What Was the Only Painting Sold By Van Gogh in his Lifetime?

Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh is undoubtedly one of the most famous artists. His paintings and artwork are instantly recognizable worldwide, and reproductions of his art have been sold more than any other artist in history.

Although Van Gogh’s images are wildly successful nowadays, it is well known that Van Gogh was unsuccessful when he was still alive and only sold one painting during his entire career. Unfortunately, this is an all too common tale among many famous artists.

Nobody is interested in artistic vision when they are alive, yet after they die, their genius is recognized by the masses, and they are hailed as masters. There is no better example of this than Vincent Van Gogh. The following is a study of the only painting he ever sold and some other interesting facts surrounding his career.

The Red Vineyard (The Painting)

The Red Vineyards near Arles is allegedly the first and only painting Van Gogh ever sold during his lifetime. As well as being famous for this unbelievable reason, this brilliant Vincent Van Gogh artwork is also one of the most delicate and captivating paintings he ever created.

Painted in 1888, two years before it was eventually sold, the drawing depicts a group of workers in a vineyard field, working under the warm sky of the setting sun. The painting is vintage by Van Gogh with its expressive brushstrokes and exquisite use of light and colour.

Out of all of Van Gogh’s fantastic landscape drawings, The Red Vineyard regularly appears near the top of the list whenever his greatest works are discussed. Its haunting beauty and relaxingly calm impression make it easily one of Van Gogh’s most significant pieces, and it is no surprise this was the painting he sold.

The Red Vineyard – Vincent Van Gogh

The Red Vineyard – Vincent Van Gogh

Exhibition at Les XX 1890 (The Sale)

At the yearly exhibition at Les XX in Brussels, Belgium, Vincent Van Gogh’s The Red Vineyard made its inaugural debut. Les XX was one of the most prestigious and exclusive art exhibitions at the time, as exhibits were reserved by invitation only.

Although the public didn’t acknowledge Van Gogh’s artwork, his skill as a painter was appreciated by his fellow artists. As a result, he received an invitation in November 1889, two months before the exhibition was due to start. Van Gogh chose six paintings to be exhibited, with The Red Vineyard being one of them.

He chose four landscape paintings and two of his now iconic Sunflowers portraits to be displayed. The four landscape paintings were meant to represent the four seasons, with the Red Vineyard harvest being the tribute to Autumn.

The painting was sold for 400 francs, roughly $2,000 by today’s standards. It was bought by a fellow painter and collector, Anna Boch, also a member of Les XX. The two were acquaintances, and it is said that Van Gogh even painted Boch’s portrait at one point. Whether out of friendship or admiration for the painting, this is the only publicized painting the great Van Gogh ever sold himself.

The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (The Legacy)

Not long after his death, Van Gogh’s artworks and drawings began to grow in popularity and gain some traction in mainstream art circles. It seemed that people were finally coming around to the Dutch Post-Impressionist genius and his drawing became highly sought after.

As Van Gogh had died and couldn’t produce any new artwork, his remaining collection of paintings increased in value dramatically and was considered prized pieces by any collector lucky enough to own one. As a result of this rise in popularity, many of Van Gogh’s paintings have a fascinating history.

In the case of The Red Vineyard, it is a more traditional story. It was bought from an art gallery in Paris by a Russian businessman. After the revolution in Russia, the painting was seized by the Russian government and later donated to the Pushkin State museum of fine arts in Moscow, where it remains to this day.

Rest From Work (after Millet) – Vincent Van Gogh

Rest From Work (after Millet) – Vincent Van Gogh

The Legend, The Truth, and The In-between

Despite the repeated legend that Van Gogh only ever sold one painting, the headline might be somewhat misleading. There is actually some evidence that the Dutchman may have indeed sold a couple more of his paintings, although this has never been completely proven a fact.  

However, there is the fact that Van Gogh worked as an art dealer for a period with his brother and sold many paintings, just not any of the ones that he painted. So, the myth that he only ever sold one painting is not entirely true.

There is also a case where the artist had been hired for a couple of commissions, so despite not selling any of his paintings, he was paid to paint on occasion. According to the records, Van Gogh was hired by his uncle, who wanted to help the young painter get his start in the industry.

There are also several other stories of a young Van Gogh bartering his paintings for items such as food and art supplies, which was a fairly common practice for young artists of the time. Many other tales and rumors state that Van Gogh sold several of his artworks during his lifetime. Still, perhaps these whispers are best left unheard, as the legend that Van Gogh only sold one painting dramatically adds to his legacy.

Final Thoughts 

Through Vincent Van Gogh’s artwork, the painting world was changed forever. His brilliant paintings and imaginative images completely revolutionized the industry. He may have only sold one painting during his career, but his drawings are now some of the most famous and valuable in all of the art.

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