There is this adage that goes around whenever 'artists' bemoan the fact that they haven't sold anything lately ... 'Oh well, Vincent [Van Gogh] only ever sold one painting in his entire life! So I guess I shouldn't complain just yet' (or words to that effect).
It's common knowledge that Vincent only really got going as an artist round
about 1884/1885, although he'd been drawing and painting since his
boyhood. He died in 1890 and in that short period he managed to paint
over 850 oil paintings (not cheap stuff oil paint, specially in those
days). In addition to the oil paintings, he drew hundreds and hundreds of sketches, created magical prints and watercolours etc. etc.
Vincent 'sold' most of his output to his brother, who was his regular
patron. His brother (Theo), was supposed to on-sell the paintings to
friends, or other patrons of the arts but this never happened (to the best of
my knowledge). It was a kind of gentleman's agreement, I guess, to make
Vincent feel emasculated and not a 'soak' on his brother's finances. He
sold the paintings to his brother and used the money to buy more art materials
and a bit of food and absinthe. (I'm over-generalising here but you get the picture ... cough).
It's hard enough, in today's economic climate when art supplies are actually
muck cheap, to sell paintings but people do and most artists sell regularly to
varied clientele. How utterly demotivating it must have been though, to
plough such huge sums of money into your materials, as well as time and physical effort ... only to never manage a sale to anyone other than a family member. Let's be honest, most
artists would pack it in if they didn't get any recognition after creating such
a vast output. 860 oil paintings! That’s a huge amount of work. I seem to remember someone once saying if you keep at something, eventually you'll become famous. Sadly in Vincent's case he wasn't famous (in his lifetime) but he still kept at it. There's an alternative view to this as well, if you work at something for a couple of years and don't get any recognition, perhaps it's not for you? Perhaps, just maybe, you're actually quite shite as an artist.
Thankfully, it doesn't look like Vincent had those kind of thoughts but it's hard to imagine how a person could work for so many years and be largely ignored.
I can’t actually imagine how much space
those paintings would have taken up. I
know that Theo didn't keep all the paintings with him but I'm not sure where they ended up, they must have been stored somewhere. 860 oil
paintings! That’s a hell of a lot of
How could an artist work for 5 to 10 years amassing all those canvasses and
not shifting any of them to buyers? How depressing is that? And
wouldn't you think, as an artist, that if you hadn't sold a painting
legitimately to someone other than a family member, in your ENTIRE career, that
maybe it was time to re-evaluate your career. Maybe you just don't 'cut
it' as an artist? It's incongruous to think that Vincent battled along
all alone, working at his genius. It's amazing that he continued to
produce such awesome work and so miserably sad that he wasn't alive to witness
the upswell of interest in his paintings much later on. Despite severe
mental issues, getting scant recognition for what he was trying to achieve, he
soldiered on, often battling with the paint, his inner turmoils, lack of money
- it must have been soul-destroying and no bloody wonder he offed
It's impossible to speculate 'what if he hadn't died prematurely and had continued to paint' ... he was taken from the world, I think, at the height of his creative surge as an artist. This is my favourite piece ('scuse the watermarking):