A lot of people say that the Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh, sold only one painting in his lifetime. Is this true though?
Vincent van Gogh sold many paintings during his lifetime, although exactly how many are unknown. He sold at least twenty-one paintings for money while he was alive. And, he was also known for trading paintings for food and board. In that sense, van Gogh sold a much larger amount of paintings.
You can read more below about who van Gogh sold his paintings to, how he rose to fame, and what his paintings are worth today.
What Van Gogh Sold in His Lifetime
Van Gogh tragically committed suicide when he was only 37 years old. Many believe that he committed suicide due to mental health issues and, in part, due to living in extreme poverty.
Although he was considered to be very unsuccessful while he was alive, Van Gogh did sell more than one painting. This is contrary to the very popular myth that he sold only a single painting while he was alive.
The Van Gogh Museum highlights on their website that “Vincent’s first commission was from his uncle Cor. He was an art dealer and wanted to help his nephew on his way, so he ordered 19 cityscapes of The Hague.”
This is far from only a single painting. Not only that, but he even had more than one purchaser.
One of the other purchasers of van Gogh’s work was the London art dealer Sulley & Lori. In 1964 the art historian Marc Edo Talbaut brought to light a letter from van Gogh’s brother, Theo, that highlight’s this sale.
In Talbaut’s 1969 book titled Vincent van Gogh he writes “On October 3, 1888, Theo wrote to the London art dealers, Sulley & Lori. In this letter, he said: ‘We have the honor to inform you that we have sent you the two pictures you have bought and duly paid for: a landscape by Camille Corot … a self-portrait by V. van Gogh.’”
The most famous sale of van Gogh’s work and the one that started the “only one sale in his lifetime” myth, was the sale of the painting The Red Vineyard to Anna Boch. This rumor probably began because it was the only painting to sell in his lifetime that’s name was known.
Vincent’s Rise to Fame
As is pretty commonly known, van Gogh was not the famous painter that he is today while he was alive. So how did he become such a huge success after his death?
Well, as Wouter van der Veen and Peter Knapp highlight in their 2010 book, Van Gogh in Auvers: His Last Days, van Gogh’s rise to fame was due to his brother Theo’s widow, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger.
In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, Wouter van der Veen was asked “Why did Van Gogh and his art become her cause?” Van der Veen’s response was:
“First of all, I don’t really think she had a choice. She had all this art, and of course, Theo told her about it and it was part of her life. She had no choice but to go on with that. She had an amazing amount of art, and there were ongoing projects that Theo left behind. He wanted to organize an exhibition of Vincent’s works, and he wanted to publish the letters. He couldn’t do either of these because he died.”
Van der Veen then goes on to elaborate that Johanna had to think about her newborn son’s future and that future was in her selling these paintings. Thus, she became a very well known art dealer and was responsible for van Gogh’s fame after he passed away.
Follow the below YouTube link to learn more about Johanna van Gogh-Bonger and her influence over Vincent van Gogh’s rise to fame.
How Much A Van Gogh Painting Is Worth Today
When van Gogh sold the painting The Red Vineyard in the late 1800’s it was only for 400 francs, which is equivalent to about $2000 today. That is much lower than what a van Gogh painting is worth now.
On March 9, 2020, van Gogh’s painting Paysanne devant une chaumière (Peasant Woman in front of a Farmhouse) (1885) sold for somewhere between $13.5 million to $16.9 million USD. However, this sale does not even compare to some of the other sales of his work.
The most expensive van Gogh painting to ever sell was his piece titled Portrait of Dr. Gachet, which sold for $82.5 million on May 15, 1990. The cost of that painting today would be around $161.4 million USD.