If you’ve never heard of the Oklahoma Mona Lisa, you’re in for a bizarre treat.
When most people think of the Sooner State, they probably think of cowboys and indigenous peoples first. But even ranchers in cattle country find exciting ways to appreciate fine art.
Today we’ll examine the mysterious painting that’s captured the internet’s imagination.
What is the Mona Lisa?
The Mona Lisa is one of the most easily recognizable works of art in the world. The portrait of an Italian woman debuted in the early 1500s. The unusual smile and the realistic imagery helped make it one of the most famous pieces in existence.
Leonardo Da Vinci created it, and it may have taken as long as 15 years to finish. The Italian Renaissance man is much more than a painter. His anatomy studies were ahead of his time, and he had a significant influence on science.
The painting has long made its home in the Louvre. But it wasn’t until the early 20th century it got worldwide attention. Vincenzo Peruggia, an artist and museum clerk, stole it in 1911 because he believed it belonged in Italy. The mystery of its theft took two years to solve, and Pablo Picasso was one of the suspects.
Authorities recovered it when Peruggia tried to sell it. Since then, it’s become the most widely discussed and recreated artwork ever. There’s even a tribute to Da Vinci’s work hiding in plain sight in Oklahoma.
Is There an Earlier Mona Lisa?
The “Isleworth Mona Lisa” is an artwork that was displayed in a private collection for a century. It’s of a younger version of the same woman framed by columns.
Historians went through decades of debate about who made it. Researchers studying the work with advanced programs concluded it was by the master himself in a 2015 paper. However, not all art historians are convinced.
Several other similar pieces have been the subject of similar debates over the years. The Spanish artist Prado now gets credit for one of them. Other versions are likely by his assistants or other unknown artists studying the master at work.
Pro Tip: If you love exploring unique sites, these are the 9 Best Things To Do on Route 66 in Oklahoma.
Mona Lisa’s Influence
Unless you’re an art historian, there’s nothing immediately striking about the Mona Lisa. But the three-quarters pose was novel, and other artists happily copied it. It’s now the standard way painters create portraits. Da Vinci also showed true mastery with his form and precision brush strokes. The delicately painted veil and realistic hair obviously took hours of care.
He even managed to depict the folds of fabric she wore perfectly. The artist was a patient craftsman able to recreate what he saw skillfully.
Da Vinci inspired other artists to work more freely and use engaging costumes rather than focus on contemporary fashion. His legacy influenced contemporaries such as Raphael and continues to inspire 21st-century painters.
Artists have recreated it in numerous ways. Through parody or homage, including on the side of an Oklahoma barn. A quick internet search will show dozens of iterations of the painting. You can even find her mysterious smile on coffee mugs and tee shirts. Few images have had such a lasting impact.
What is the Oklahoma Mona Lisa?
If you’re driving through Chelsea, Oklahoma, you can catch a likeness of the Mona Lisa painted on the side of a barn. Though it’s on private property, you can see the mural from E. 360 Road. No one is sure where it came from.
This is more of a stencil relief of the woman and her iconic smile. The rust-colored paint barely contrasts with the red of the building, so you’ll want to pull over to see it.
This tiny rural town is barely a blip on the map. But it also offers other bizzaro sites for folk art lovers. Totem Pole Park, the creation of local artist Ed Galloway, hosts many concrete sculptures.
The outdoor gallery includes the self-proclaimed largest concrete totem pole, so big it has a room inside it. Not a bad art scene for a town with less than 2,000 people.
Besides Oklahoma, Are There More Mona Lisa Barns?
There used to be a Mona Lisa mural with a more realistic look than the Oklahoma one. It was in Colburn, Wisconsin, and she appeared to be wearing a UW-Eau Claire tee shirt under her dress.
Barn art is surprisingly common in rural areas. While this mural is no longer there, others may exist. Professor Doug Tyler at St. Mary’s University has a website that features photos of many such murals. There’s even the hint of a third Da Vinci-inspired mural.
So Barn Art is a Thing
Something about the side of a barn makes an inviting canvas. And we’re not just talking about the Oklahoma Mona Lisa. They’re large, flat, and usually in a big field that could use a bit of decoration.
Whether it’s a recreation of an iconic painting, an original mural, or simply an advertisement, rural art is going strong. The Sandusky County Historic Barn Trail is a growing history lesson in Ohio. It features murals that pay tribute to events and figures important to the area’s past.
Artist Carla Canonero Phillips in Owen County, Kentucky, created a similar tribute to regional history. As you explore rural areas, you’ll find many unique spaces celebrating the creativity you usually associate with the big city.
Just because they don’t have fancy art galleries, it doesn’t mean that country folk don’t know how to create lasting works.
Pro Tip: After visiting the Oklahoma Mona Lisa, check out these 7 Best Lakes in Oklahoma (and Awesome Nearby Campsites).
A Smile That Bridges Centuries
The Mona Lisa barn mural in Oklahoma shows how well Da Vinci captured the world’s imagination. It’s a timeless piece of art. But you don’t need to be the true definition of a Renaissance person to make your contribution to art and culture. In fact, you don’t need much more than a barn and a little creativity.
And you may brighten a weary traveler’s day in the process.
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