Giving Your Right Brain a Regular Workout

6 Famous Artists Who Died Poor and Alone

Life doesn’t always go according to plan, and the following artists have demonstrated this harsh truth by dying alone and completely destitute. While we all may joke about being “single, broke, and unemployed” I think we all don’t want to end life this way.  All of the artists below contributed great feats of creativity since meeting their unfortunate ends, and posthumously went on to be remembered as spectacular artists in their fields. There’s some information out there about artists who were discovered after their death, but not too much has been looked into regarding artists who were both financially and emotionally skint when they met their maker. We’ve found six different stories, some more harrowing than others, to put together an interesting look at artists who died poor and alone. May the rest of our lives be filled with rich relationships and six-figure artwork sales.


Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele via Wiki Commons

Prolific artist Egon Schiele succumbed to the Spanish Influenza that took 20,000,000 lives in Europe in 1918. Schiele’s wife Edith (who was six months pregnant at the time) died three days before him in their tiny apartment in Vienna. They were broke and hungry, and Schiele spent as much time as he could drawing. He was only 28 years old and spent his last moments alone drawing his wife’s body before his own untimely death.

Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin via Wikimedia Commons

French painter Paul Gauguin made the rookie error during the expansion of European colonial outposts by having enough money to get to Tahiti, but not enough money to pay for a boat ride home. Don’t feel too bad for the old guy, he had a reputation as a class-A sleaze ball and exploited a lot of women in his paintings. But we kinda do feel bad because his death was so grizzly: he had a nasty case of syphilis and died alone from an overdose of morphine just before he was meant to begin a prison sentence in 1903 at age 54. Grim.

El Greco

Portrait of a man presumed to be el greco via WikiCommons

Master of the Spanish Renaissance who studied under Titian, El Greco was known for his contorted figures in his paintings. What he wasn’t known for was being a huge ladies man, or family man, as he followed various studios and painting masters across Europe. It wasn’t until 250 years after he died that the rest of the art world noticed his paintings. He was a big careerist and was described in letters in 1563 as a “maestro Domenigo” a “master” when he was just 22 years old. He died unrecognised and alone in Toledo, Spain on the 7th of April 1614.

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift by Charles Jervas via WikiCommons

Looking back, writer Jonathan Swift probably shouldn’t have died alone. He was charming, quick-witted and had a helluva nice Irish accent (if you’re into that). And lord knows he tried. After proposing to a woman named Jane Waring, he dropped an ultimatum pretty early on claiming that if she didn’t say yes, he would flee the country. After she rejected him, he did. He went on to write a classic piece of genius about eating babies, immortalizing him as a classy satire writer. But you, know… you win some you lose some?

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde via WikiCommons

His famous last words really set the tone for Oscar Wilde’s end, “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.” He passed away in a hotel room in Paris completely bankrupt from paying legal fees for his arrest and imprisonment for the crime of homosexuality. If that wasn’t bleak and cruel enough, it was during this period that his works were becoming extremely popular. Unnnfairrrrrrr.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson via WikiCommons

Emily Dickinson wrote about love so eloquently, “morning without you is a dwindled dawn” which is the nicest thing we’ve read all day. She was hugely prolific as she wrote and published over eighteen hundred poems while she was alive so she really didn’t have time for any awkward dating situations. Nobody, especially Emily Dickinson had time for that. Sadly, many of her close family and friends died before her, and she struggled coming to terms with their deaths. She died a recluse, some debating if she suffered from Agoraphobia and Epilepsy.

Do you know about how other artists lived out the last days of their life? How have did your favorite artists enjoy (or not) their latter years? We’d love to keep the discussion going in the comments below. 

[Cover image: “Hidden Thoughts” by strych9ine]

See more Art News