While many are familiar with the term “starving artist,” this stereotype of impoverished artists struggling to get by has been sadly true throughout much of history. Fine art painters in particular are infamous for leading poverty and grief-stricken lives.
Much like today, many of history’s famous artists also had to deal with rejection and negative criticisms during their lifetime.
Perhaps this makes their accomplishments all the more interesting, as their art, their struggle, and their lives still haunt and intrigue us to this day.
Claude Monet – As the founder of French Impressionism, Monet’s paintings usually dealt with landscape scenes in a moment. While his seminal work “Impression, Sunrise” is now studied and appreciated in art colleges around the world, it was widely derided by critics when it was first revealed. Monet received little but abuse from public and critics alike, who complained that the paintings were formless, unfinished, and ugly. He and his family endured abject poverty. By the 1880s, however, his paintings started selling.
Vincent Van Gogh – It is hard not to think of tragedy when considers the life of Vincent Van Gogh. If there was ever a fine line between madness and genius, Vincent Van Gogh crossed it quite early in his career. Without his time in insane asylums and self-inflicted ear mutilation, the world would have never had “The Starry Night” and “The Potato Eaters.” Despite his countless post-Impressionist chefs-d’oeuvres, Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime.
Johannes Vermeer – While Vermeer painted the “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, he certainly was not draped in them during his life. Instead of having the elite or nobility commission works, Vermeer’s genre of painting was catered to the provincial middle class. In 1675 Vermeer borrowed money in Amsterdam, using his mother-in-law as a surety. Soon after, the Dutch genre painter actually left his family in debt upon his death.
El Greco – While many have never heard of Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco is a legend in the art world. But during his lifetime, because of his unconventional artistic beliefs (such as his dismissal of Michelangelo’s technique) and personality, El Greco acquired enemies in Rome. He was so beyond his times that scholars still do not know how to properly define his style, which combined Byzantine and Western influences. Yet, his brilliant works like “The Assumption of the Virgin” would loosely inspire later forms like Expressionism and Cubism.
Edouard Manet – was very much frustrated by not receiving recognition. We can see him rebel in works like “Olympia” and “The Luncheon on the Grass” where he turned conservative French society topsy-turvy with the bold use of nudity. Rejected by the Salon, and later excluded from the International exhibition of 1867, Manet then set up his own exhibition that earned poor reviews from the major critics.
These 5 famous artists were all highly-skilled painters who had to deal with rejection, criticism, grief and/or poverty during their lifetime. Most of them were under-appreciated and would never know the artistic legacy they would leave behind because it came only after they had passed on. However, these 10 famous artists now live on forever as revered masters of their respective styles.
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