All artists strive for acceptance and appreciation. However, the meaning of appreciation may be unique to each artist. Most of us want our artwork to win in shows or receive recognition via sales as a fair validation of our talent and hard work. I don’t think anyone wishes to perish in obscurity without the proper acknowledgment of his or her gift.
It’s interesting to learn that numerous artists famous today often struggled riveted by poverty and seclusion back then. Studied in art history classes, admired in art museums, and owned by few wealthy collectors today, many were virtually unknown during their lifetime, and only after their death they found proper recognition.
Before the 19-th century, some male artists and virtually two or three female painters got immortalized on the pages of art history books. Those artists worked on public works, commissioned by either the Church, the State, or the wealthy.
In the 19-th century Paris, the Salon was the most prestigious official outlet to exhibit contemporary art. Sponsored by the French authorities, the Salon became the annual event since 1737. It was the only important exhibition held in the country. Receiving acceptance into its annual show was crucial to the artist’s success and career. The Salon’s jury process was controlled by the Academicians and thus resisted innovation. The Impressionists broke from that tradition and became the first modern movement to organize their own, separate shows in Paris.
As the importance of getting commissions from the Church and the State vanned around that time, it catapulted the artistic creativity and freedom of expression. That’s the reason why during this time the art world exploded with so many different styles and movements. The traditional, academic style of painting was suddenly losing its ground to the impressionism, post-impressionism, neoclassicism, romanticism, social realism, American realism, the pre-Raphaelites, pointillism, symbolism, art nouveau, and even photography. The freedom of artistic expression flourished in the 20-th century with fauvism, cubism, expressionism, European avant-garde, surrealism, futurism, dada, collage, fantasy, abstract expressionism, and so on.
Although artists became independent from the State and the Church, which dramatically changed the subject matter and the painting style, many lived in extreme poverty. The amateur painter, Vincent Van Gogh struggled both financially and emotionally throughout his life and only his brother Theo recognized his talent. Classically trained Antoine-Jean Gros started out brilliantly with his painting Napoleon in the Pesthouse at Jaffa, 1804, but drowned himself in a river after 30 years of haunting criticism and artistic failure. An engraver, painter, and poet, William Blake was discovered only a century later after his death. Honore Daumier painted most of his life, but received recognition as a painter during his first solo show at the age of 70.
Driven by the need to paint, Paul Gauguin abandoned his family, left France, and spent his last years in Tahiti. A cocktail of poverty, alcoholism, and syphilis brought him death at the age of 55. His fusion of symbolic imagery with the post-impressionist style became influential only after his death, discovered and promoted by the influential art critic in Paris.
One of the most influential painters of modernity, Cézanne (1839-1906) had submitted his artwork to the Salon in Paris for 20 consecutive years. His paintings were not accepted into a single show even once. Self-taught, the post-impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne enjoyed the process of painting in isolation. Out of frustration, with introspection, and in search of perfection, Cezanne had a habit of throwing away his artworks, painting out in the country. Like a number of artists, Cezanne had a very difficult relationship with his father who wanted the artist to become a lawyer. In his thirties, he settled in with a young woman whom he never married. Although they had a child together Cezanne was afraid to lose his father’s financial support by marrying her. Like so many others, Cézanne got famous after his death.
Today his artwork sells for millions of dollars per painting. The Gulf nation of Qatar purchased Paul Cézanne’s painting The Card Players (the 5th version) for a record-breaking $250 million. (By the way, there are more Cezannes in Philadelphia than in France, because of private collectors’ acquisitions). One day the painter got ill, after being out in a thunderstorm. Cezanne spent his last few days of life painting, achieving what he always wanted to do – to paint until the end…
You may ask what’s the point of this post? We all are aware of the “talented but poor artist” stigma. My point is that even if you’re talented and have something to offer to this world, the artist’s success is often not accidental. It’s not only hard work, but also the ability to connect with many people and being able to promote yourself tirelessly.
- Still to come “Most successful artists of all times”
- Originally published in 2012
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