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3 Failures Who Became Successful Artists

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3 Failures Who Became Successful Artists

Artistic success very rarely comes easily, and the number of artistic prodigies who achieved immediate success is greatly exceeded by the number of artists who struggled for years and years before earning any recognition for their talents. After all, there is a reason that the term “starving artist” is so prevalent; none other than Vincent Van Gogh endured the suffering and the poverty so closely associated with the term.

Although many successful artists have endured early-career struggles and can point to obstacles overcome as part of an origin story, the three artists that follow were subjected to truly extraordinary hardships that delayed or prevented the public’s realization of their talents. In each instance, artistic acclaim was not earned until relatively late in the artist’s life or, in the most unfortunate of circumstances, until after the artist’s death

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait in Front of an Easel”.
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An incredibly prolific artist who created well over 800 paintings during a 10-year period, Van Gogh’s prodigious output included just a single painting deemed worthy of purchase by an art enthusiast. Due to his poverty -- which was exacerbated by his lifelong struggle with mental illness -- Van Gogh could not afford to hire models for his paintings, explaining why most of the pieces he completed during his lifetime were of landscapes, flowers, and self-portraits.

It was only after Van Gogh’s death that he earned the artistic acclaim he deserved, particularly due to the fact that many of the early 20th century expressionists incorporated elements of his unique painting style in their own work. Van Gogh’s style is now among the most readily recognizable and he is universally lauded for his artistic genius despite the lack of appreciation he received for his work during his lifetime.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet’s “Self Portrait With A Beret”.
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The style for which Monet was responsible for pioneering -- Impressionism -- was immediately subjected to the derision of the most prominent members of the art world, namely, the Academie des Beaux-Arts, which hosted an annual exhibition at the Salon de Paris. Even the name applied to this new style pioneered by Monet and Renoir was intended to be derogatory, but Monet and his brethren delighted in referring to themselves as Impressionists, thus eliminating the potency of the insult.

Despite the rejection of Monet’s Impressionist movement by the art world at large, the style ultimately earned a place of prominence among art enthusiasts and allowed members of the Impressionist movement to shirk the traditional and rigid style favored by those associated with the Academie des Beaux-Arts. Of course, the Impressionists were not an immediate success, and one of Monet’s most famous works -- "Impression: Sunrise" -- failed to attract a buyer during the initial exhibition hosted by the Impressionists.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Self”.
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Although Leonardo Da Vinci was recognized for his tremendous artistic talents -- among many other diverse talents -- very early in his life, he was somewhat undone by his overly ambitious approach. Da Vinci’s ambition rendered him unable to deliver many of his commissioned works on time -- including, perhaps most famously, the unfinished “Adoration of the Magi” -- so he was relegated to the responsibility of producing the artistic renderings of criminals who had been executed for quite some time, best exemplified by “The Hanging of Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli.”

It was during this period -- which has been the subject of a great deal of historic speculation -- that the commission letters for the Sistine Chapel were delivered, but Da Vinci was not afforded the opportunity to make a contribution. The commission letters were instead extended to several of Da Vinci's peers including Botticelli, Perugino, and Ghirlandolo. Due to his widespread reputation for failing to deliver completed commissions on time -- or at all -- it was not until the age of 46 that Da Vinci finally earned proper recognition for his artistic genius with one of his most famous works, “The Last Supper.”

In reviewing these famous examples of successful artists who first endured abject failure, one has to wonder whether the work of other artistic geniuses managed to go unnoticed and was never subsequently discovered. It is certainly fortunate that the work of Van Gogh, Monet, and Da Vinci have earned the widespread acclaim that it so richly deserves, but the mere fact that the genius of these artists was not immediately appreciated raises questions about what we may have missed entirely over the years.