Van Gogh didn't sell any pictures ... wrong!
It’s an old quiz trick question. How many pictures did Van Gogh sell during his lifetime?
The common answer is ‘NONE’. That is wrong.
Red Vinyard by Vincent Van Gogh
The answer that gets you the point is ‘ONE’. That’s given by people who know a bit about VG and have heard about ‘The Red Vinyard’ that his brother Theo sold for 400 francs during Vincent's lifetime. That is about 1800 dollars today. The buyer was fellow painter and heiress Anna Boch.
But neither answer is right! VG actually sold loads of pictures during his lifetime. He was an art dealer in The Hague and London and sold pictures as his job.
The tricky part is that they were not pictures that he had painted or drawn himself.
Vincent worked for the international art dealers Goupil and Co from 1869 until 1876. He left to become a preacher, but it didn’t work out, so around 1881 he became a full time artist himself.
Interestingly Vincent had three uncles who were dealers in the fine art business. His brother Theo also became an art dealer and sold other artists work in Paris. Theo assisted Vincent to mix with other artists like Monet, and Gaugin. So it seems strange that Vincent couldn’t make a living as an artist.
That is because it is quite hard to do so. It was then and it still is now.
One remarkable thing about Vincent van Gogh, artist, is that since he died in 1890, his paintings have sold rather well. There is a catalogue of 860 Van Gogh paintings and even more drawings. Several have reached astronomic levels at auction. Just seven VG paintings, listed in Wikipedia’s list of highest prices paid for paintings, reach 722 million dollars.
Spin off….starving artist myth.
The legacy that VG has left to the art world is the concept of a troubled genius who gives all for his art, despite rejection. He inspired my early idea of romantic failure. As art students in the 50’s and 60’s we didn’t expect to be able to make our livings as full time artists.
The 1956 film Lust for Life starring Kirk Douglas as VG didn’t help.
So the myth of a starving artist was born and nurtured by VG. We artists have all suffered because of this. Firstly we tend to believe it ourselves and many artists just expect to starve. Secondly our families dissuade budding artists by saying that art is a great hobby but it is impossible to make a living. So the mindset is all wrong. If VG could not sell anything during his lifetime even though he had uncles and a brother in the business, then how on earth can we expect to do better.
On the other hand.
On the other hand many artists have risen from obscure poverty and made zillions in their lifetime. The artist Gerhard Richter is still alive as I write this, and he has a record sale for a living artist for one painting of $37 million. Yes $37million. According to one source the richest top five living artists are Andrew Vicari [142 million dollars], David Choe [200 million], Jasper Johns [300 million], Jeff Koons [500 million], and Damien Hurst [ one billion dollars].
Makes one think, eh Vincent?