If you knew you could buy a Van Gogh painting for $2,000 today, how fast would you snatch that up? In 1800, one of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings titled The Red Vineyard (1888) was sold for a humble 400 francs, which is roughly $2,000 today. Since then, there have been numerous debates and speculations about the exact number of paintings the Dutch artist sold while he was still alive. Considering the value of Van Gogh’s artworks today, one can only wish to have secured an artwork by Van Gogh in the flesh, and for a decent price back in the day. In this article, we will address the burning question of the artist’s career: what painting did Van Gogh sell, and how many paintings did Van Gogh sell in his lifetime? We will also provide you with all the necessary information you need to form your own conclusions. Read on to reveal the answer!
Table of Contents
- 1 How Many Paintings Did Van Gogh Sell in His Lifetime?
- 2 The Sale of the Red Vineyard at Arles (c. 1888)
- 3 Van Gogh’s Letters and Posthumous Sales
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Paintings Did Van Gogh Sell in His Lifetime?
As we ease into 2024, one can expect to see many new museum shows about the world’s most loved Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh. While not much is known about his earlier sales in the art world while the artist was still alive, his legacy as a talented painter who died an early death yet produced some of the most beautiful artworks to date remains pungent. Many have often wondered; how many paintings did Van Gogh sell, and what painting did Van Gogh sell first which was also widely recognized?
Self Portrait (1889) by Vincent van Gogh; Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Van Gogh Museum website indicates that Van Gogh would have sold a few paintings in his lifetime before he passed in 1890. After all, his brother was a renowned art dealer whose network was quite large and influential, and surely, Van Gogh possessed at least a small group of followers back in the 19th century.
In short, the myth that Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime has been up for debate and disproved significantly over the last few decades due to the sheer number of artworks he created, which must have been inspired by a desire to keep painting. The Van Gogh Museum website also states that his uncle, an art dealer named Cor, was the first to commission a painting from him to help jumpstart his passion, followed by a sale made to Julien Tanguy, an avid promoter of Impressionist and post-Impressionist work. The facts remain, Vincent van Gogh created around 2,100 artworks within more than a decade. Surely then, one can expect that the artist must have sold more than 20 paintings during his lifetime.
Below, we will trace all the details surrounding the sale of a few of his early paintings, created in the last decade of his life.
Still Life with Cabbage and Clogs (1881)
|Oil on paper on panel
|34 x 55
|Where It Is Housed
|Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Since there is no clear trajectory for determining what the earliest painting was that Van Gogh sold, it is known that he often bartered and exchanged his paintings for other goods like paint supplies or food, which was a common practice for most novice artists at the time. The chief curator of the Van Gogh Museum, Louis van Tilborgh, pointed out that Van Gogh himself stated that he sold a painting to someone, however, the painting was not identified. The unknown self-portrait directs us to acknowledge that Van Gogh was more than capable of selling his own work.
Still Life with Cabbage and Clogs (1881) by Vincent van Gogh; Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Still-Life with Cabbage and Clogs is an 1881 still-life painting created by Van Gogh and mentioned in his correspondence to his brother Theo. At the time, Van Gogh was studying under his cousin Anton Mauve, who was also a famous artist. Van Gogh was permitted to paint in his studio, working in oil, which was a rare chance for a student at the time. The work was a color study that demonstrated Van Gogh’s eye for emphasizing different textures and colors, from the potatoes to the textile. Although the work was not sold by Van Gogh himself to any client, it was left in the care of his mother A.C. van Gogh-Carbentus between 1885 and 1886, who passed it on to Janus Schrauwen in 1888. Schrauwen then sold the Van Gogh painting to Jan C. Couvreur by 1902 and after a few other exchanges, it found its home at the Van Gogh Museum in 1994.
Bridge and Houses on the Corner of Herengracht-Prinsessegracht; The Hague (c. 1882)
|Pencil, pen, ink, and watercolor on paper
|24 x 33.9
|Where It Is Housed
|Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Still-Life with Cabbage and Clogs was not a painting that demonstrated the signature Van Gogh style we recognize and love today since Van Gogh was very much still a student and had much to experience at the time. In 1882, he was commissioned by his uncle and art dealer, Cor van Gogh, to create 19 cityscape paintings of the Hague to kickstart his career. This was his first paid gig since his formal career began two years earlier. The painting acts as a portrait of the city, showcasing the bridge on the corner of Prinsessegracht and Herengracht. Van Gogh’s uncle was happy with his work and commissioned another set of paintings for Van Gogh to depict Amsterdam.
The sale is believed to have occurred in 1882.
Bridge and Houses on the Corner of Herengracht-Prinsessegracht; The Hague (c. 1882) by Vincent van Gogh; Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Portrait of Père Tanguy (c. 1886 – 1887)
|c. 1886 – 1887
|Oil on canvas
|47 x 38.5
|Where It Is Housed
|Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark
Another early portrait painting that Van Gogh sold was his first portrait of the art dealer and paint grinder Julien François Tanguy, created around 1886. Tanguy was among the first to showcase Van Gogh’s paintings for sale, thus offering the artist some exposure, sometimes in exchange for paintings. Van Gogh created a total of three portraits of the art dealer during his lifetime with the first executed between 1886 and 1887, as seen above. These portraits are considered significant in tracing the artistic style of Van Gogh following his arrival in Paris. This first portrait was executed with more dull and muted colors arranged on a simple composition. At the time, Van Gogh chose to leave the Netherlands and moved to Paris, where he was exposed to the influences of Japanese block prints and Impressionism, which can be seen in his third portrait of Tanguy.
Van Gogh lived with Theo in Paris, who was also an emerging art dealer.
Portrait of Père Tanguy (c. 1886 – 1887) by Vincent van Gogh; Vincent van Gogh, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Portrait of Père Tanguy (1887)
|Oil on canvas
|92 x 75
|Where It Is Housed
|Musée Rodin, Paris, France
In 1887, Vincent van Gogh started to explore more vivid contrasts and complementary color combinations. Portrait of Père Tanguy is the third portrait of the art dealer that was created in 1887 and was sold by the art dealer’s daughter to the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin. While Van Gogh did not receive direct funds nor is there any trace that he was paid by Tanguy, the painting soon shifted from Rodin’s collection to the Musée Rodin’s permanent collection. The unconventional payment method for Van Gogh involved bartering his paintings for paints and Van Gogh likely created the portrait to pay off his debts.
The Japanese influences are evident in this portrait and are said to represent the artist’s quest for serenity, as mentioned in one of his letters from this period.
He depicted Tanguy with a calm demeanor, such that his face expressed more contemplation than austerity. The work was also described by Symbolist art historian Naomi Maurer as possessing an “iconic tranquility of Buddha”. Here, one can also see Van Gogh’s colorful style emerge through the Neo-Impressionist brushwork and complementary colors. Van Gogh transformed Tanguy into a Japanese sage, set against a backdrop of Japanese prints owned by Theo. Auguste Rodin was also a supporter of Van Gogh while he was alive, and viewed him as a “demolisher of academic formulae”.
Portrait of Père Tanguy (1887) by Vincent van Gogh; Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Sale of the Red Vineyard at Arles (c. 1888)
|Oil on canvas
|75 x 93
|Where It Is Housed
|Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia
In 1889, the Dutch artist sent six of his paintings for exhibition in a group show called the Vingtiste in Brussels, which included Red Vineyard at Arles. This painting was originally thought to be the only painting sold by Van Gogh during his lifetime but this has since been disproved. The painting was purchased by a Belgian art collector named Anna Boch in early 1890 for around 400 francs. At the time, Van Gogh’s style was subject to heavy criticism, along with his character, which crippled his mental health. It is believed that Boch bought the work to show her support for Van Gogh despite his lack of popularity. Her brother, Eugène Boch, was also acquainted with Van Gogh so it is likely that she purchased it to help Van Gogh out financially.
Van Gogh also produced a portrait of his friend Eugène in 1888 titled The Poet, which is currently housed at the Musée d’Orsay.
This also happens to be the famous painting spotted in Van Gogh’s bedroom at the Yellow House and in the first painting of The Bedroom, housed at the Van Gogh Museum. While Red Vineyard at Arles is one artwork owned by Anna Boch, it is believed that she owned another unknown painting by Van Gogh, and her brother owned at least several. In 1906, Red Vineyard at Arles was sold by Anna Boch for 10,000 francs and resold in the same year to a Russian businessman, who passed it onto the Pushkin Museum in 1948. Today, this famous painting is identified as the only painting that Van Gogh sold in his lifetime, however, there are theories that challenge this “lore”, as we have discussed so far.
Red Vineyard at Arles (c. 1888) by Vincent van Gogh; Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Van Gogh’s Letters and Posthumous Sales
If not for the letters that Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, then there would not be much support or evidence for disputing the idea that only one painting was sold by Van Gogh during his lifetime. Most of his relatives who bought his work also knew to do so for investment’s sake. It was a given that after his death, his work would become acknowledged and gain popularity among art dealers and those who appreciated the post-Impressionist style.
Theo himself was also aware of his brother’s talents and supported Van Gogh throughout his struggles, paying him to produce paintings that he collected since he must have had an idea of the potential value of his brother’s work.
Orchard with Cypresses (1888) by Vincent van Gogh; Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Additionally, Theo’s wife Jo van Gogh-Bonger also contributed to Van Gogh’s posthumous recognition by selling his work and lending as many paintings as possible to various shows. In 1890, Van Gogh passed away, followed by Theo, who died six months later after succumbing to syphilis. Theo’s son Vincent Willem van Gogh managed the collection of paintings after his mother’s death and established the Van Gogh Museum in his uncle’s name. Since then, the works of Vincent van Gogh have climbed in value and steeped well into the millions, with work such as Paysanne devant une chaumière (1885) selling for up to $16.9 million and Orchard with Cypresses (1888), which sold for $117.2 million in 2022.
Vincent van Gogh did not sell only one painting during his lifetime as indicated by his correspondence and the Van Gogh Museum. With support from his brother, sister-in-law, uncle, and engagements with art dealers, Van Gogh would have certainly sold more than 20 paintings before he died in 1890.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Paintings Did Van Gogh Sell?
While sources claim that Vincent van Gogh only sold one painting during his time alive, there have been many leading and supporting theories that indicate that the artist sold more than one painting. His commissioned paintings from his uncle indicate that he sold more than 19 artworks, including many other paintings that he created before his death.
What Painting Did Van Gogh Sell?
The Red Vineyards near Arles (1888) is widely regarded as the first painting Van Gogh sold before his death in 1890. While many paintings created previously by the Dutch artist had been commissioned and sold among his relatives and friends, The Red Vineyards near Arles is publicly identified as his only painting sold during his lifetime. This theory remains a subject of debate considering the commissions from Van Gogh’s uncle and bartered artwork between figures like Julien François Tanguy and Wilhelmus Johannes Leurs.
Who Owns the Red Vineyard Painting by Van Gogh?
Ivan Morozov, a prominent businessman, is said to own the Red Vineyard painting by Vincent van Gogh. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, Morozov’s collection was nationalized, causing the painting to fall into the collections of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, Russia, where it currently remains.
Jordan Anthony is a film photographer, curator, and arts writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. Anthony schooled in Durban and graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, with a Bachelor of Art in Fine Arts. During her studies, she explored additional electives in archaeology and psychology, while focusing on themes such as healing, identity, dreams, and intuitive creation in her Contemporary art practice. She has since worked and collaborated with various professionals in the local art industry, including the KZNSA Gallery in Durban (with Strauss & Co.), Turbine Art Fair (via overheard in the gallery), and the Wits Art Museum.
Anthony’s interests include subjects and themes related to philosophy, memory, and esotericism. Her personal photography archive traces her exploration of film through abstract manipulations of color, portraiture, candid photography, and urban landscapes. Her favorite art movements include Surrealism and Fluxus, as well as art produced by ancient civilizations. Anthony’s earliest encounters with art began in childhood with a book on Salvador Dalí and imagery from old recipe books, medical books, and religious literature. She also enjoys the allure of found objects, brown noise, and constellations.
Cite this Article
Jordan, Anthony, “How Many Paintings Did Van Gogh Sell? – A Struggling Artist.” Art in Context. February 13, 2024. URL: https://artincontext.org/how-many-paintings-did-van-gogh-sell/
Anthony, J. (2024, 13 February). How Many Paintings Did Van Gogh Sell? – A Struggling Artist. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/how-many-paintings-did-van-gogh-sell/