10 Famous Artists Who Had to Deal with Rejection During Their Lifetime

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(*Please see Editor’s note below)

While many are familiar with the term “starving artist,” this stereotype of impoverished artists struggling to get by has been sadly true throughout much of history. Fine art painters in particular are infamous for leading poverty and grief-stricken lives.

Much like today, many of history’s famous artists also had to deal with rejection and negative criticisms during their lifetime.

Perhaps this makes their accomplishments all the more interesting, as their art, their struggle, and their lives still haunt and intrigue us to this day.

These 10 famous artists were all highly-skilled painters who had to deal with rejection, criticism, grief and/or poverty during their lifetime. Although a few eventually gained recognition during their life for their artistic contributions, most of them were under-appreciated and would never know the artistic legacy they would leave behind because it came only after they had passed on. However, these 10 famous artists now live on forever as revered masters of their respective styles.

Claude Monet – As the founder of French Impressionism, Monet’s paintings usually dealt with landscape scenes in a moment. While his seminal work “Impression, Sunrise” is now studied and appreciated in art colleges around the world, it was widely derided by critics when it was first revealed. Monet received little but abuse from public and critics alike, who complained that the paintings were formless, unfinished, and ugly. He and his family endured abject poverty. By the 1880s, however, his paintings started selling.

Vincent Van Gogh – It is hard not to think of tragedy when considers the life of Vincent Van Gogh. If there was ever a fine line between madness and genius, Vincent Van Gogh crossed it quite early in his career. Without his time in insane asylums and self-inflicted ear mutilation, the world would have never had “The Starry Night” and “The Potato Eaters.” Despite his countless post-Impressionist chefs-d’oeuvres, Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime.

Johannes Vermeer – While Vermeer painted the “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” he certainly was not draped in them during his life.   Instead of having the elite or nobility commission works, Vermeer’s genre of painting was catered to the provincial middle class. In 1675 Vermeer borrowed money in Amsterdam, using his mother-in-law as a surety. Soon after, the Dutch genre painter actually left his family in debt upon his death.

El Greco – While many have never heard of Doménikos Theotokópoulos, El Greco is a legend in the art world. But during his lifetime, because of his unconventional artistic beliefs (such as his dismissal of Michelangelo’s technique) and personality, El Greco acquired enemies in Rome. He was so beyond his times that scholars still do not know how to properly define his style, which combined Byzantine and Western influences. Yet, his brilliant works like “The Assumption of the Virgin” would loosely inspire later forms like Expressionism and Cubism.

Paul Cezanne –  Considered by many as the father of modern art, but Paul Cezanne was anything but common. Like El Greco, he made significant contributions to Cubism. Nevertheless, the Salon rejected Cézanne’s submissions every year from 1864 to 1869. Few significant artists ever had less success. In addition, Cezanne’s personal life was marked by tensions that sharpened his sensitivity to relationships. A mere one year after his death, he was inducted in the famed Salon d’Automne and given the recognition he rightfully deserved.

Georges-Pierre Seurat – Probably most well known for “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” Georges-Pierre Seurat redefined what it meant to be a 19th century renaissance man; his works were true artistic and scientific masterpieces. In his paintings, the artist introduced advancements in color and optical theory alike. After his painting was rejected by the Paris Salon, Seurat turned away from such establishments, instead allying himself with the independent artists of Paris.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Toulouse-Lautrec gave audiences a look into the real Moulin Rouge. An intimate friend of Vincent van Gogh (he even painted him) and Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec did not fare any better than his artistic comrades. On top of being a struggling artist, Toulouse-Lautrec also suffered from disabilities and chronic health problems. While his artistic achievements would eventually be recognized, he also made a splash in the medical field; in true bohemian fashion, one of his conditions, pycnodysostosis, would come to be known as Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome. Lautrec was often mocked for his short stature and physical appearance, and this led him to drown his sorrows in alcohol.

Edouard Manet – There is probably no one on this list that was more frustrated by not receiving recognition than Manet. We can see him rebel in works like “Olympia” and “The Luncheon on the Grass” where he turned conservative French society topsy-turvy with the bold use of nudity.  Rejected by the Salon, and later excluded from the International exhibition of 1867, Manet then set up his own exhibition that earned poor reviews from the major critics.

Paul Gauguin – Poverty became Gauguin’s reality. Then his favorite daughter Aline died of pneumonia and Clovis, his son, died from a blood infection. Gauguin’s escapades were far more exotic than his peers which eventually landed him in French Polynesia. There, he produced masterpieces like “Spirit of the Dead Watching,” which largely inspired primitivism – an important art movement of the 19th century. After many years of poverty and sickness, Gauguin died from heart failure, alone and unaware of the mark his art would later make on the 20th century.

Alfred Sisley – Despite being part of the original core group of Impressionist artists, his works were usually rejected by the jury of the most important art exhibition in France. His artistic approach, innovative at the time, resulted in paintings more colorful and more broadly painted than the public was accustomed to seeing. This made it difficult for his landscape art to gain any recognition during his lifetime. Perhaps worse, he never gained recognition for his work among his artistic peers either. It couldn’t have helped that he was a Brit in a world of French Impressionists.

Edited version of original post by Guest author Roman Sharf, founder of Luxury Bazaar, a leading online source of fine art, jewelry, and luxury watches. As a life-long connoisseur of art, he has developed a keen appreciation for the art of painting and the brilliant talents who make it great.

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*Editor’s Note: The above article is a reposting of the article that was originally, inaccurately entitled, 10 Famous Artists Who Died Before Their Art Was Recognized. In an effort to bring you accurate and helpful content, I have chosen to edit and re-title this post because the original title was a bit misleading and dramatic. Although these artists had to deal with either rejection, criticism or grief, not all were starving, and some were eventually recognized during their lifetime. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. Thanks for your understanding. I have learned not to blog after midnight!!! ~Lori 😉

Let’s also meet on TwitterFacebook and now on Google Plus  http://gplus.to/lorimcnee . To see my paintings, please visit http://lorimcnee.com 

33 Comments

  1. Bob Ragland October 27, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Rejection is a bear. One has to learn how to proceed to have an artlife , no matter what.
    It’s daunting, when us artists feel rejected.
    I was in a small street fair recently, and sold several small paintings, this helps when one has doubts and feel rejection bearing down on one.
    Rejection can grow when one works in isolation.

    • Lori McNee January 19, 2012 at 6:49 pm

      Rejection is an ongoing issue that we all must learn to manage. Art is so subjective, I have learned not to take it personally. Keep painting great works!

      Cheers-
      Lori

    • Jaap Vilders April 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      interesting reading this as ive recently discovered english artist michael fitzgerald at saatch truly fascinating insight

      • Lori McNee May 1, 2013 at 10:05 am

        Happy you enjoyed this post!
        Lori 🙂

  2. Carol Putman November 9, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Monet’s work was titled, “Impression, Sunrise” (Impression, soliel levant). It was labeled “Impressionism” by those in the art community of his time who viewed it with distain. You have it titled “Impressionism, Sunrise.”

    • Lori McNee November 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm

      Thank you for the correction Carol. I made the change to the title. This post has been a bit tricky it seems!

      Best-
      Lori

  3. reuven April 3, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    I would like to by artists paintings images for print.
    where I can find it?

    • Lori McNee April 23, 2012 at 11:51 am

      Hello Reuven, do you want to buy prints of the artists on this site? I am not sure of your question. I am not a print dealer. I would suggest finding an online print gallery.

      Best,
      Lori

  4. Scott Moore January 12, 2013 at 9:12 am

    I’ve come to take rejection as a sign that I’m doing something right. New ideas take time to take hold. Conventional wisdom is an oxymoron. Besides, most people that reject you have a tinge of hidden jealousy in their hearts.

    • Lori McNee January 12, 2013 at 12:06 pm

      Me too Scott! Successful artists are usually the ones who have had to deal with the most rejection…

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Lori

  5. Dreams, Part II 1AU Global Media LLC March 18, 2013 at 6:02 am

    […] Where’s the connection between the dreams of accomplishment and the dreams of necessity? They all turn on a sharp point of creativity. And make no mistake: the point is always a sharp one. If your dreams really and truly matter to you, there will be a terrible, growing pressure to see them through. If you’re hungry, you’ll go to great lengths–any lengths– of invention to feed yourself. If you’re desperate to complete a series of paintings that you’ve been carrying around in your soul for years, you’ll also go to great lengths. […]

  6. julie May 5, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    I didn’t know about all of these, but it doesn’t surprise me. You’re right. Art is subjective and you just have to do your best work and have a thick skin. It happens to the best.

    • Lori McNee June 10, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      Hi Julie, yes thick skin does come in handy, doesn’t it? Thanks for stopping by and for the comment. 🙂

  7. […] when society rejected his “corrupt” teachings), musicians (the Beatles and Beethoven), artists, children (“No, you cannot be friends with us”), normal day-to day people who just want […]

  8. Luxury Designer Watches August 15, 2013 at 12:30 am

    Van Gogh, was the favorite Artists, I marketed his some works!!

  9. Luxury Designer Watches August 18, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    Van Gogh is my favorite artist, I love some of his art work, the favorite is “The Sunflower”, his famous art work, I bought this oil painting form overstockart. Really so amazing!

    • Lori McNee October 24, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      I love Van Gogh too! I never tire of his paintings…

  10. belita william November 20, 2013 at 6:44 am

    In the 80s I was a young artist who painted Realism,NO gallery would even concider my work..Today ..Realism is “in” but now I cant seem to get a gallery to represent me! I got politely”rejected” by a prominant gallery..only to see very mundane and even rediculous art,taken in from the same gallery!..There is a lot of critics who cant diferentiate what is good art..a LOT of politics are involved too.like what famouse art school did you study at,what big art contest did you win or place in or what(known) artists you hang around!..Art Societies are not friendly to many artists.May GOOD artists will not get due recognition or exxposure..

    • Lori McNee December 1, 2013 at 11:06 pm

      Hello Belita, just like with any profession, a career in art takes a combination of talent, business skills, who you know and timing. I encourage you to continue finding the right place for your work. You might want to contact some portrait brokers to see if you might fit with one of them. I hope this helps.

  11. ashley t moore January 25, 2014 at 6:14 am

    yes i think that in an artist painting you can see the dept of their feelings and the raw emotion that they feel are canvassed on paper. the lighting and boldness of the colors, and some of the most beautiful art has came from artist who were rejected

    • Lori McNee February 4, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Hello Ashley, I agree with you. Museums are filled with artists who were rejected. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  12. William Furner May 10, 2014 at 5:40 am

    I understand what those artists have gone through, as I head towards the tale end of my life.
    I am not an artist as for as paintings go. But I do think that I’ve created some of the most beautiful music that has ever been created. I do things that probably will not be accepted in mass media for a long time.

    This is in my opinion and I have done tons of studying on this, is that there is a civilization that is living under the surface of mars. But if you do music on this and your unknown, you might as well kiss your career goodbye. But I do have my family intact and can survive luckily so far:)

    The link to this youtube video, in my opinion is a very important one, and like the artists mentioned here, I too am in their category! I composed the music in this video and have close to 400 pieces of music available for free download. And yet patrons at youtube avoid me like the plague.
    People don’t know this on the whole, but nasa is giving hints in their curiosity rover – mars – images that there is a civilization existing on *(under) mars. Those images are very, very slow to come out. In my latest videos I bring my music as a background to hand picked images of true mars anomalies.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqLv7wEwLac&feature=youtu.be
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4mHc-dBM1M&feature=youtu.be
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFoOMQYWCms&feature=youtu.be

    There is so much to say, I could write volumes on this but there are incredible hints to a civilization existing under the surface of mars and this is just one of many through I song I sing and write. I am not primarily a singer but am a solo guitarist with over 40 years experience as well:
    http://www.icompositions.com/music/song.php?sid=183022

    • Lori McNee May 10, 2014 at 10:04 pm

      Hello William,

      Well, this is quite an interesting and unexpected comment to this blog post. I will check out your music. I am interested to learn more about life on Mars. I actually hope it is true. I know we can’t be the only ‘ones’ out there.

      Many thanks for sharing! ~Lori

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  16. michael nutter August 29, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    artists are always consumed by the word rejection every piece of artwork that i have done that was not accepted ended up in a gallery sold or a juried exhibition or recognized as a donation to raise money for some worthy cause. i dont look at what judges do so much as rejection but selection. it is kind of like someone in a grocery store looking at all the food items on a shelf. you walk down the isles and something that you really like or prefer catches your eye. i think alot of artists should stop seeking validation from others in order to feel confident about their own personal style or approach. lighten up seek joy in doing what you love to do and quit making yourself a nervous wreck .

    • Lori A McNee May 1, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      Hello Michael, many apologies for the belated reply!! I truly appreciate your inspired thoughts and feedback on this post…

  17. Claire June 12, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    But is it not strange that these are all men?

    • Lori A McNee May 1, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      Haha! I do find it strange…

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