10 Artists Who Died Penniless

The artists on this list died in poverty and relative obscurity. They will never see just how celebrated their art was in later years. Ironically, their paintings sell now for millions of dollars and museums and galleries fight over them.

10. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

He favored painting the theatrical life of Paris in the 1800’s, giving his audiences personal and provocative peeks inside the Moulin Rouge (left). Depression caused Toulouse-Lautrec to begin drinking and he died in poverty in 1901 from complications of alcoholism as well as syphilis. In a 2005 auction at Christie's auction house, La Blanchisseuse, his early painting of a young laundress (right), sold for US$22.4 million and set a new record for the artist for a price at auction.

9. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

He is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art and the most imporatant in Dutch history. Unfortunately his life was fraught with tragedy and after his wife died and his friends deserted him, he was pushed into bankruptcy and unable to find any more work. He died in obscurity and poverty in 1669.

8. Johannes Vermeer

He was a Dutch painter who specialized in interior scenes of middle class life. He worked slowly and with great care, and frequently used very expensive pigments. He suffered from a number of physical afflictions as well as mental illness. Vermeer was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

7. Domenikos Theotokopoulos "El Greco"

Born in 1541, El Greco as he came to be known, studied in Rome before moving to Spain. Some of his best known works were created for the Spanish royal family. El Greco was able to make a living as an artist for some time before he fell out of favor and became the subject of ridicule. He died in poverty in 1614.

6. Egon Schiele

An Austrian painter with works noted for its intensity and its raw sexuality, and the many self portraits the artist produced, including naked self-portraits. This great artist died because of the Spanish Influenza that took the live of millions. He was only 28 years old.

5. Paul Cezanne

Cezanne spent most his life caught between two worlds, and never felt at home in either of them. His father encouraged him to be a lawyer or banker, like himself, but Cezanne saw himself as a famous painter like those bohemians living on the edge in Paris. Receiving some of the harshest criticism of the impressionists of the time, he left most of his works unfinished and potentially destroyed others before he died of pneumonia in 1906. Little did he know that his posthumous success would see his painting The Card Players bought by the State of Qatar in 2011 for $259,000,000—the most expensive painting of all time.

4. Willem de Kooning

A Dutch American abstract expressionist artist was at times too poor to buy himself artist’s paint and had to rely on household enamels in his early career. He actually became highly prolific in his heyday, if still deep in the throes of alcoholism and extramarital affairs (which, many argue, contributed to his eventual dementia, Alzheimer’s, and artistic decline). He died quietly in 1997, aged 92. His work the Woman III that, like an expensive trading card, Hollywood mogul David Geffen sold to hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen for $137.5 million in 2006.

3. Georges Seurat

Everyone knows that one Seurat painting—you know the one with all the people lazing on a grassy slope, looking out to water, and women with parasols, made completely out of dots? Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte has become so iconic that the original, currently hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago, has an estimated value of $100 million. We have a hunch that given the chance, a wealthy collector would snap that up in seconds, considering a mere study of that same painting sold for $35.2 million in 1999. But in late 19th century France, Seurat’s influence was mostly overlooked. He lived a quiet, sleepy, reclusive life, until he died from an uncertain combination of illnesses in 1891.

2. Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin's work was considered risqué and exotic during his time and not appreciated for its primitive influences. Gauguin died of heart failure, alone in poverty. He had no idea of the impact that his work would have on the art world.

1. Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime. It sold for the equivalent of approximately $109 dollars. Although he is famous for his works such as “The Starry Night” this artist battled mental illness most of his life. Unfortunately he finally lost this battle and cut his ear off in 1888, committing suicide not long after that by shooting himself in the chest. His last words were, “The sadness will last forever.” He died broke and destitute.

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American artist Matt Pecson creates amazing contemporary pop art portraits in a style all his own.