I suppose we could ask this question about many famous painters. Many don’t become famous until after they’re dead. But let’s concentrate on Vincent van Gogh. If his paintings are so tremendous and hang in museums worldwide, why did he have trouble selling his paintings when alive?
First, let’s consider that Vincent didn’t start painting until about ten years before his untimely death in 1890. When he did paint, people didn’t like his work. He didn’t like many of his own paintings and threw many away.
Also, he was not a very nice person to get along with. That was probably because he didn’t like himself too much. The only people that seem to like him were other artists, such as Gauguin, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec.
It seems van Gogh triggered a different way of seeing art, to see paintings as feelings, rather than trying to paint exactly what you see. Van Gogh painted with emotion; he used stunning colors in his works, his paintings were eerie, in a sense.
And perhaps the public wasn’t ready for works like this. That’s why he supposedly sold only one painting in his lifetime. His work just really wasn’t appreciated yet.
Also, nobody knew a lot about Vincent. His brother Theo was an art dealer and displayed his art to sell. Outside of that, few saw Vincent’s artwork.
That seemed to distress van Gogh significantly and probably affected his early death from a gunshot wound. He suffered most of his life greatly. He had a younger brother named Vincent, who died as a baby. Perhaps the second Vincent suffered much anguish because of being a “replacement Vincent”.
Vincent van Gogh never married, though he did have relationships, one with his widowed cousin. But his closest relative was always his younger brother Theo, who did much in the way of financial support to help his brother out.
But other artists enjoyed his works and started using his ideas. Vincent’s closest friends, if he had any, were painters and his brother Theo.
Also, there is the story of Vincent cutting off his ear. There are many discrepancies about the story, but the lingering one seems to be that Vincent was unstable, which probably caused many to be uneasy about dealing with him.
In the final few years of his life, van Gogh spent time in a mental asylum. It was there that he created what would later be his most famous paintings, including “The Starry Night,” perhaps his most renowned. Vincent painted maybe 100 works during his time in the asylum.
So anyway, how did van Gogh become famous? A lot of that is due to his sister-in-law, named Jo. Vincent’s brother Theo died just a few months after Vincent did, and Theo’s wife Jo inherited Vincent’s works, not to mention Vincent’s letters to Theo. She made it her calling to promote Vincent’s artwork, which became immediately acclaimed throughout Europe.
So it’s really through Jo van Gogh’s efforts that Vincent became the much-admired artist he did.