Starving ArtistsIt is fashionable to believe that all truly great painters down through history were of the "starving artist" variety. The Impressionists are most often held up as "proof" of the failure of society to appreciate the struggling artist until at least after his death. Well, I hate to burst balloons, but by in large, the facts simply don't support this premise. While it's true that the "painted sketches" of the Impressionists were a great joke to Ingres and his friends on the Salon jury in the 1860's, the fact is, the ridicule didn't last. Well before they died, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, CÚzanne, and Morisot sold paintings for good prices and similar acclaim. Monet, died a wealthy man in the 1920's in fact, his death heralded around the world, his work never more popular.
Manet, Degas, Turner and others were also successful in earning a decent living from their art. The American expatriate, Whistler, was the toast of London. Though he, like Rembrandt, had difficulty managing money, neither had difficulty making it. The two most common icons held up to support the starving artist mystique are inevitably van Gogh and Gauguin. Even if we allow some legitimacy in both cases, it must be noted that one was mad, and the other rejected a comfortable living as a banker and "chose" the exile of society in what might be considered the ultimate mid-life crisis. Van Gogh chose to short-circuit his rise to fame by ending his life early. Gauguin chose the bare-chested beauties of Tahiti and a severe case of syphilis, which ended his life just three years short of fame and social acceptance of his work.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
8 January 1998