5 Famous Artists Who Died In Poverty

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5 Famous Artists Who Died In Poverty
by Andrea Meloni

Starving artists are everywhere. While the world may celebrate artistic success, the vast majority of artists struggle financially throughout their lives. What few people realize is that many of the world's most famous artists died penniless despite their apparent artistic successes.

Here are 5 world-changing artists whose artwork is immediately recognizable, but whose careers ended in poverty nonetheless:

Amadeo Modigliani

Modigliani's immediately recognizable style of elongated, often sexualized portraits and sculptures achieved momentary but tepid recognition in the chique Parisian gallery scene of the early 1900's. Despite his creative brilliance, success eluded Modigliani throughout his career.

Struggling with health issues and impaired by years of alcohol abuse, Modigliani died at the age of just 35 from tuberculosis. His fiancee, Jeanne Hébuterne, was 8 months pregnant at the time of Modigliani's passing. She threw herself from a fifth story window just days afterwards.

Modigliani's recognition spread widely after his death. As the subject of multiple novels, plays and three feature films, few could have predicted Modigliani's posthumous fame during his modest career.

Johannes Vermeer

Painter of the iconic Girl with a Pearl Earring and other masterpieces, Vermeer spent his entire life in poverty. His career was so meager that when his paintings were sold posthumously, they were signed with the names of other artists to make them more valuable.

It wasn't until years later that the art world came to realize that this low-profile Dutch painter of the 17th-century was in fact the creator of his own paintings. Just 40 Vermeer masterpieces are known to exist today. He is recognized as a great master of the Dutch Golden Age, but he lived and died in obscurity and poverty.

Pamela Colman Smith

There are perhaps no female artists born in the 19th century whose work is better known than Pamela Colman Smith. Even today, while her work may be instantly recognizable, her name is not. Smith was the artist behind the world's most iconic tarot card deck, The Rider-Waite Tarot. (Today, it is often referred to as the "Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot" to better credit the artist).

The High Priestess Tarot Card by Pamela Colman Smith

Despite over 100 million copies of the tarot deck being sold throughout the world, Pamela Colman Smith achieved little credit for her artwork during her life and died in poverty and obscurity. Her occult-inspired works were sold-off posthumously to pay her debts, and her original pen-and-ink Tarot illustrations were lost forever.

Today her iconic Tarot artwork graces many popular tarot websites, and influences countless modern tarot decks. Pamela Colman Smith's surviving artworks are currently on display in a special exhibition at New York's Whitney Museum, where she is finally achieving personal recognition for her already famous work.

Egon Schiele

Student of the great Gustav Klimt, Viennese artist Egon Schiele achieved only momentary success during his career. His sexualized figurative sketches were considered risqué for his time, so much so that they led to a brief imprisonment in 1911.

After spending his entire life struggling in poverty, Schiele's success finally seemed imminent after participating in a large exhibition in Vienna in 1917. However, Schiele died shortly after his exhibition during the great Spanish Flu. He was just 28.

Schiele produced an impressive catalog of work before his death. He died poor, quite possibly on the brink of success, living in a small apartment with his wife Edith. Edith died of the flu just days before him, and Egon spent his last 3 days making sketches of his beloved wife's body before passing himself.

Vincent Van Gogh

Few 19th-century artists hold as lofty a position as Vincent Van Gogh in the pantheon of artistic genius. For all of his brilliance, Van Gogh achieved scant recognition during his life — eventually dying in obscurity and poverty. It wasn't until after his suicide in 1890 that his work began to receive public attention.

Distressed by his own lack of recognition, Van Gogh once stated, "I can't change the fact that my paintings don't sell. But the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints I used ."

As it turns out, he was right. Today, he is regarded as one of the great masters of the post-impressionist era. He was only 37 when he died.

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5 Famous Artists Who Died In Poverty

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