“In my view, originality and success are strangers to one another; but I also hold that originality, despite appearances, will end by making itself felt, and that easy success is soon forgotten. People today have heard of Sarah Bernhardt only because there is a theatre named after her: my father thought she acted like a goat. Who in these days remembers Luc Olivier Merson, a painter who in his time was showered with honours? One of the reasons for believing in immortality is that Vincent Van Gogh did not sell a single canvas during his lifetime. Public recognition and the rating of an artist at his true level often takes time.”
Jean Renoir from the book My Life and My Films 1974 (translated by Norman Denny)
This was a good memoir. I enjoyed reading it. His father was the painter Pierre Auguste Renoir.
This is an interesting thought. I’ve often thought that the most interesting, the most vital artists are the one’s that are obscure and hidden. Finding them (and their work) is like finding treasure. I’m always searching, always on the hunt. Sometimes, something great’s right nearby.
Was Sarah Bernhardt truly deserving of Renoir’s disdain?
Van Gogh really did sell one painting at least. It was called “The Red Vineyard.” I can’t remember the story. Did a woman buy it? I think so. He probably sold or traded a few drawings (and maybe some paintings) for food, drink, lodgings and maybe even some money. Yet only this one sale is verified.
I knew a Detroit painter named Edgar Yaeger. I’ll write more on him eventually. He told me stories of a bicycle trip he took around Europe in the 1920’s. He met people who actually remembered Van Gogh!
They told him things like “Ah that Vincent! He’d try to give his artwork away but we turned him down. Now we wish we’d accepted some of it.”
Then there’s the stories of people using Van Gogh’s art for walls on their chicken coops (and the like). He’s definitely a classic case of a great artist not being understood or appreciate in their lifetime.
Too many of us spend our whole lives working hard and hiding in plain sight.
Edgar Yaeger’s work:
Another quote from the Renoir book:
“Only when the artist has mastered the elements of his problem can he bring himself into it.”