Da Vinci, Van Gogh, and Picasso : Some Interesting Facts

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Lesser Known Facts About the World’s Greatest Artists.

When you think of art, many people think “Mona Lisa,” “Sistine Chapel,” “The Scream,” and other famous examples of artwork, but sometimes an artist’s life can be just as interesting as their paintings.

Did you know, for example, that Michelangelo absolutely hated painting? He claimed that painting was a waste of time compared with sculpture, and had to be harassed by Pope Julius II to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which became one of the world’s most famous paintings. Not a bad “waste of time.” Want to learn more interesting facts? Read on…

Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso, one of the fathers of Cubism actually has a slightly longer name. Twenty-three words long, to be precise! When he was born, the midwife believed him to be stillborn, and left him to tend to his mother. Fortunately, Picasso’s uncle blew cigar smoke into his face, causing him to scream and take his first breaths.

Picasso’s father was an artist, who taught him to paint throughout his childhood. Thanks to his father’s artistic influence, Pablo Picasso’s first word was “pencil,” but in Spanish, obviously. By the time Picasso had turned 13, his father had become so impressed by his artistic skill that he vowed to never paint again, as his son had surpassed him.

Pablo Picasso died on 8 April 1973, whilst hosting a dinner party, with the last words “Drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink anymore”.

Leonardo Da Vinci
Perhaps the most famous artist to have picked up a paintbrush, Leonardo Da Vinci’s talents were not limited to painting. He was an incredible scientist, mathematician, engineer, and much, much more. Da Vinci can be credited with some kind of involvement in a number of inventions, such as the parachute, canals, musical instruments, cannons, tanks, even the helicopter!

Da Vinci’s most famous work, however, is the world’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. As an absolute perfectionist, it took Da Vinci around 15 years to complete the painting, spending 10 years on the mouth alone! In fact, Da Vinci’s perfectionism was so serious that it was rare for him to complete a piece of work, often destroying them before they were finished, rather than produce something that wasn’t impeccable.

Da Vinci’s combination of perfectionism and hunger for knowledge would often lead him to enter graveyards at night, and steal corpses to get the most accurate model with which he could study, the human body. Strangely, for the period in which he lived, Leonardo Da Vinci was vegetarian, and refused to eat meat out of respect for animals. For the same reason, he would regularly purchase caged birds and release them.

Vincent Van Gogh
Unlike Da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh completed his paintings very quickly, producing the majority of his most celebrated work in the last three years of his life, and creating over 900 paintings in the space of 10 years. In 1886, Van Gogh left the Netherlands to join his brother, Theo, in Paris. Whilst there, he met Monet, Pissarro, and Gauguin, all of whom began to influence his artwork.

In 1888 Van Gogh decided to leave Paris, and set up an Art school in Arles. He invited his friends to join him, and of the three, Gauguin obliged. However, Gauguin shortly decided to leave, and was chased down by Van Gogh with a razor. The resulting argument led to Van Gogh using the razor to cut his own ear. Despite what many believe, he didn’t actually cut off his whole ear, just a portion of the ear lobe.

Van Gogh suffered from a multitude of mental disorders, and shortly after cutting his ear, he was treated in an asylum. He left the asylum in the summer of 1890, and shot himself two months after leaving. He died two days later, aged 37, having sold just one painting in his life. Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, died 6 months later and was buried alongside him. Theo’s widow found Van Gogh’s paintings, which had received no appreciation during his life, and dedicated her life to making sure his artwork gained recognition.

This post was generously provided by Kieran Conway.

Kieran Conway avatarKieran Conway is a UK based blogger, and although he is not a professional artist, himself, he loves writing about it. He is currently working for South Bank Art, which is a London based store, an online retailer, providing art supplies including Pro Arte watercolor brushes and artists ink. He also writes about Jazz Music. Budding jazz alto saxophone players should come to Peterborough Music.
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Leave a Comment

  • David January 26, 2012, 6:20 am

    Wow, some really interesting stuff. I like how you’ve steered clear of the obvious stuff and chosen some lesser known information. Thanks for the great read.

    • Deborah E January 29, 2012, 10:54 am

      Thanks, David. Yes, Kieran Conway did a nice job on this guest article!

  • Mark February 7, 2012, 10:06 pm

    I’ve heard that some of the artists ingested their paints, either deliberately or accidentally, and that caused some of their mental health problems. Heavy metals like lead were fairly common ingredients and did nasty things to their minds.

    • Deborah E February 8, 2012, 10:15 pm

      Oh, I do remember hearing that. I wonder, did they do that because they knew it would cause them to be “creative” (even if due to mental illness)? Thanks, Mark!

  • Davinci June 12, 2012, 8:02 am

    The place of Leonardo in history as an artist and even as a scientist is well known. Many of his inventions, such as the helicopter, were only on paper, however. His actual achievements and contributions to the technology of his time are less well known and somewhat problematical. On the one hand, it is said that none of his ideas were practical, while on the other, it is said that his improvements in canal locks have been imitated ever since.

    • Deborah E June 24, 2012, 11:39 pm

      That is some really interesting information. I wonder if it depends on who is being consulted, whether they are pro-Davinci or anti-Davinci, or somewhere in between. I think we can agree that he was a talented individual. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  • Midwife Las Vegas July 2, 2012, 3:11 am

    Well .. I wasn’t aware about the facts written over here. “Michelangelo absolutely hated painting” I don’t agree with that fact because if he hated, how could he made such marvels?

    Also, if depends on the source on information from where, the article is taken.


    • Deborah E July 2, 2012, 7:40 pm

      We would need to check with the author, but from what I have personally read, and I am admittedly no expert on Michelangelo(!), he expressed some disdain for painting and desired to sculpt, instead. Presumably, this was written in his journal(s). But, then, I am not an authority and we would need to check with the author of this post, to ask what sources were used. I did find a pop culture web site referencing the same statement and it may be a source such as this that was used for this post.