If you want a tattoo that is memorable, it’s reasonable to select a work of art that has stood firmly in the minds of men for generations. Familiar names like Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and Picasso call up popular images known the world over, and these are the pictures usually selected for inking. But for a tattoo that is both memorable and unique, why not examine the lesser known work of the great artists? You might find a piece of brilliance that speaks more to your individuality, like the tattoos below.
1. Edvard Munch’s Girl and Death
All right, I know you love The Scream. We all love The Scream. We all have moments when we feel like that terrified figment trapped alone in a sour warped rainbow. But Edvard Munch was able to render severe and complicated emotions in his other works, too. Munch created this sketch in 1894, putting an unsettling, brilliant twist on an ancient artistic subject, Death and the Maiden. In Munch’s world, Death didn’t frighten or dominate Woman (or Love, if you will). She embraces him tenderly, fearlessly. Tattoos are often chosen because they represent strength and courage. You don’t get much braver than kissing Death in the face.
2. Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Butterfat Studios / Wikiart
It’s hard to copy Rembrandt; he did works of careful subtlety and great detail. It’s especially hard when you’re wrapping his masterpiece around a fleshy human arm. All in all, this inking of Sea of Galilee went pretty well. You can see Jesus, with a slight glow around his head, in the bottom right corner, matching the glow of golden heavens that are pushing away the storm. Also, if you really like this painting, a tattoo is a good way to make sure it sticks around. No one has seen the original since it was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Massachusetts in 1990, in what is still considered the largest art heist in history.
3. Van Gogh’s Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries, Sketch
This might shock you, but there are so many Van Gogh inspired tattoos out there that they are an absolute fad. They are the spiral perms of the 21st century. I resisted the sunflowers, the endless renditions of Starry Night (with and without the Tardis), and even a couple Café Terrace at Nights. But I liked this one. It’s the preliminary sketch Van Gogh quickly drew out of a painting he later finished. As he wrote a friend, “It was before the boats hastened out; I had watched them every morning, but as they leave very early I didn’t have time to paint them.”
4. Picasso’s The Dog
Not just any dog, mind you. Meet Lump. He was a dachshund who belonged to a friend of Picasso. The artist and the wiener dog made a loving connection, with Picasso portraying Lump in many of his pieces. Lump also is the only known individual to ever have eaten a piece of art by Picasso. Which serves Picasso right for using a sugary cake box to construct it. The simplicity of this tattoo, done in a single line, is a natural choice for dachshund lovers as well as fans of Picasso’s period of simple, clean line drawings.
5. Paul Klee’s Siblings
This isn’t a completely faithful copy of Klee’s original (also called “Brother and Sister”); the tattoo artist chose his own coloration. But the message Klee laid down is still there. Your siblings; you have tangled, blurred and inextricable relationships with each other. Still you might find beauty in them. Or just chaos. Klee, who had one sister, finished this piece in 1930.
6. Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase
Jay Wheeler / Wikiart
Marcel Duchamp is the kind of artist who can just infuriate people. Not for being vulgar or controversial, but for slapping an upside-down urinal or a wheel stuck to the top of a stool in a museum and calling it “art.” And getting away with it. Much of Duchamp’s work wasn’t about pleasant aesthetics. It was about providing the viewer with a genuine WTH? moment. Nude Descending a Staircase caused a huge reaction when it went on display in New York in 1913. Because, as one reviewer described, it looked like “an explosion at a shingle factory.” It wasn’t that it was ugly; Cubism was already a recognizable form. It was the frustration. Duchamp triggered the audience’s sexual curiosity and fascination with the taboo, and then didn’t satisfy it. Or maybe he did?
7. Dali’s Christ of Saint John of the Cross
Salvatore Dali was more than just the melty-clocks guy. This most peculiar yet strangely reverent take on an extremely familiar image proves that. Dali claimed the idea for the painting came to him in a dream. Drawing inspiration from a 19th century sketch done by a Spanish monk, Dali set about creating one of the most unique takes on Christ’s crucifixion ever set to canvas. It is notable that there is no blood, no nails, nothing that would distract from the theretofore unthinkable downward (Godlike?) perspective of the scene. And most unusual: how many of the 1000s of depictions of Christ’s death don’t show His face? In addition to the endless religious and philosophical discussions you could trigger by taking your shirt off and showing this at dinner parties, you can add geometry to the conversation. Dali certainly did, saying, “I devised a geometrical construct comprising a triangle and a circle, the aesthetic sum total of all my previous experience, and put my Christ inside the triangle.”