Art history is full of misunderstood geniuses, whose talent remained hidden in the shadows or valued only long after their death. From van Gogh to Modigliani, here are the most illustrious examples and names of famous painters who could not enjoy the fame while they were still alive!
Vincent van Gogh
Although today is considered one of the most significant and influential painters of the nineteenth century, Vincent van Gogh was never an acclaimed artist when he was alive.
The famous author of The Starry Night and other 900 paintings, lived in fact a life made of hardship and was mostly unknown to the general public – although his talent was already known to other artists of his time. In fact, the only artwork that the Dutch painter was able to sell was The Red Vineyards near Arles, created in Arles in 1888, and bought by Anna Boch, sister of his friend and impressionist painter Eugène Boch.
Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait, 1889, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Paul Gauguin shared with his friend Vincent van Gogh not only the house in Arles, in Provence, but also the incomprehension of their contemporaries. As well as his friend Vincent, Paul Gauguin never followed the pictorial current of his time, but only his creative instinct. This, no doubt, led him to live a penniless existence, but, at the same time, allowed him to develop his own unique style – given above all by the extraordinary experimental use of color – that transformed him into the famous and revolutionary artist that we all admire today!
Paul Gauguin, Self-Portrait with Halo and Snake, National Gallery of Art, Washington.
Very often, what prevents great artists from succeeding during their lives is their unregulated living, from “flames” that burn too quickly. One of these is undoubtedly the talented Amedeo Modigliani. Poor since childhood, he soon became passionate about painting and approached artistically stimulating environments such as those of the Paris of the early twentieth century.
The city of artists, however, if on the one hand allowed him to meet geniuses such as Picasso who inflamed him creatively, on the other hand it dragged him into the vortex of drugs, alcohol and brothels, making him live an extreme existence that led him to death at the age of only 35.
Amedeo Modigliani, Self-Portrait, 1919, The São Paulo Museum of Art, São Paulo.
In 2004, one of his paintings was valued at 30 million dollars: it is the painting Young Woman Seated at the Virginal and the artist we are talking about is the Dutch Johannes Vermeer. If they had predicted the future value of that artwork in 1670, when he realized it in his home in Delft afflicted with financial problems, he probably would not have believed it.
His extraordinary paintings – which mostly portrayed the domestic life of people intent on carrying out their daily activities – remained always confined to the local level, despite the masterly use of light and the maniacal study of pigments. After centuries, the great master of Delft got his revenge anyway, managing to finally gain the attention of the art world who recognized him as one of the greatest masters and painters of the Dutch Golden Age.
Johannes Vermeer, detail of the painting The Procuress (considered to be a self portrait by Vermeer), 1656, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.