10 Most Famous Unfinished Pieces of Art

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Some artists are so gifted that even their unfinished works are considered strokes of genius. As with any project that requires intense focus and a large sacrifice of time, achieving art perfection can become an arduous task, making it seemingly impossible to follow through on an ambitious plan. The following pieces are more remembered for their beauty and meaning than their unfinished states — the artists who created them are hardly considered slackers, as each poured their hearts and souls into all of their works.

  1. Adoration of the Magi, Leonardo da Vinci

    It was all or nothing for Leonardo, who was commissioned to create an altarpiece for the monastery of San Donato a Scopeto near Florence in March 1481. He essentially had two-and-a-half years to complete it — if he took any longer, he wouldn't receive any compensation. Sure enough, he was lured away from the project the following year once he was offered a steady income from the Duke of Milan. The monks then commissioned Fillipino Lippi to create their altarpiece. Since 1670, Leonardo's piece has been displayed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

  2. Leonardo's Horse, Leonardo da Vinci

    This one never left the planning stages. In 1482, Leonardo accepted the project from Duke of Milan Ludovico il Moro, who wanted it to be the largest equestrian statue in the world, dedicated to his father Francesco. It was an unrealistic goal at the time and Leonardo recognized that he probably wouldn't receive the necessary funding. French soldiers invaded Milan in 1499 and the remaining clay model was destroyed by archers who were said to have used it for target practice.

  3. Old Man Shading His Eyes With His Hand, Rembrandt

    Rembrandt forged his reputation with his etchings. The Three Crosses and The Hundred Guilder Print are two of his famous works, both were completed unlike Old Man Shading His Eyes With His Hand, which he left unsigned and undated. Unlike most of his pieces, he worked on the figure before completing the setting, focusing on the contrast around the sitter's face and hands. Nobody knows why he left it unfinished, and some have speculated that he was merely satisfied with capturing the moment.

  4. Adoration of the Shepherds, Hendrik Goltzius

    Artwork based on biblical narrative has long been popular among history's best painters, sculptors and engravers. Goltzius dramatically depicted the Adoration of the Shepherds, a scene in which the shepherds witness Jesus's birth in Bethlehem. Noticeably, he left out the manger and baby Jesus, but the exquisite depiction of the three shepherds around Mary more than makes up for it, which may be why he halted work.

  5. Unfinished Portrait, Elizabeth Shoumatoff

    Before attending the founding conference of the United Nations, FDR decided to spend some precious free time at his health and relaxation retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia. Work on his painting began at noon on April 12, 1945 when he was being served lunch, but was disrupted when he began to experience unbearable pain in the back of his head, causing him to lose consciousness and slump over in his chair. Diagnosed with a massive cerebral hemorrhage, he died three hours later. Shoumatoff later commemorated the 32nd president by finishing the portrait, which now hangs next to the original in Warm Springs.

  6. The Athenaeum, Gilbert Stuart

    Depictions of the first US president were needed not only for posterity, but for Americans and people around the world during an age when newspapers told and showed all — if you were lucky enough to find one. Stuart, one of America's best portraitists during the nation's early years, was tasked on three occasions with the important duty of painting Washington, who, as it turned out, was a terrible sitter. In their second meeting, Stuart painted what is known as The Athenaeum, which he left unfinished so he could easily reproduce it — and possibly get away from the quiet, aloof Washington. He made approximately 75 replicas to sell for $100 apiece. Appropriately, the moneymaker would later adorn the one dollar bill.

  7. Tintin and Alph-Art, Hergé

    The Adventures of Tintin is was one of the most widely read and distributed comics of the 20th century, primarily appealing to readers in Europe. Hergé, a Belgian writer whose real name was Georges Remi, produced 24 books in the series, the final of which was left incomplete due to his death in 1983. His emerging interest in avant-garde art was incorporated into the story, a change from the typical subjects he used in the series. Even without an ending, the book was posthumously published in 1986 and republished on two subsequent occasions.

  8. Requiem, Mozart

    Mozart's early death as he was working on Requiem served to enhance its mystique through the 220 years since it was partially written. Commissioned by an unknown stranger, Count Franz Von Walsegg, who wanted to memorialize the death of his wife, Mozart undertook the task amid his own illness that would eventually end his life. His student, Franz Sussmayr, completed the missing movements, but nobody truly knows how much of the song was originally composed by Mozart.

  9. Kubla Kahn, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    Depressed and mentally ill writers and poets have been a dime a dozen through the years. Coleridge, no exception, battled through physical illnesses as a youngster and is said to have been bipolar. Treated with laudanum, he became an addict of opium, which fueled the dream that inspired Kubla Kahn. When he woke up, he immediately recorded the lines only to be interrupted by a person from Porlock, a village in the South West of England, causing him to forget the remaining lines. Critics widely panned the poem when he unveiled it almost 20 years later. Today, it's regarded as one of his best works.

  10. Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi

    Despite being a work in progress since 1882, the picturesque cathedral was recently consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI, a nice payoff for late designer Antoni Gaudi. Since his death in 1926, when not even a quarter of it was complete, a few unavoidable interruptions — such as the Spanish Civil War — have caused construction to move at a glacial pace. The finishing touches are expected to be made on the centennial of Gaudi's death.

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