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How many paintings did Vincent Van Gogh actually sell?

Revealing facts about some celebrated painters

Artists such as Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe may be household names, but far more is known about the paintings they created than who they were as individuals. While the lives of these masters are undoubtedly intertwined with their most recognized brushstrokes, their interesting and complicated legacies extend well beyond the canvas. Here are five fascinating facts about some of the biggest names in the art world.

Pablo Picasso was accused of stealing the Mona Lisa

Picasso is well known for his surrealist artworks, but the legendary Spanish painter also had a real surreal experience of his own in 1911. That year, on August 21, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece the “Mona Lisa” vanishedfrom Paris’ Louvre Museum, and Picasso was deemed a suspect. Though there was no direct evidence linking Picasso to the brazen heist, the accusations stemmed from the artist’s relationship with a known art thief named Honore-Joseph Géry Pieret.

Pieret was the former secretary of Picasso’s Paris housemate, Guillaume Apollinaire. In fact, four years before the “Mona Lisa” was stolen, Pieret nabbed two Iberian sculptures from the Louvre and sold them to Picasso; the artist even used one of the statues as the inspiration for a face in his 1907 painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Upon learning that Pieret was a person of interest in the theft of the “Mona Lisa,” Picasso and Apollinaire planned to throw the stolen art that was in their possession into the river Seine, though ultimately they could not bring themselves to do so. Instead, Picasso was brought before a magistrate and lied, claiming he had never met Apollinaire. In the end, the case was thrown out and Picasso and Apollinaire were cleared two years later, when a handyman named Vincenzo Peruggia was caught attempting to sell the “Mona Lisa” to a Florentine art dealer.

Vincent Van Gogh sold just one known painting in his lifetime

Though he’s now considered one of history’s most talented artists, the painter behind such masterpieces as “The Starry Night” and “Sunflowers” was far from a success during his lifetime. Van Gogh took up painting around age 27 and met his untimely demise just a decade later, and in the years between he sold only one painting that there is any record of, “The Red Vineyard.” The piece, a dramatic Provençal landscape with vibrant red, orange, and yellow colors, was sold for 400 Belgian francs (approximately $2,000 today) in the winter of 1890 at an exhibition in Brussels, just six months before the artist’s death.

While “The Red Vineyard” is Van Gogh’s only officially recorded sale, historians theorize that he possibly bartered other paintings, especially at an early age in exchange for art supplies. Van Gogh biographer Marc Edo Tralbaut has also suggested that the artist may have sold a self-portrait to London art dealers in 1888, though his theory has not been proved. 

Georgia O’Keefe painted from the back seat of a Model-A Ford

Modernist artist Georgia O’Keeffe sought to be closely connected with the scenic New Mexican landscape that was the subject of many of her works. Part of maintaining that connection meant painting outdoors, though the area was known for its unrelenting heat and plentiful bee swarms. Undeterred, O’Keeffe came up with an idea that would protect her from the elements while she painted. During her first visit to New Mexico, she had purchased a custom Model-A Ford to explore the land with. It had detachable front seats, and she would remove the passenger seat and spin the driver’s seat around to face the back. This allowed her to set up a canvas on the back seat while sitting comfortably and using the car as protection from the sun and insects.

O’Keeffe was said to be a fearless driver by her friends, and she took her vehicle throughout the state and set up her mobile art studio wherever she found inspiration. She found opportunities to connect with nature outside of the car as well, often hiking and camping in the desert terrain and bundling up during the colder months so she could continue to paint. O’Keeffe was also known to paint from inside her bedroom window overlooking the Chama River Valley, maintaining that unbreakable connection with nature. The artist’s efforts to experience the world around her paid off, as she produced some 2,000 paintings, many of which centered around local flowers and majestic southwestern landscapes.

Salvador Dali’s iconic mustache remains intact decades after his death

Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí was the epitome of eccentricity. His avant-garde paintings redefined the art world, and his unconventional stunts — such as keeping an ocelot as a pet — only grew his legend. Though Dalí died in 1989 at the age of 84, his most striking physical feature, his mustache, is reportedly still intact.

Few individuals wore as recognizable a mustache as Dalí. And according to Narcís Bardalet, the embalmer who tended to Dalí’s body after his death, the iconic facial hair was still in place when Bardalet exhumed the bodyin 2017 to collect DNA for a paternity claim. The facial hair was perfectly situated “[like clock hands at] 10 past 10, just as he liked it,” Bardalet observed. While still alive, Dalí was known to be proud of his distinctive handlebar mustache; he once claimed that he and French novelist Marcel Proust used the “same kind of pomade” for their curls. The mustache was even the subject of a book, 1954’s Dali’s Mustache: A Photographic Interview, which the artist himself co-authored with photographer Philippe Halsman. The book features their interview alongside 28 images of Dalí’s unique and seemingly immortal facial hair.

Frida Kahlo took up painting after a tragic bus accident

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was on her way to becoming not a painter but a doctor when tragedy struck on September 17, 1925. During a bus ride, Kahlo was crushed in a terrifying and near-fatal accident that left her confined to a bed for many months after. No longer able to pursue her medical dreams, Kahlo turned to painting to cope with the loneliness of her recovery, discovering a new passion that saw her become one of the most celebrated painters in history.

Kahlo’s accident and recovery not only forced her to shift career trajectories, but also left her with deep and complex emotions that she conveyed through her art. It was a rarity at the time for female artists to be so open and expressive about their inner worlds, but Kahlo’s works defied those barriers. The trauma that she endured in the wake of the accident came through in paintings such as 1929’s “The Bus,” which captures a seemingly innocuous moment just before the fateful accident. In 1944, she painted the macabre piece “The Broken Column,” showing a leatherback brace that she wore for many years even after her initial recovery. Throughout the rest of her career, Kahlo never shied away from expressing her true self in her paintings, no matter how honest and dark the subject matter.

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