Even though many of the most famous artists are long dead, their names and artworks are still omnipresent. They may have blockbuster exhibitions in world-famous museums, or their works sell for millions in an auction. But even though their works are so valuable and generate a lot of money for museums or sellers. The saddest thing is that there were many famous artists that died poor, and their art was only appreciated after death.

Rembrandt van Rijn

The card players

Probably the name of the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt van Rijn was already famous during his lifetime. With his large workshop and many pupils he was able to satisfy the market's desire for his works, which were selling fantastically. His wife, the beautiful and rich mayor's daughter Saskia van Uylenburgh was Rembrandt's muse. Again and again, he painted and drew her. But their happiness did not last. Only one of four children survived: son Titus. Only a few months after his birth, Saskia died, presumably of tuberculosis, at the age of 29. During the eight years of their marriage, Saskia took care of managing the financial side of things because Rembrandt had no idea about finances. After her death, things quickly went downhill for Rembrandt. He mourned and fell into a creative crisis. The customers stayed away. In 1656, bankruptcy came, and everything went under the hammer. After his second wife Hendrickje and his son Titus died, the once-great master died completely penniless in 1669. During his life, he has created over 300 works. Two hundred years after his death, Amsterdam built a cathedral for his artworks: the Rijksmuseum.

Johannes Vermeer

girl with a pearl earring

The world-famous painter of the 'Girl with the Pearl Earrings' Johannes Vermeer, had financial difficulties throughout his life. He was self-taught and trained on his father's art collection. During his life, he created about one or two works per year, leaving behind nothing more than thirty-six paintings and, according to legend, had only one main buyer for them. Today, it is hardly imaginable that his intimate portrayals of individuals, mostly famous paintings of women whom he depicts absorbed in their work, did not fly off the shelves in the seventeenth century. Throughout his life, Vermeer's art was underestimated. Even in 1881, the now extremely famous work of the 'Girl with the Pearl Earrings' was auctioned for just the equivalent of one euro.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard

the stolen kiss

Another underestimated old master was Jean-Honoré Fragonard, who achieved recognition during his lifetime but was a famous artist who died poor. This master of capturing French Rococo in virtuoso pastel colors and light brushstrokes was the favorite of the ruling elite of eighteenth-century France. However, the emerging French Revolution of 1789 then caused him significant problems. Both the private collectors and his patrons disappeared - or were executed. In 1790, he left Paris and came to live with his cousin in his hometown of Grasse. The disappearance of the aristocracy and his patrons is a severe blow to him, causing him to lose his fortune and live in poverty. In 1805, Napoleon's decree banned Parisian artists from the Louvre - including Fragonard. He became depressed and died in 1806. His works initially fall into oblivion and only regain their importance half a century later as pearls of the late Rococo.

Amedeo Modigliani

sleeping nude with arms open

The Italian sculptor, painter, and draftsman Amedeo Modigliani is famous for his scandalous paintings of female nudes at the time. Sadly, his story is also notorious because he's one of the most famous artists that died poor, entering the list of artists appreciated after death. His female famous portraits, in particular, for which his wife often sat as a model, characterize his lyrical, tender melancholy as a painter. Modigliani's works can be seen in the world's most renowned museums, such as the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Tate Gallery in London. Since his works did not find a buyer during his lifetime, almost all of them were given to friends. A large number of the paintings were burned by Modigliani himself out of desperation.

Tragically, Modigliani died in Paris on January 24, 1920, at the age of 36, in poverty due to his tuberculosis disease and alcoholism. The following day, his heavily pregnant fiancée Jeanne Hébuterne committed suicide. Modigliani's sister adopted their daughter Jeanne in Florence. As a result, his first solo exhibition only took place posthumously.

Vincent van Gogh

branches with almond blossom

Vincent van Gogh is the next and one of the most celebrated and famous artists that died poor. After trying various professions, including salesman, teacher, and assistant preacher, van Gogh did not begin to paint seriously until 1880. After traveling for a few years, he set up his studio in Nuenen with his parents to devote himself to painting in 1884. During this time, however, van Gogh experienced some traumatic events which would haunt him for the rest of his life. It is his romantic involvement with Margot Bergemann, a woman from the neighborhood, and attempted suicide. Shortly after, Vincent's father died unexpectedly.

In 1888, Van Gogh moved to Arles in Southern France to live with his painter friend Paul Gauguin. His dream was to found an artists' community there. It was during this time that he created his famous series of sunflower paintings, which, at the time, did not interest any buyer. In the same year van Gogh's mental condition deteriorated. His relationship with Gaugin suffered, and the two poor painters parted ways. Van Gogh was hospitalized in a mental institution, where he painted famous portrait paintings and the latter famous 'Starry Night' — the view from his room in the mental asylum.

The painter's turbulent life strongly influenced his paintings. He mainly made the world of ordinary people, i.e., farmers and craftsmen, his motifs. These he painted quickly, spontaneously, and without subsequent corrections. Vincent van Gogh's works became famous immediately after he died in 1890.

The first important exhibitions took place throughout Europe in 1901, 1905, and 1912, after which modern artists felt inspired by his style and copied his painting and drawing techniques. But unfortunately, his groundbreaking approach to painting, which paved the way for Modernism, was not acknowledged during his lifetime and was considered one of the famous artists that died poor and alone.

Claude Monet

impression sunrise

Claude Monet is perhaps the most famous of all Impressionists, and everyone immediately thinks of his atmospheric waterlilies and garden scenes upon hearing his name. Oscar-Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840 and was supposed to take over his father's store. But he began painting at an early age. Unfortunately, even though his paintings are amongst the most popular and expensive, even his painting reproductions, Monet could hardly make a living from selling his art during his lifetime and died poor.

In some ways, France owes the rediscovery of Monet to the United States, where in 1957, art critic Clement Greenberg wrote an article comparing the French painter to lyrical abstraction. In his reinterpretation of Monet, Greenberg saw him as the initiator of the "color field" and the "whole", thus identifying a noble aesthetic predecessor for American artists of the time.

Paul Gauguin

the siesta

Paul Gauguin had not only a turbulent life in common with his friend Vincent van Gogh but also financial difficulties. Gauguin was fed up with life in Paris and decided to leave his wife and his five children to live in the French colony of Tahiti. He resided in Papeete for two years under very simple conditions and created some of his best paintings, capturing the life of the islanders in tropical colors. However, his life there was not as paradisal as he imagined. He spent the rest of his life in great poverty and poor health due to venereal disease. His financial situation was depressing. In 1887, he attempted suicide. Nevertheless, he continued to paint in the Marquesas Islands until he died in 1903.

Three years later, a Paul Gauguin exhibition was held at the Autumn Salon, and the public finally recognized the outstanding importance of his work for the development of modern art. For him, unfortunately, that came too late.


The stories of these struggling painters remind us that the value of art is not solely determined by financial success or immediate recognition. It is a subjective and ever-changing concept that evolves over time, often in ways that we cannot predict. These painters' legacies serve as a testament to the power of persistence, creativity, and passion, even in the face of adversity. May their stories inspire us to continue to appreciate and create art, regardless of external validation or financial gain.