450 million. One of the rare surviving works by the master, the painting remains in private hands. The identity of the buyer, presumed to be Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, added to the controversy. The authenticity of the artwork remains hotly debated, and experts seem to be divided about who actually created the painting. Some say that half the work was done by da Vinci and the other half by a student, keeping the art world engaged and curious.

5. Amedeo Modigliani ‘Nu Couche’

Amedeo Modigliani’s ‘Nu Couché’ is a renowned artwork that has stirred considerable controversy. Painted in 1917, it portrays a reclining nude woman in a sensual and provocative manner. The controversy surrounding this piece primarily arises from its explicit depiction of the female form. Modigliani’s exploration of sensuality and the naked body challenged societal norms and conservative art conventions of his time. The artwork’s daring approach to the female nude continues to be both admired and criticized, as it defies conventions and continues to captivate audiences.