100+ Portraits of Iconic People of All Time

WebdesignerDepot Staff By WDD Staff  |  Jun. 08, 2009

Today we bring you a great collection of portraits of the most iconic people throughout history.

Portraits explore the relationship between the subject and the photographer or artist and usually continue to impress the viewer years after they have been created.

The common thread running through all of these portraits is superlative design. Each is a masterpiece in its own right, from the medieval painted portraits right up to the most current photographs.

This collection is arranged in alphabetical order and is by no means complete. We encourage you to post comments as to which portraits we’ve missed, that you feel should be part of this collection.

We hope that this collection inspires you, makes you gasp and even smile. We want you to come away with a sense of what made each portrait unique and memorable, and incorporate these concepts into your own portraits.


Afghan Girl

This photo was taken as part of the National Geographic “Green Eyes” project, tracking the genetic trait of green eyes passed down through the Mongols of Genghis Khan’s time. The subject was Sharbat Gula and a retrospective on her life done by National Geographic can be found here. Date: 1985. Photographer: Steve McCurry, National Geographic.


Buzz Aldrin

This image was captured in 1969, the day that the Eagle lunar lander made the first touchdown on the moon, by Neil Armstrong of fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Date: 1969. Photographer: Neil Armstrong.


Muhammad Ali

Ali was a three-time heavyweight World Champion in boxing. Born Cassius Clay, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali after joining the Nation of Islam. Date: 1967. Photographer: Ira Rosenberg.


Woody Allen

Allen is a celebrated movie director, playwright, and comedy writer who was responsible for such great movies as “Annie Hall”. Equally infamous for having a relationship with his stepdaughter, Soon-Yi Previn, who he is still with as of 2009. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Marie Antoinette

Antoinette was the last Queen of France and one of the more famous victims of the guillotine during the French Revolution. Antoinette was famous for her excess in a time of extreme economic hardship for her country. Date: 1769. Artist: Joseph Ducreux


Joan of Arc

Jeanne d’Arc, her name in the original French, was responsible for both repelling English invaders from her homeland and assisting Charles VII in succeeding to the throne of France. She is a Catholic saint. The only known portrait that she sat for was destroyed, so all we have are renditions. Date: 1876. Artist: Eugene Thirion.


Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong overcame testicular cancer to win the Tour De France for seven consecutive years. Another Leibovitz triumph, this photo illustrates exactly what the Tour De France champion’s muscles are doing when he is at work. Housed at the Oswald Gallery in Austin. Date: 1999. Photographer: Annie Leibovitz.


Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong was a jazz musician that sang vocals and played various instruments, including the trumpet as pictured. He performed solo and with other performers right up until his accidental death in 1971. Satchmo’s image was immortalized in this photo. Date: 1953. Photographer: World-Telegram staff photographer.


Neil Armstrong

An American aviator and a former astronaut, test pilot, university professor, and United States Naval Aviator. He was the first person to set foot on the Moon. Date: 1969. Photographer: NASA/Edwin E. Aldrin Jr.


Fred Astaire

Astaire starred in many musical films, ten of which were with Ginger Rogers. Astaire acted until 1981, amazing considering that he got his start in vaudeville. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. He was a crucial figure in the transitional period between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical music, and remains one of the most acclaimed and influential of all composers. Date: 1820. Painter: Joseph Karl Stiele.


Alexander Graham Bell

An eminent scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with inventing the first practical telephone. Date: 1904. Photographer: Unknown – Print from Library of Congress.


Marlon Brando

Brando starred in a host of movies including “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Wild One”. Date: 1954. Photographer: Publicity Photo for “The Wild One”, used on the poster for the movie.


Humphrey Bogart

Best known for “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca”, Bogart was a mega-star in the golden age of Hollywood. The photographer who took this shot, George Hurrell, was responsible for many of the “glamour shots” in Hollywood in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Only in later years would his work be recognized as art. Date: 1938-1939. Photographer: George Hurrell.


Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon arranged a coup d’etat which brought him to power in 1799. Five years after that he crowned himself as Emperor of France. He led successful military campaigns in Italy and Egypt that bolstered his reputation. His Napoleonic Code is still being used as a basis for law in many countries. Date: 1802. Painter: Antoine-Jean Gros.



Bono’s real name is Paul Hewson. He acquired the now-famous nickname from his friend Gavin Friday, who dubbed him “Bono Vox”. Bono didn’t like the name until he found out it translated loosely to “good voice”. Bono is not only known for being the front man for the rock band U2, but as a tireless and effective political activist for causes such as world hunger, apartheid, and AIDS. Date: 2006. Photographer: Ricardo Stuckert


Al Capone

The gangster was one of the the most famous people in the US. Loved for running booze during the Prohibition and hated for his murderous tactics to maintain a stranglehold on his business. Pictured here with his omnipresent cigar. Date: Unknown
Photographer: Unknown.


Fidel Castro

The former head of government of Cuba, a position that he held for 50 years. Castro overthrew the US-backed dictator Batista to seize power, and only let go of it by passing it on to his brother. Castro has been alternately reviled and praised for measures that he took with the country as dictator. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Charlie Chaplin

This powerful actor not only helped to found United Artists, but set the stage for what most of us consider “comedy” to be today. Date: 1915. Photographer: Studio Photographer, Chaplin as “The Tramp”.


Jesus Christ

This 1940 painting has been reproduced over 500 million times, making it one of the most popular works of art in history. Date: 1940. Artist: Warner Sallman.


Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was the British Prime Minister during World War II. He was widely credited with being one of the strategic masterminds that made the Allied victory possible. Churchill was also a prolific writer and won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This shot was snapped in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Canada after the photographer had annoyed Churchill by taking away his cigar. Widely considered one of the most famous portrait photos ever taken. Date: 1941. Photographer: Yousuf Karsh.


Kurt Cobain

An American musician, best known as the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of grunge band Nirvana. On April 8, 1994, Cobain was found dead at his home in Seattle, the victim of what was officially ruled a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head. The circumstances of his death have become a topic of fascination and debate. Date: Unknown. Photographer: Mark Seliger.


Christopher Columbus

A Genoese navigator, colonizer and explorer whose voyages across the Atlantic Ocean—funded by Queen Isabella of Spain—led to general European awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere.


Marie Curie

Curie was a physicist and chemist, and the first person to receive two Nobel prizes. She coined the term “radioactivity”, pioneered radiation therapy for cancer, and discovered two new elements. This shot is often cropped to remove Pierre Curie, the famous chemist’s husband. Date: Unknown. Photographer: Unknown.


His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama

The current Dalai Lama was exiled from his seat of power, Tibet by Chinese forces. He is an incarnate god on earth for Tibetan Buddhists. Date: 2007. Photographer: Luca Galuzzi.


Salvador Dali

Dali was a Surrealist artist that produced a huge volume of works that spanned film, sculpture and paintings. He also worked with Hitchcock on a dream sequence for his film “Spellbound”, which both the artist and the director hated. The artist’s famous mustache is captured perfectly in this 1942 photo. Date: 1942. Photographer: Philippe Halsman.


Leonardo Da Vinci

Da Vinci defined the “Renaissance Man” with his inventions, art and scientific theories. This self-portrait of the famous artist and inventor was composed in red chalk. Date: 1512-1515. Artist: Leonardo da Vinci.


Charles Darwin

Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” set off a powderkeg when it appeared to scientifically establish that humans evolved from apes. Years later, Darwin is still celebrated in the scientific and broader community as a visionary that held out against religious interests in order to advance the cause of science. Date: 1883 copy of 1881 original. Artist: John Collier


Bette Davis

Bette Davis was not only a famous screen actress, but the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Miles Davis

Davis played tirelessly from his teenage years right on up until his death in 1991. He received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 1991. Davis was not just a pioneer of jazz, but one of the major influencers in the jazz fusion movement. President Obama describes listening to the music of Miles Davis as a spiritual experience in this interview. Date: Unknown. Photographer: Anton Corbijn


Charles De Gaulle

De Gaulle led the Free French Forces, or French Resistance, during the Nazi occupation of France. He founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President for 10 years. Date: 1942. Photographer: Office of War Information, Overseas Picture Division.


James Dean

James Dean is considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time. His handsome good looks were only enhanced by an unmistakable screen presence in such films as “Giant” and “A Rebel Without a Cause”. Date: 1955. Photographer: Publicity shot for Schlitz Playhouse of Stars.


Princess Diana

Princess Diana married Prince Charles and found herself divorced from him just a few years afterwards due to his persistent philandering with his current wife, Camilla Parker Bowles. Tireless in her humanitarian efforts, Diana continued to win the hearts of the British people and indeed people all over the world up until her death. Patrick Demarchelier was Princess Diana’s favourite photographer. This image he took of her was featured on the cover of People magazine after her death in 1997 and it instantly became iconic. Date: 1990. Photographer: Patrick Dermarchelier.


Charles Dickens

The most popular English novelist of the Victorian era. He was a vigorous social campaigner, both in his own personal endeavours as well as through the recurrent themes of his literary enterprise. Date: 1858. Artist: Charles Baugniet.


Marlene Dietrich

Dietrich rose from German cabaret acts to film stardom in the pre-war US. She left her native Germany for the US even after being invited back by the Nazi party prior to the outbreak of World War II due to her distaste for their policies. Date: 1951
Photographer: Publicity Shot for “No Highway in the Sky”.


Walt Disney

Walt Disney founded Walt Disney Corp. from humble beginnings as an animator. His studio produced some of the most timeless children’s movies ever and still continues to do so. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Bob Dylan

Dylan wrote the soundtrack to the American civil unrest of the 1960’s. Winning a number of awards for his music including an honourary Pulitzer, Dylan created some controversy for his fans when he switched from acoustic guitar to electric midway through his career. One of his most famous songs, “All Along The Watchtower”, was used as a key plot device in the 2003 incarnation of the science fiction series Battlestar Galactica. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Amelia Earhart

Earhart was the first female pilot to fly solo over the Atlantic. Earhart disappeared in a circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 near Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. Date: 1932. Photographer: Unknown.


Thomas Edison

This photo of a young Edison was taken with the phonograph that he invented. He was most famous for inventing a long-lasting, practical lightbulb. Date: 1877-1878. Photographer: Levin C. Handy.


Albert Einstein

Einstein is another father of modern science. While his most famous theory is his theory of relativity, he put forward a number of new theories that formed the foundation of modern physics and paved the way for the Atomic Age. Date: 1947. Photographer: Oren Jack Turner. Second photo: Date: 1951. Photographer: Arthur Sasse.


General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Eisenhower was the chief general in charge of the US forces during World War II, and later went on to be President. This photo was taken a year after victory over Axis forces in WWII. Karsh would go on to photograph Eisenhower as President and in his retirement, where he delighted in showing Karsh the oil painting that he was working on of Churchill for which he used Karsh’s portrait as a source. Date: 1946. Photographer: Yousuf Karsh.


Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth’s reign is famous for a number of historical events, including a Spanish invasion of England that was foiled by bad weather. After a couple of potentially politically disastrous marriage alliances were put forward to her, Elizabeth dubbed herself “The Virgin Queen”, and stated that “If I follow the inclination of my nature, it is this: beggar-woman and single, far rather than queen and married”.

Date: 1575. Artist: Unknown, perhaps Federico Zuccaro (see Sir Roy Strong, The English Icon, 1969). This entry is known as the “Darnley Portrait.


HRM Queen Elizabeth II

There have been many iconic photos of the Queen, but this one taken by famous photographer Annie Leibovitz conveys her regality while presenting her in a state of contemplation accented by the eternally inclement English weather. Taken in Buckingham Palace, the shot caused a furor in the British tabloid press when Leibovitz asked the Queen to remove her crown. Date: 2007. Photographer: Annie Leibovitz.


Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett became famous through a combination of the hit 70’s series “Charlie’s Angels” and this photograph which was popularized as a poster. Date: 1976. Photographer: Bruce McBroom.


Federico Fellini

Fellini was one of the most iconic filmmakers of the 20th century, with an enigmatic style that blended fantasy with Baroque art. Date: 1965. Photographer: Walter Albertin.


Anne Frank

Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis with her family in Amsterdam and wrote an account of it in her diary. “The Diary of Anne Frank” is universally read by schoolchildren all over the world as an account of the Holocaust. This portrait was taken just a few months after Frank and her family went into hiding on October 10, 1942. Date: 1942. Photographer: Unknown.


Benjamin Franklin

One of the founding fathers of the United States, Franklin served in many positions to further the independence of the United States, including a few posts as foreign ambassador in order to raise funds for the formation of the new country. This portrait of Ben Franklin by Duplessis was immortalized on the American one hundred dollar bill. Date: Unknown. Artist: Joseph Siffred Duplessis.


Sigmund Freud

Freud is best known for his theories of the unconscious mind and the defense mechanism of repression and for creating the clinical practice of psychoanalysis for curing psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. Date: 1920. Photographer: Unknown.


Clark Gable

The “King of Hollywood” in his day, most remember Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind. Date: 1938. Photographer: Publicity Shot for “It Happened One Night”.


Yuri Gagarin

Gagarin was the first human in outer space and the first to orbit the earth. He died in a training flight in 1968 and was buried within the walls of the Kremlin in Moscow. Date: Unknown. Photographer: Unknown.


Galileo Galilei

The father of modern observational astronomy, Galileo invented improvements to the telescope and supported the theory put forward by Copernicus that the Earth orbited the Sun, and not the other way around. He was also a pioneer in the field of physics. Galileo spent the latter part of his life under house arrest for heresy against the Catholic Church. Date:1605. Artist: Domenico Robusti.


Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was responsible for getting the British to allow India to form its own government through his technique of satyagraha, or non-violence. Date: 1930’s. Photographer: Unknown.


Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo was a Swedish-American actress that starred in a number of movies from the silent film era to the “Golden Age” of Hollywood. Best known for “Camille” and “Ninotchka”. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Jerry Garcia

The lead singer of the Grateful Dead, Garcia was an icon to the counterculture movement of the 1970’s. They toured into the 1990’s, until Garcia succumbed to a heart attack in 1995. Date: 1998. Photographer: Unknown.


Judy Garland

While Garland had a successful film career, no appearance of hers could even come close to “The Wizard of Oz”. Before the days of instant content access, kids would camp out in front of the TV for this feature film extravaganza, which still felt modern right on up until the 1980’s, mostly due to Garland’s masterful acting of what would have otherwise been a very two-dimensional character. Date: Unknown. Photographer: Publicity shot for “The Wizard of Oz”


Bill Gates

The founder of Microsoft and a primary benefactor of the largest charitable foundation in the world, Bill Gates was one of the first tech visionaries. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Betty Grable

Queen of the pin-ups, mostly due to this 1942 portrait. Grable’s legs were insured by her studio for a million dollars with Lloyd’s of London. Date: 1942. Photographer: 20th Century Fox.


Cary Grant

Grant, born Archibald Alec Leach, starred in a number of movies spanning from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. He was one of Hitchock’s favourite actors. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Che Guevara

Ernesto “Che” Guevara Havannassa at the La Coubre Memorial Service in 1960. Che traveled around Latin America as a young medical student and came to the conclusion that the only solution for the poverty that he saw was world revolution. He was instrumental in Castro’s takeover of Cuba and was later assassinated by Bolivian forces who were assisted by the CIA. Date: 1960. Photographer: Alberto Korda.


Dr. Stephen Hawking

Dr. Hawking achieved fame in academic circles as a theoretical physicist, and introduced his theories to mainstream society through his book “The Brief History of Time”. There are many images of the distinguished physicist, but it is telling that this one is featured on the front page of his website. Date: April 26, 2007. Photographer: Zero Gravity Corp.


Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway wrote many memorable novels, including “The Old Man and the Sea”, “The Sun Also Rises”, and “A Farewell to Arms”. His life is almost more colourful than one of his novels, full of trips all over the world and the popularization of the daiquiri. Date: 1957. Photographer: Yousuf Karsh.


Jimi Hendrix

Widely considered to be the best electric guitarist in history, Hendrix is known for “Are You Experienced”, his rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” by Dylan, and his version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, along with many others. Hendrix was also one of the first artists to add effects to his music in the studio. Date: Unknown. Photographer: Unknown.


Henry VIII

Henry VIII was one of the most infamous kings in English history. He formed what is now known as the Anglican church in order to divorce his first wife when the Pope would not grant him a dispensation to do so. He also fostered humanist learning and was key in getting the Royal Navy off to a good start with great investments in shipbuilding. Hans Holbein The Younger was a court painter to Henry VIII and was not only responsible for portraits of Henry VIII, but most of his wives as well. Many portraits were painted of Henry VIII based on Holbein’s portraits, and some are mistakenly attributed to him. Date: 1536. Artist: Hans Holbein The Younger.


Audrey Hepburn

This press shot from Breakfast at Tiffany’s is probably the most famous photo of Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn was plucked from a ballet lineup to play the leading role in Gigi on Broadway in 1951. She became only the third actor to be paid $1 million for her role in My Fair Lady. Date: 1961. Photographer: John Kobal.


Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock was a director responsible for practically inventing the thriller. Classics such as “Rear Window” and “Vertigo” used advanced cinematography techniques to shock and scare his audiences. This image was taken on the set of Psycho, widely considered to be the greatest horror movie of all time. Date: Jan 29, 1960. Photographer: Hulton Archive/Getty Images.


Adolf Hitler

Hitler gained absolute political power in Germany through an election and subsequent political and military manoeuvres that established him as the Fuhrer of Germany. His vision of a unified Germany appealed to the wider German electorate, but the darker side of Hitler’s views and the subsequent World War II brought about a decimated Germany and his own downfall. Date: Around 1932. Photographer: Unknown.


Buddy Holly

A pioneer of rock and roll and an inspiration to the legends who came after him such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly’s death was even turned into a hit song; “American Pie” by Don McLean. Date: 1950’s. Photographer: Associated Press.



A Hungarian-American magician and escapologist, stunt performer, actor and film producer, as well as a skeptic and investigator of spiritualists. He became world-renowned for his stunts and feats of escapology even more than for his magical illusions. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Rock Hudson

Rock Hudson was in over 70 movies, including a number of comedies with Doris Day. He was one of the first celebrities to die from an AIDS-related illness. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Michael Hutchence

Hutchence was the lead singer of INXS, who produced a string of musical hits throughout the 90’s. Hutchence committed suicide in 1997. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Michael Jackson

Micheal Jackson is just as famous for his many commercial musical successes as he is for his odd and outlandish lifestyle. Date: 1992. Photographer: Unknown.


Mick Jagger

A Golden Globe and Grammy Award winning English singer, songwriter and occasional actor, best known for his work as lead vocalist of The Rolling Stones. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs founded Apple, left it to start NEXT, and returned to catapult Apple into superstardom with the iMac, iBook, iPod and iPhone. Jobs will always be best remembered visually for making his historic announcements about the next Apple milestone at Macworld conferences. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Janis Joplin

An American singer, songwriter, and music arranger, from Port Arthur, Texas. She rose to prominence in the late 1960s as the lead singer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and later as a solo artist. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Joplin number 46 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and number 28 on its 2008 list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.


Michael Jordan

Jordan is known as one of the best defensive players in basketball. He helped to popularize the NBA through the 1980’s and 1990’s through his participation in various marketing campaigns both for the NBA and for various corporations. Date: 2006. Photographer: Joshua Massel.


Andy Kaufman

Kaufman was an eccentric entertainer best known for his work on Saturday Night Live in the 1970’s. He was famous for his off-centre comedic style. Date: 1983. Photographer: David McGough.


Helen Keller

Helen Keller was not born blind and deaf; it was not until she was nineteen months old that she contracted an illness described by doctors as “an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain,” which could possibly have been scarlet fever or meningitis. The illness did not last for a particularly long time, but it left her deaf and blind. She was a prolific author and tireless advocate for humanitarian causes. Also the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor’s degree. This image depicts a young Helen Keller. Date: 1904. Photographer: Unknown.


Grace Kelly

Kelly was one of the most prolific actresses of her day. A favourite of Hitchock, she appeared in a few of his films including “To Catch a Thief” and “Rear Window”. She became Princess Grace upon her marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco, and retired from professional acting after her marriage. Date: Unknown. Photographer: Loomis Dean.


John F. Kennedy

The 35th President of the United States. JFK presided over the Cuban Missile Crisis and established NASA to put America on the moon. His assassination was controversial and untimely. Date: 1961. Photographer: Alfred Eisenstaedt.


Martin Luther King

King was famous for his civil rights actions to bring about equality for African-Americans, including his famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the March on Washington in 1963. Date: 1960. Photographer: Howard Sochure.


Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick was one of the greatest directors of the 20th Century. A perfectionist when it came to lighting, sound, acting and all other aspects of his movies, his triumphs included movies on diverse subject matter such as “Spartacus”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and “A Clockwork Orange”. Date: Late 1940’s for LOOK Magazine. Photographer: Stanley Kubrick.


Heath Ledger

Ledger was a film actor that died of a deadly combination of drugs prescribed by his doctors in 2008, shortly after completing his iconic role as The Joker in “The Dark Knight”. His works included 19 films, including many awards for some of his roles. This insightful painted portrait of Heath Ledger won the People’s Choice Archibald Prize for 2008. The artist and Ledger were friends for a number of years. Date: 2008. Artist: Vincent Fantauzzo.


Bruce Lee

Scenes involving Bruce Lee’s fists and legs actually had to be slowed down through the process of shooting the film at a higher framerate in order for audiences to be able to watch him fight in some of his movies. Lee was an icon of the Chinese martial arts, particularly Kung Fu and Wing Chun. Date: Unknown. Artist: Columbia Pictures.


Vladimir Lenin

Lenin was instrumental in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and was elected Chairman of the Soviet Union in that same year. His particular brand of Marxist theory was branded “Leninism”. Date: 1920. Photographer: L. Léonido.


John Lennon

The lead singer for the Beatles enjoyed a successful solo career after the Beatles disbanded before his untimely assassination. He campaigned for the end of the Vietnam War and for peace between the US and Russia during the Cold War. Date: Unknown. Photographer: Andy Warhol


Yoko Ono and John Lennon

This photo graced one of the most famous Rolling Stone covers of all time, celebrating the famous love of John Lennon for his lover, Yoko Ono, which had been recently popularized in a “love-in” staged at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal. Date: 1980. Photographer: Annie Leibovitz.


Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States and was responsible for abolishing slavery in the United States through the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. He also held the dubious honour of being the first president to be assassinated.

This photo was taken by one of Lincoln’s best-known photographers, Alexander Gardner. Date: Nov. 8 1863. Photographer: Alexander Gardner.


Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was elected the first African President of South Africa in 1994, officially ending a long tradition of apartheid in South Africa. Mandela had been jailed for speaking out against apartheid until it was abolished in 1990. Date: 1994
Photographer: African National Congress.


Bob Marley

Bob Marley and the Wailers are the best known performers of reggae music. Marley was also a key proponent of the Rastafarian movement, bringing it into popular culture. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Mona Lisa

No collection of portraits would be complete without this one. There is little to be said about this painting that hasn’t been said already, so we’ll direct you to Wikipedia if you want to know more. Date: 1503-1506. Artist: Leonardo da Vinci.


Sophia Loren

Loren’s career has spanned film, television, and even music. One of the most successful Italian actresses of all time. Date: 1986. Photographer: Anne Clifford.


Freddie Mercury

Born Farrokh Bulsara, this icon fronted one of the great “supergroups” of the 1970’s, Queen. Date and photographer: Unknown.



An Italian Renaissance painter, sculptor, architect, poet, and engineer. Despite making few forays beyond the arts, his versatility in the disciplines he took up was of such a high order that he is often considered a contender for the title of the archetypal Renaissance man, along with his rival and fellow Italian Leonardo da Vinci. Date: 16th Century
Artist: Jacopo del Conte.


Migrant Mother

This photo of Florence Owens Thompson and her children was taken in February or March of 1936 in Nipomo, California. In addition to being an iconic photo of the Great Depression, it influenced Steinbeck in his writing of The Grapes of Wrath. Date: 1936. Photographer: Dorothea Lange.


Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe was a screen actress who died under mysterious circumstances that were officially ruled as a suicide. Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful actresses ever, Monroe was married to a few husbands, including baseball player Joe DiMaggio, and is widely rumoured to have had an affair with JFK during his presidency.

This was a scene from the movie “The Seven Year Itch”. The location shot in front of the Trans-Lux theatre in New York City had to be redone in the studio due to excessive crowd noise, but it yielded this picture. Date: 1954. Photographer: Matty Zimmerman.

This photo is another iconic photo of Monroe, this time taken by photographer Milton H. Greene, who was also her good friend. Date: 1954. Photographer: Milton H. Greene.


Demi Moore

Demi Moore was the first actress to command a $10 million salary. She has been married to actor Bruce Willis and is currently married to Ashton Kutcher, who some of you may know as aplusk on Twitter. This Vanity Fair cover was pulled from some shelves and only sold off others in a brown paper bag. Moore intended to show an “anti-glitz” attitude in shooting the cover. Date: 1991. Photographer: Annie Leibovitz.


Jim Morrison

Morrison was the frontman for the Doors and is collectively responsible with his bandmates for godfathering the alternative rock movement. Iggy Pop used one of Morrison’s poems as the basis for his successful song “The Passenger”. Date: 1967.
Photographer: Joel Brodsky.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart composed over 600 works of music, including “The Magic Flute”. He began composing at the age of five. Date: 1819. Artist: Barbara Krafft.


Paul Newman

Before he put his name on salad dressing, Newman was an Academy Award-winning actor that appeared in dozens of movies. His food company, Newman’s Own, is famous for donating all of their profits to charity. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Sir Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton is considered, amongst other things, to be one of the fathers of modern science. Universal gravitation and the three laws of motion are just two of his many theories. He also invented the first reflecting telescope. Date: 15th/16th Century. Artist: Sir Godfrey Kneller.


Jack Nicholson

Nicholson is best known for portraying psychopathic characters in various movies throughout his career, including “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Shining”. Date: Unknown. Photographer: Arthur Schatz.


Robert De Niro

De Niro has been a critically acclaimed actor since the 1970’s, appearing in a wide range of movies. Known principally for his method acting. DeNiro has also tried his hand at directing successfully with such films as “The Good Shepherd”. Date: 2008. Photographer: Petr Novák, Wikipedia.


Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Jacqueline Kennedy was America’s best-loved first lady, wife of John F. Kennedy. After JFK’s death, she married shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis to the shock of the entire nation. While many photos were taken of Jacqueline Kennedy, this was her first official portrait as First Lady and the one most will remember. Date: 1961. Photographer: Mark Shaw.


Louis Pasteur

He is best known for his remarkable breakthroughs in the causes and prevention of disease. He created the first vaccine for rabies. He was best known to the general public for inventing a method to stop milk and wine from causing sickness, a process came to be called Pasteurization. Date: Prior to 1895. Photographer: Felix Nadar.


Pope John Paul II

John Paul II was known not only as a religious leader but as a proponent of world peace during the delicate days of the Cold War. He is credited with having a heavy hand in ending communism in his native Poland and throughout Eastern Europe. He was Pope for 27 years, the second longest papacy in history. Date: Unknown. Photographer: Unknown.


Evita Peron

Eva Peron, or Evita as she was known to the people of Argentina, was a supporter of women’s and workers rights. She died of cancer at the age of 33. Date: 1950. Photographer: Unknown.


Pablo Picasso

Picasso was one of the pre-eminent artists of the 20th century and a major proponent of the Cubist movement. While being shot for this portrait, Picasso could view himself in the wide angle lens of the camera and instinctively moved to place himself where he needed to be for the shot. Date: 1954. Photographer: Yousuf Karsh.


Plato & Artistotle

This commonly cropped part of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio features the two famous philosophers, presumably arguing about philosophy. Aristotle was Plato’s student. Date: 1509. Artist: Raffaello Sanzio.


Edgar Allan Poe

Poe was an eccentric and prolific author that published some of the best horror fiction ever known. He also coined “Poe’s Law”, which was that poems should be short enough to read in a single sitting. Date: 1848. Photographer: W.S. Hartshorn.


Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley popularized a more sexually charged style of music called “Rock and Roll” that was the delight of younger people of his generation and the bane of parents who credited his style of music with demoralizing a generation.


Grigorij Rasputin

This photo of Russia’s “Mad Monk” showcases his piercing eyes. Rasputin was an unstable monk that the Russian royal family took in to heal their son, believing that he had a supernatural ability to heal the boy. Russian nobles decided to oust him through a legendary execution. Date: 1914-1916. Photographer: Unknown.


Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s administration is credited with helping to bring about the end of the Cold War. While he got his start as a famous film actor, Reagan always had anti-communist political leanings. Date: 1981. Photographer: Official White House Photograph.



Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, more commonly known as Rembrandt, is considered to be the most important painter in Dutch history and one of the most important painters in European art history. Date: 1661. Artist: Rembrandt.


Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was an advocate for civil and woman’s rights. She also founded the UN Association of the United States in order to foster American support for the United Nations. Date: July 20 1933. Photographer: Unknown


The Scream

Portrait or not? Many interpretations of this work by Edvard Munch see the central figure as the artist trying to block out the outside world, or the “Scream” of nature, as the artist entitled the work in German (Der Schrei der Natur). One thing is for sure – it had insurance companies screaming after it was stolen twice. Date: 1893. Artist: Edvard Munch.


William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare produced a huge folio of work as both a playwright and a poet. There are ongoing debates as to which portraits of Shakespeare are “real”, if any. The Chandos Portrait, pictured below, is the most famous of them all. See Wikipedia for more details on the controversy. Date: Early 1600’s. Artist: John Taylor.


Frank Sinatra

Sinatra was a popular musician and film actor that was the recipient of 11 Grammy awards. During the latter part of his career he once again made a name for himself as one of the foremost acts in Las Vegas. Date: Unknown. Photographer: John Domini.


Josef Stalin

Stalin seized power in Communist Russia following Lenin’s death in 1924 and held onto it until his death in 1953. Stalin frequently had Soviet censors edit images of himself, cropping out political enemies. Date: 1922-1940. Photographer: Office of War Information.


Dame Elizabeth Taylor

Taylor’s famous violet eyes are hard to miss in this photo. She was the first actress to be paid $1 Million for her title role in the movie “Cleopatra”. Since retiring from her film career, Taylor has worked to further humanitarian causes, most notably being an AIDS advocate at a time when many other celebrities shied away from the cause. Date: 1951. Photographer: Unknown.


Mother Teresa

At the time of her death in 1997, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity organization was running 610 missions in 123 countries. Date: 1986. Photographer: Túrelio.


Nicola Tesla

Tesla was best known for his inventions which formed the basis for alternating current power, which is the kind of electric current that powers homes today. He also invented wireless radio and was known for countless other inventions. After making numerous improvements at the Edison company, he was denied a promised bonus and raise, at which point he left to focus on his own work. Date: Unknown but prior to 1896. Artist/Photographer: Photographed by Napoleon Sarony and engraved by T. Johnson.


Harriet Tubman

Tubman was a powerhouse; she helped over seventy slaves escape through the Underground Railroad, she acted as a Union spy, and she was an activist for women’s suffrage. Date: 1850-1900. Photographer: H. B. Lindsley


Mark Twain

An American author and humorist. Twain is most noted for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has since been called the Great American Novel and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He is extensively quoted. Date: 1907. Photographer: Unknown.


Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh is responsible for creating some of the most famous works of art, including “Starry Night”. Van Gogh also created many self-portraits throughout his lifetime. One of his other self-portraits, Self-portrait without beard, sold for $71.5 million. Date: September 1889. Artist: Vincent Van Gogh.


Christopher Walken

Christopher Walken is a great example of a celebrity that was made even more popular through the internet in the 21st Century. While he has been in a string of movies, he is more famous throughout the Intertubes for his Saturday Night Live skit in which he demands “more cowbell”. Date: April 2003. Photographer: Mark Seliger.


Andy Warhol

Warhol was a prolific photographer and artist who produced many works of art, photos, and films. Warhol took many self-portraits throughout his life, as well as creating pop-culture portraits of famous people. This one is housed in the Tate in London. Date: 1986. Photographer: Andy Warhol.


George Washington

Washington was the first President of the United States. Prior to that, he led key battles as a general for the rebellion that ousted the British from American soil. Date: Unknown. Artists: Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828), Rembrandt Peale (1778–1860).


John Wayne

Wayne’s rugged masculinity landed him a number of lead film roles in westerns. 142 of his roles were as the lead actor. Date: 1957. Photographer: Loomis Dean.


Orson Welles

Welles worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio. His best known feat is his radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” that was so realistic that audiences actually believed it was happening. Date: 1937. Photographer: Carl Van Vechten.


Mae West

An American actress, playwright, screenwriter, and sex symbol. Known for her bawdy double entendres, West made a name for herself in Vaudeville and on the stage in New York before moving to Hollywood to become a comedienne, actress and writer in the motion picture industry. One of the more controversial stars of her day, West encountered many problems including censorship. Date and photographer: Unknown.


Whistler’s Mother

This painting, Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother, was the pinnacle of James Whistler’s career. It was purchased by France and is now in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. Date: 1871. Artist: James Whistler.


Malcolm X

Born as Malcolm Little, he changed his surname to “X” when he joined the Nation of Islam, a common practice among members. He fought for civil rights, sometimes using violent methods to do so. He denounced leaders of the civil rights movement as being “stooges” for the establishment. Date: 1964. Photographer: Marion S. Trikosko.

Think we’ve missed any that you would have included in such a collection? Please feel free to post links to your suggested photos in our comments and they may be included in this article.