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8 Artists Who Only Became Famous Once They Died

Sometimes artists are well ahead of their time and, as a result, their stunning work simply is as beloved by people during their lifetime as it is by the generations that follow. Below are eight great artists who simply weren’t appreciated for the work that they created during their time.

1. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)


Nowadays, Van Gogh’s work sells for millions of dollars and it is some of the most valuable and highly sought after in the world. For example, in 1990, his portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82.5 million, making it one of the most expensive paintings ever sold.

However, during his lifetime, Van Gogh was a failed and poor artist. He created more than 2,000 works of art, but sold just two when he was alive. Suffering from mental illness and depressed further by his lack of success, Van Gogh killed himself at the age of 37.

His post-Impressionist style, filled with movement, emotion, and vibrancy, was not popular when he was alive, but it would influence decades of artists that followed, and his works remain some of the most regarded paintings in modern art.


2. El Greco (1541-1614)


Domenikos Theotokopoulos, or El Greco as he was known, wasn’t an entirely successful artist during his lifetime. Born in Crete, he studied in Rome and Venice before he settled down in Toledo, Spain, where he painted some of his best-known paintings for the Spanish royal family.

While he found work and made a comfortable living as an artist, he was largely panned by art critics. The works that he painted for the royal family displeased the king and this displeasure dashed all hopes he had of becoming a court painter.

His work was often laughed at and ignored within the larger art community. It was not until the 19th century that his work finally started seeing the attention that it deserved. It became an inspiration for the artists that would push forth the Expressionist and Cubist movements, drawing inspiration from El Greco’s dramatic compositions and bizarrely elongated and distorted figures.

Spanish artists from the late 19th and early 20th Century paraded his works through the streets and now, critics and artists laud his work as that of a true artistic genius and pioneer.

3. Henry Darger (1892-1973)


Darger was an American writer and artist who is now best-known for his drawings, fantasy literature, and watercolor paintings. However, during his lifetime, his several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings did not get the attention that they truly deserved.

This reclusive artist was self-taught and his contemporary style just wasn’t appreciated or recognized during his life. However, after his death, Darger’s work was praised for its composition and brilliant use of color. Nowadays, he is considered by many to be one of the best outsider artists to have ever lived and his work now sells for more than $750,000.

4. Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675)


Check out any modern art history text and you’re bound to find page after page dedicated to this Dutch Baroque painter. However, Vermeer wasn’t always the historical art star that he is today. During his lifetime. He made a respectable living as an artist, but he never achieved a lot of wealth or widespread recognition as an artist.

His masterly treatment of color and light and careful treatment of the subjects in his work did bring him high regard in the Netherlands during his life, but upon his death he was a forgotten and almost obscure artist for nearly two centuries.

It was not until art historians Waagen and Thore-Burger published an essay on him in the 19th century that his work came to light in the larger art world. Nowadays, the limited number of works he created (just 34) and his high level of skill make him one of the most sought-after artists in the world.


5. Claude Monet (1840-1926)


Claude Monet might have been a key figure in the Impressionist movement that transformed French painting in the second half of the 19th Century, but his unique style and philosophy wasn’t always well-liked or understood.

Throughout his long career, money consistently broke the mold by depicting the landscape and leisure activities of Paris and its environs as well as the Normandy coast. He led the way towards 20th Century modernism by developing a unique style that strove to capture on canvas the very act of perceiving nature.

His works were rejected by society and art exhibitions because it went against the traditional style and method of painting at the time. Nowadays, if you want to get your hands on a Monet painting, you will have to fork up anywhere from $7-81 million dollars.

6. Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)


Considering Gauguin’s close friendship with Van Gogh, it should come as no surprise that the two shared a similar fate in the art world during their lifetimes. Today, we can look at Gauguin’s work as heralding in the Symbolist movement and paving the way for new artistic styles and famous painters who would come after him. However, during his life, Gauguin was a bit of an outsider and never received widespread critical acclaim for his works. He turned down a prosperous life as a stockbroker to live a solitary life in the South Pacific.

Yet, he didn’t find the idealized paradise he sought out, nor the success that he so desired as an artist. His work was appreciated by few and it was even ridiculed when presented in a Post-Impressionist exhibit in London in 1910.

It was not until the 1940s that his work saw widespread success in the marketplace and was appreciated by a larger audience. Nowadays, his work ranks among some of the most expensive in modern art and few critics ridicule his work.

7. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)


Toulouse-Lautrec was a French painter who painted ground-breaking artwork during the Post-Impressionism movement, but he didn’t receive any recognition for his work during his lifetime.

He spent his time immerged in the decadent and theatrical life of fin de siècle Paris and this was duly reflected in his artwork. His paintings were provocative and captured the gaudy Parisian nightlife and people at work.

Toulouse-Lautrec was extremely skilled in depicting people and his paintings often looked more like drawings emphasized by long, thin brushstrokes. One of the reasons Toulouse-Lautrec remained unnoticed was because he lived in brothels for quite some time, painting prostitutes.

It wasn’t until his death in 1901 that his mother and his art dealer began to promote his art and paid a French museum to house his work. Nowadays, his works sell for thousands of dollars.

8. Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-1891)


Seurat was a French Post-Impressionist painter who is best known for his painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”

He was a trend-setting artist who took a scientific approach to painting by using colors to conjure certain emotions and feelings of harmony. He created his artwork based on certain techniques using lines, various dark, warm, and cold colors at different levels of intensity. Seurat even invented Pointillism, a painting technique that uses small dots to form larger images. This technique was largely ridiculed by his critics.

It wasn’t until after he had died that his creative style and fascinating techniques received the recognition that they deserve. His work now sells for millions of dollars.


Sources: webdesignschoolsguide and onlineuniversities

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