Revealing Facts About 5 Celebrated Painters

  • Artist Georgia O’Keeffe
Artist Georgia O'Keeffe
Tony Vaccaro/ Archive Photos via Getty Images

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.

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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” vanished from 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.

Photo credit: Heritage Images/ Hulton Fine Art Collection via Getty Images

Vincent Van Gogh Sold Only One Known Painting During His Life

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. 

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