The Garden of Earthly Delights – Hell (1490-1510) by Hieronymus Bosch (Museo del Prado, Madrid)

In the summer of 2016 I was thrilled to find a T-shirt emblazoned with one of my favourite paintings – The Death of Sardanapalus by Eugène Delacroix. When I posted a selfie of me wearing it, on Twitter, calling it – quite randomly – “My Third Favourite Painting”, someone asked what the others were. And so I have compiled a Top Ten of My Favourite Paintings.

The rules were simple – they had to be paintings as opposed to prints, or pastels, or sketches (I’m holding those back for a separate Top Ten), and I had to have seen them in Real Life. I broke this last rule in the case of the Bosch, which for many years I had on my wall in the form of a poster. But obviously, no reproduction or uploaded photo is never going to do justice to the scale, colour or texture of the original. Thus the pictures on this page cannot hope to convey the sheer scale of The Raft of the Medusa or The Death of Sardanapalus. Nor can they do more than hint at the magical quality of the light of View of Delft or L’empire des Lumières. I can only urge you to seek out the originals, should you happen to find yourself in the cities where they reside. If you click on the links you can find more information about each painting or artist.

Here, then, in no particular order, are ten of my favourite paintings. They don’t all tend towards the gruesome and/or sinister. But most of them do. It’s not a definitive list, so I may well add to it at some point. I also like, for examples, some of the Italians, Pre-Raphaelites and British landscape, but found it hard to whittle it down to individual paintings.

I’m sorry if you find it excessively European (mostly French and Flemish/Dutch), but these are the traditions in which I was raised, and which I know best.



I lock my door upon myself by Fernand Khnopff (1891) Copyright Neue Pinakothek te München



La Mort de Sardanapale (1827) by Eugène Delacroix (copyright Musée du Louvre, Paris)


Le Radeau de la Méduse (1818-1819) by Théodore Géricault (copyright Musée du Louvre, Paris)


L’empire des lumières (1953-1954) by Réné Magritte (copyright Musée Magritte, Bruxelles)


Landschap met omgevallen beeld (1942) by Carel Willink (copyright Museum voor Schone Kunste, Antwerpen)


De val der opstandige engelen (1562) by Pieter Bruegel de Oude (copyright Musées royaux des beaux-arts de Belgique, Bruxelles)

Full title: Two Followers of Cadmus devoured by a Dragon Artist: Cornelis van Haarlem Date made: 1588 Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/ Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk Copyright (C) The National Gallery, London

Two Followers of Cadmus devoured by a Dragon (1588) by Cornelis van Haarlem (Copyright The National Gallery, London)


Acqua (1566) by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (copyright Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)


Gezicht op Delft (1660-1661) by Johannes Vermeer (copyright Mauritshuis, Den Haag)



  1. On the subject of morbid Belgian art – have you ever seen “Plus fidèle qu’heureux” (1848) by Joseph Stevens. It hangs in the Royal Art Museum in Brussels. It must be the bleakest, saddest, most heart-breaking painting ever set to canvas. It still haunts me to this day.

  2. Just watched “Jurassic Bark” online. Seymour must be the saddest little dog since Flike the terrier in “Umberto D”. Didn’t help that the song at the end was “I will wait for you” from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” – yet another sad film!

    • I can’t bear to watch that episode again! It caught me off guard the first time – I don’t think I’ve ever wept like that at a TV cartoon before. Maybe a Studio Ghibli anime.

      I avoided Umberto D for years in the mistaken belief that the dog was going to die. Didn’t make any difference – the ending made me cry all the same.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s