One Hit Wonders of the Art World – A Paper by David W. Galenson

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER): Working Paper Series

One Hit Wonders: Why Some of the Most Important Works of Modern Art are Not by Important Artists | David W. Galenson (Working Paper 10885, 2004)

How can minor artists produce major works of art? This paper considers 13 modern visual artists, each of whom produced a single masterpiece that dominates the artist’s career. The artists include painters, sculptors, and architects, and their masterpieces include works as prominent as the painting American Gothic, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C. In each case, these isolated achievements were the products of innovative ideas that the artists formulated early in their careers, and fully embodied in individual works. The phenomenon of the artistic one-hit wonder highlights the nature of conceptual innovation, in which radical new approaches based on new ideas are introduced suddenly by young practitioners.


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13 One Hit Wonders


1.  Théodore Géricault

(Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1818-19)



2.  Antoine-Jean Gros


(Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, Napoleon in the Plague House at Jaffa,



3.  Gustave Caillebotte


(Gustave Caillebotte’s, Paris Street: Rainy Day,1877)



4.  Paul Sérusier


(Paul Serusier, The Talisman/Le Talisman, 1888)



5.  Vladimir Tatlin


(Vladimir Tatlin, Monument to the Third International, 1920)



6.  Meret Oppenheim

Meret Oppenheim, Object, 1936

Meret Oppenheim, Object, 1936








7.  Grant Wood

Grant Wood, American Gothic

(Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1934)










8/9.  Richard Rogers & Renzo Piano


(Richard Rogers + Renzo Piano, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1969-1974)








10.  Richard Hamilton


(Richard Hamilton, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, 1956)











11.  Gerrit Rietveld


(Gerrit Rietveld, Schröder House (Dutch: Rietveld Schröderhuis), 1924)



12.  Judy Chicago


(Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1974-79)








13.  Maya Lin


(Maya Lin, Vietnam Way Veteran Memorial, 1982)