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In the context of an artist. Like, let's say, Dali's "melting clocks" painting; we would call that his (blank), AKA his most recognizable/meaningful/popular/"epic" work.

I think there is, perhaps, a French/Latin term Americans use? I'm not sure...

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Are you looking for 'his Magnum Opus?' –  Autoresponder Feb 4 '13 at 19:23
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Certainly one to watch. –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 4 '13 at 19:33
    
@Autoresponder, could you post your answer, so we can upvote it? –  Brian Hooper Feb 4 '13 at 20:22
    
You really shouldn’t use epic to mean ‘popular’, ‘big’ or even merely ‘great’. It has a specific sense related to narrative poetry, and if you to dilute it to mean those other things, there is nothing left to take on its unique job. –  tchrist Feb 5 '13 at 13:05
    
@tchrist While that is true - surely you are aware of the consumption and re-definition of the term "epic" by the slang-spitting youth. It's common in video game tournaments, etc., for things to be described as "epic" that, in actuality, are not. –  PinkElephantsOnParade Feb 5 '13 at 20:10
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7 Answers 7

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To my mind, magnum opus stands far above the rest as the term one would use in this context.

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Note that the form opus magnum is occasionally seen, and means the same thing. The singular seems to use the version with the adjective first quite a bit more often than those with the noun first. However, when cast into the plural, opera magna and magna opera occur with comparable frequency. –  tchrist Feb 5 '13 at 13:09
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In musical contexts, a “most recognizable work” often is called a signature tune. For example, Benny Goodman's signature tune, or theme song, was Let's Dance, “based on Invitation to the Dance by Carl Maria von Weber”; Louis Armstrong's was When It's Sleepytime Down South; Tommy Dorsey's was I'm Getting Sentimental Over You (as shown in bigbandlibrary's themesongs list).

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Dalí’s Persistence of Memory is considered to be his signature work; it’s the painting that people most commonly associate with him.

Here, signature is used in this sense:

a distinctive pattern, product, or characteristic by which someone or something can be identified

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+1 for his 'signature' work. –  JAM Feb 5 '13 at 18:03
    
+1 never thought of this - very good response. Magnum opus was the one I was reaching for in the far recesses of my own brain, but this is great, too. –  PinkElephantsOnParade Feb 5 '13 at 20:12
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That would be Dali's pièce de résistance:

(especially with reference to creative work) the most important or remarkable feature:

Wiktionary's definition reads:

(idiomatic) A masterpiece; the most memorable accomplishment of one’s career or lifetime.

The thesaurus has more suggestions including the magnum opus suggested in the comments.

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The French term chef-d’œuvre is regularly used in English to mean masterpiece. Its literal translation is chief or principal work.

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+1 for principal work - never thought of that term. I would use the French term described, but "œ" is not so manageable on my English keyboard. –  PinkElephantsOnParade Feb 5 '13 at 20:16
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@PinkElephantsOnParade I actually typed "oe" and the site elided them. In standard typography separate letters are more often used. –  bib Feb 5 '13 at 21:00
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Yes, I would say either his masterpiece or his magnum opus.

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Here, masterpiece is an appropriate word.

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