Marco Polo's name is still synonymous with the wanderlust inside us all. He fired up our imagination. Many dispute he never got to China but does that really matter?
June 26, 2012
Vincent Van Gogh had already failed at being an art dealer. And when he failed to follow in his father's ministerial footsteps at 27, he began to study art.
He poured himself obsessively into this newly found talent and completed thousands of sketches and oil paintings before he died just ten years later.
“How rich art is;” he said in a letter to his brother Theo, the central figure in his life. “If one can only remember what one has seen, one is never without food for thought or truly lonely, never alone.”
Perhaps he forgot what he had seen, or maybe those conflicting emotions were just too much for him. Because a self-inflicted gun shot wound put him out of his misery, some 140 years ago to this day.
Most of his best-known works were produced in the final two years of his life, when he cut off his left ear following a breakdown of his friendship with Paul Gauguin.
He painted Starry Night strictly from memory, in a 2 X 2 room, when he was committed to the asylum in that tumultuous final year. He didn’t like the painting much, telling Theo, “I think there's nothing at all good about it save the field of wheat, the mountain, the orchard, the olives with the blue hills and the portrait and the entrance to the Quarry, and the rest says nothing to me, because it lacks individual intention and feeling in the lines."
His own favorite was the Potato Eaters, widely regarded today as his first masterpiece.
It may be trite to say his art will live on forever, but it’s also true.
It’s unfortunate some of that living couldn’t happen in his lifetime, where it might have done him some good.
Amazingly, during his short and turbulent life, he sold only one painting for 400 francs, just four months before his death, entitled The Red Vineyard.
Madame Ginoux recently sold for over $40 million in auction.
In Theo's letter to their sister Jo, he was prescient as usual about his brother.
“That head of his has been occupied with contemporary society's insoluble problems for so long, and he is still battling on with his good-heartedness and boundless energy. His efforts have not been in vain, but he will probably not live to see them come to fruition, for by the time people understand what he is saying in his paintings, it will be too late.”
Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin were either not known or ridiculed by the critics, while they quietly changed the course of art history.
And what of the art scene today?
Great artists make us see things differently; like Van Gogh, they touch us in a deep emotional place.
Each generation has a few. Who do you think are the artists that are not getting the recognition they deserve? And why?