The greatest Western painters growing out of the Renaissance traditions could not today buy their own paintings at auction. They are rare birds who produced truly unique and valuable work. Some of the greatest artists died in poverty and despair during their whirlwind life.

The eight classic artists that I listed in my last blog were widely known by the literati of their times, but they suffered a fatal flaw. They sometimes died friendless, hopelessly insane, addicted to drugs, obsessed with detail, Machiavellian in character, or hunted by the police for high crimes of passion. Here are their concluding misadventures — the defects that rocked their stability but which may also be the major reasons for their success.

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti  (1478-1564) was revered and in large measure the focal point of the Renaissance. He seemingly had it all, but was in constant turmoil and agony and was misunderstood by nearly everyone. At 88 years he had failing eyesight, loss of hearing, and felt incomplete. He died in 1564 an unparalleled genius.

El Greco (1541-1614) work became “old fashion” in his lifetime and was only rediscovered in the 19th Century. He became the “father of Modernism, but only became after his death. His work was stunning in its detail and color, but was often criticized.

Caravaggio (1571-1610) was a violent man who fought and killed and was a longtime fugitive from justice. His homoeorotic paintings and his unique use of light and darkness changed the world of art and is still a source of controversy.

Rembrandt van Rign (1606-1669) was probably the greatest artist of the 17th Century, delving in Biblical painting, philosophy, and history. He was best known for his portraits of famous people. His success may have been his downfall. He lived beyond this income and took out loans to meet his debts. He died at 63, nearly a broke and was buried with few mourners and little ceremony.

Francisco Goya (1746-1828), perhaps Spain’s greatest artist, lived in tumultuous times. His land was invaded by Bonaparte which was followed by civil war. Goya claimed to be not interested in politics, yet his paintings suggested the opposite. He was called up by the Spanish Inquisition and barely escaped execution or imprisonment. He lost favor from the provisional government of Spain. From that point on he worked exclusively for himself. His darkest contributions were 14 works (called black paintings) displaying his morbid state of mind, his strong fear of insanity, and his terror on illness. Saturn Devouring his Son was his blackest and most stunning revelation of a degenerating mind.

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) was intense but ultimately was unable to complete his vision of art. His work was rarely accepted during his day; his paintings were said by one museum director that his work would never hang in a museum.

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) painted with van Gogh for a short time and lived briefly in Polynesia. An artist, self-taught, Gauguin returned to the south pacific and Caribbean when he became famous for his luxurious and exotic island women. Manic and often uncontrolled, he became riddled with syphilis, a degenerating liver, a heart condition, rotten teeth with abcesses. Imprisoned for a short time he finally died of an overdose of morphine.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) argued furiously with Paul Gauguin who lived with van Gogh for a time. Vincent slashed a part of his earlobe in response to his fury. He committed himself to a mental hospital but continued his erratic and volatile behaviors. Later he shot himself in the stomach and died at age 37 virtually unknown to the world of art. He sold one painting for pennies during his lifetime.

What is it that drives some intelligent individuals to despair. These eight painters were prolific, sometimes having painted over 200 paintings during their career. They were extreme in their behaviors but guided by dreams that only they could deal with, and their contributions were extensive. My blog will follow the thread of their mental conditions that are often deep and dark, traits that put some artists on the edge of universal greatness and suicide. Amazingly the anguish of their lives set the stage for the production of art that people are now willing to pay millions of dollars for. Sadly, none of the eight rested in peace and few experienced financial success that lasted.


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