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Vincent Van Gogh: Was his underappreciation during his lifetime true or just a myth?

We all love a sob story. As humans we are hard wired to love underdogs, people who were not appreciated and people who managed to prove the cruel world wrong. I mean we convinced ourselves that Einstein was bad at math while the guy was a freaking prodigy.


But after Einstein, one other sob story that we love has to do with Vincent Van Gogh.

We all know the story, right? Vincent Van Gogh, an underappreciated and isolated genius, pushed away from the norms of the time. Right?


Well, not quite. Some sources claim otherwise.


Firstly, let's address where this claim originates. Most things we know about the artist originate from his letters he has sent over his lifetime, that were translated in 1914 by his sister-in-law, Johanna Bonger-Van Gogh. In those letters, one can go through the introspection of Van Gogh.

However, just like it happens nowadays, media alters the truth. And besides us as people, who seems to love over dramatization?

That's right. Pop-culture.



Van Gogh's "life" was shared in Lust for Life, a book that was later turned into a movie which supposedly depicts the Dutch painter's life. However, we all know how books and movies need that extra drop of drama in order to engage the readers and viewers respectively. In Lust for Life, Van Gogh is shown as a stoic who everyone-even God one can claim- was against him. And he faced all of this without a single complaint.



For many Americans, Lust for Life was the introduction to Mr Van Gogh, and back then, there was no internet to potentially confirm any exaggerations made. Consequently, this resulted to people assuming that Van Gogh was a misunderstood genius, as shown in recent media, like the amazing episode of the hit British TV show Dr Who.

So, is it all an exaggeration?

Well if you are over 15 you may have noticed something. Life is not that simple.

Let's analyze.


Claim: Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime

First of all, we have to acknoledge one fact.

Van Gogh's values and ideas did not align with the art market. He did not like the rules behind it even though he was a succesful art dealer and a long-time partner in many branches of Goupil & Cie.

Van Gogh as a person was hesitant in regards of the idea of selling art as a form of commodity, something that may have had a negative impact on his "marketing".

Guess he needed an influencer (it's a joke.)

Moreover, Van Gogh sold two of his paintings (one self portrait and The Red Vineyard) but he also sold a number of drawings and exchanged some of them for food and other commodities, practices that were not unlikely for young artists. Meaning he was not doing so bad himself for the time.


The Red Vineyard

Claim: His art was never appreciated until recently

Van Gogh's initial style was not the best according to critics at the time. That's true. They found it dark and too gritty for the time. However, while critics were too pessimistic about his art, after studying and working with masters of the craft such as Peter Paul Rubens and Paul Gauguin, he was able to receive notable praise from individuals such as Sadi Carnot, the French president at the time who was rather amazed by his paintings after seeing them at a display of Paul Gauguin.

Failed and underappreciated artists do not get their paintings in exhibitions and they don't have presidents praising their work guys.


Not enough for you to be convinced?

Again, by 1890 (near Van Gogh's tragic suicide) the Post-impressionist painter's work begun to be recognised for his "talent and vision". According to letters from Gauguin, Van Gogh's paintings were being called the ‘most remarkable’ on display at the the Indépendants salon in Paris


Still not enough for you?

Several of his paintings were featured in "Les Vingts", where art critic Albert Aurier would publish a positive article about him in the early 1890s.



The truth:

Van Gogh was not an underappreciated genius.

He was a depressed, hardworking one.


His genius was cut short from his mental issues and as seen from new research, Van Gogh was enjoying notable success during his last years. It's not that his vision was not seen, it just ended abruptly.

I would go ahead and claim that Van Gogh would reach Picasso levels of popularity if he was able to battle his demons. Moreover his success posthumunous can be found at the influence he left on the next generation of artists.


It seems that Van Gogh's manic behaviour was both his strength and weakness as his never-ending hours of painting resulted into his poor health, both physically and mentally. However, even that is a point of debate as some researchers tried to prove that Van Gogh was suffering from Meniere's Disease.


Everything is up to interpretation.


So you know my position.What do you think? Even after all of these acclaims, do you still think Van Gogh was underappreciated during his lifetime? Let us know by sending us a message at @artinthetshirts.






References:

  1. https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/art-and-stories/vincents-life-1853-1890/hospitalization

  2. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/27/van-gogh-not-unappreciated-lifetime-myth-busting-letter-shows

  3. https://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/biography.html

  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/chaddscott/2019/11/19/myth-busting-vincent-van-gogh-at-columbia-south-carolina-museum-of-art/?sh=592c5646d9b5

  5. https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/the-price-of-a-bouquet-vincent-van-gogh-and-the-art-market/

  6. https://inews.co.uk/news/van-gogh-was-appreciated-in-his-lifetime-letter-suggests-191058

  7. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/382683

  8. https://vangoghletters.org/vg/










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