An oft-repeated (though false) account states that Moby Dick author Herman Melville was so underappreciated during his lifetime, the New York Times referred to him as “Henry Melville” in his obituary. While this story is untrue, there can be no doubt that many artists don’t receive their due until after they’ve shed this mortal coil. Here’s a look at some of these latter-sung heroes.
Vincent van Gogh
It’s true: The genius behind The Starry Night and Café Terrace at Night, as well as a legion of other influential works, sold only one painting during his lifetime. (Trivia buffs, take note: It was Red Vineyard at Arles.) His style didn’t fit with the Impressionists of the age, with critics denouncing it as too moody and dark.
The post-Impressionist painter would later be a significant influence on fellow avant-garde artists, Matisse and Picasso among them, but he didn’t receive many kudos while he was still living. His experimental works were just a little too ahead of their time.
It seems that leaders always bear the brunt of the battle, even in the relatively genteel world of paint and canvas. Monet was a founding father of the Impressionist movement, and as such was seen as something of a renegade for his use of light colors and proclivity for landscape scenes.
Even if the name is unfamiliar, even amateurs are likely to recognize Seurat’s most iconic oil painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. He relied heavily on color to achieve the mood he wanted for his work, something that wasn’t widely appreciated at the time. Nor was his signature technique, Pointillism, which uses many tiny brush dots to create a bigger image. Both conceits have gone on to become art class staples.
Julia Margaret Cameron
This British photographer had a reputation for getting up close and personal with her subjects, creating intimate portraits that were perhaps a shade too revealing for the critics of her day. She passed away in 1879, but her work didn’t become widely seen or appreciated until 1948–nearly three-quarters of a century later.