Written By: Ben Cosgrove

It can be eye-opening to see the men and women behind famous works of art. And yet, while Picasso, Dali, Matisse and perhaps a handful of other “art superstars” are recognized around the world, countless other painters and sculptors, including some of the finest, most influential artists of the past century are, in a sense, invisible. Their works endure; but their look—their faces and the way they held themselves—is often little known 

Here, LIFE.com presents a series of portraits of artists who re-imagined and redefined the way we see the world. Pollock is here, and Picasso, along with Georgia O’Keeffe and even Renoir. But can art aficionados identify a photograph of, Claes Oldenburg? Jasper Johns? Barbara Hepworth? Giorgio de Chirico?

What’s wonderful about the pictures here, including those (like the deeply shadowed silhouettes of Hopper and O’Keeffe) in which we perceive a powerful sense of the full figure, rather than discrete details, is that each photo reveals something uniquely essential about the artist. One would be hard-pressed to find two more dissimilar portraits than those of Arshile Gorky and Robert Rauschenberg; but each captures an aspect of the artist’s personality and sensibility (Gorky’s moody intensity; Rauschenberg’s exuberance) that helps us see something, even if only a glimpse, of the human being behind the art.


Jasper Johns 1958

Jasper Johns, 1958.

Peter Stackpole/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Thomas Hart Benton, 1939

Thomas Hart Benton, 1939.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Louise Bourgeois 1983

Louise Bourgeois. 1983.

Ted Thai/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Georgia O'Keeffe photographed on the roof of her Ghost Ranch home in New Mexico, 1967.

Georgia O’Keeffe photographed on the roof of her Ghost Ranch home in New Mexico, 1967.

John Loengard The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Marcel Duchamp 1952

Marcel Duchamp, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Georges Braque 1946

Georges Braque, 1946.

David E. Scherman/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Pablo Picasso 1949

Pablo Picasso, 1949.

Gjon Mili/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Elaine de Kooning 1964

Elaine de Kooning, 1964.

Alfred Eisenstaedt/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Alexander Calder 1952

Alexander Calder, 1952.

Gordon Parks/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jackson Pollock 1949

Jackson Pollock, 1949.

Martha Holmes/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Marc Chagall 1960

Marc Chagall, 1960.

Loomis Dean/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Henri Matisse sculpts a nude in clay, Nice, France, 1951.

Henri Matisse sculpts a nude in clay, Nice, France, 1951.

Dmitri Kessel The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Roy Lichtenstein 1963

Roy Lichtenstein, 1963.

John Loengard/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Herman Cherry 1946

Herman Cherry, 1946.

Eliot Elisofon/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Christo 1968

Christo, 1968.

Carlo Bavagnoli/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Salvador Dali 1950

Salvador Dali, 1950.

Mark Kauffman/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Giorgio de Chirico 1949

Giorgio de Chirico, 1949.

Gjon Mili/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Willem de Kooning 1945

Willem de Kooning, 1945.

Gordon Coster/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Guy du Bois 1949

Guy du Bois, 1949

Herbert Gehr/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Marisol Escobar 1957

Marisol Escobar, 1957.

Walter Sanders/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Lyonel Feininger 1951

Lyonel Feininger, 1951.

Andreas Feininger/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Alberto Giacometti 1951

Alberto Giacometti, 1951.

Gordon Parks/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Robert Rauschenberg 1951

Robert Rauschenberg, 1951.

Wallace Kirklan/ Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Arshile Gorky 1945

Arshile Gorky, 1945.

Gjon Mili/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Barbara Hepworth 1964

Barbara Hepworth, 1964.

Paul Schutzer/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Eva Hesse 1969

Eva Hesse, 1969.

Henry Groskinsky/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Edward Hopper 1967

Edward Hopper, 1967.

John Loengard/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Edward Kienholz 1965

Edward Kienholz, 1965.

Ralph Crane/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Franz Kline 1954

Franz Kline, 1954.

Fritz Goro/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Fernand Leger 1949

Fernand Leger, 1949.

Gjon Mili/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Peter Max 1967

Peter Max, 1967.

Yale Joel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Henry Moore 1946

Henry Moore, 1946.

Eliot Elisofon/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Isamu Noguchi 1946

Isamu Noguchi, 1946.

Eliot Elisofon/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Claes Oldenburg 1960

Claes Oldenburg, 1960.

Yale Joel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Man Ray 1947

Man Ray, 1947.

Yale Joel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Ad Reinhardt 1966

Ad Reinhardt, 1966.

John Loengard/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Auguste Renoir, 1919

Auguste Renoir, 1919.

Pictures Inc./Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Georges Rouault 1949

Georges Rouault, 1949.

Gjon Mili/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Richard Serra 1969

Richard Serra, 1969.

Henry Groskinsky/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Ben Shahn 1954

Ben Shahn, 1954.

Gjon Mili/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jacques Villon 1949

Jacques Villon, 1949.

Gjon Mili/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

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