How Did Van Gogh Become Famous?

I was fortunate to visit the remarkable, thought-provoking Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

I came away with my mind spinning with all sorts of thoughts/inspiration/ideas. However, the particularly burning question that consumed me was how Van Gogh-who barely sold a painting in his lifetime-without current influence of social media became so famous in the years following his untimely death.

Curiosity overtook. I conducted intensive research (simply Googling “How did Van Gogh become famous?”) and, to my surprise, I discovered two sites that begin to answer the question:

1. The Woman Who Brought Van Gogh to the World

2. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger

Barely a year after Vincent’s death, his own brother and steadfast supporter Theo died. Theo’s wife Joanna was left a widow with a baby, an art gallery – and an entire catalogue of her brother-in-law’s paintings. Relying on her late husband’s advice to keep the collection together, as well as the experience and support of trusted friends and experts in business, she set out to create a buzz….

Johanna’s strategies were so successful over time they became what we would now refer to as viral.

Always curious about the road people travel towards their successes, I would love to know exactly how YOU created a buzz for your products and services? Share with readers your experiences, viewpoints, and suggestions in the comment section below.

Creatively Yours,


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Marci Segal, founder of World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15-21 featured in chapter 5, speaking at "Making Opportunity Knocking" launch.

Marci Segal, founder of World Creativity and Innovation Week April 15-21 featured in chapter 5, speaking at “Making Opportunity Knocking” launch.

“Making Opportunity Knock” provides excellent material for in-depth group discussion and debate as well as personal insights and self-discovery. For details, visit




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6 thoughts on “How Did Van Gogh Become Famous?

  1. Very cool, Nellie! I’m sorry I missed that exhibit, but didn’t have a chance to make it to the National Gallery on my recent trip to Ottawa. Did manage to have a quick journey thru the Voodoo exhibit at the Museum of Civilization, and that, too, was equally compelling. Ottawa has so many rich cultural offerings to take in.

    Were you at the TWUC conference? I can’t believe I missed the opportunity to meet and speak with you.

    • Hi Doreen,

      You are one of the best examples of an artist (in this case, author) who does exceptionally well at self-promoting and marketing. I know of others who hire people to write and update their sites. However, I’ve seen you work hard at it and get great results such as your recent successful campaign at Indiegogo to raise monies for your upcoming book. What do you do to get your name out there, how you keep up, and what are the links to your sites?

      • Hi Nellie: Thx very much for the kudos. I do work very hard at social media, and am now running 3 personal blogs to help develop my author’s platform. My writers blog is at We have great discussion there about the writing life. My chocolate travel blog (which has been diarizing the travels and research for Chocolatour, my chocolate travel book) is at And the site where I’ve been posting information about the book, the campaign I held, and links to some media interviews is at From the 1st 2 blogs, you can link to my twitter, LI, FB author’s page, and G+ accounts. It’s been such a lot of work, but I do believe it has paid off as I have been able to build buzz abut the book and people are anxiously awaiting its publication (which will be in 3 weeks!)

  2. I’m not what I would consider a successful author *yet*, but like you, Nellie, I’m always interested in how others achieve success. And it strikes me that there seems to be a certain element that is as yet unidentified…Amanda Hocking, who sold over a million of her vampire/troll/fantasy e-books, said there were other writers out there who were way better writers than she and she wasn’t certain why she found success and they didn’t. There do seem to be certain personalities who have some sort of magic that even they don’t know about that can create sensations about someone or something, thereby generating success. The person who can bottle and sell it will become an overnight billionaire 🙂

    Interesting how unsuccessful Van Gogh was before he died. Reminds me of the author John Kennedy Toole who killed himself in his thirties because he’d been unable to sell his novel A Confederation of Dunces to a publisher. His mother persevered for him posthumously and found a publisher for it and it became a HUGE bestseller. And the moral of the story is: John Kennedy Toole was a total dumbass. 🙂 If at first you don’t succeed, etc. etc.!!!

  3. Hi Nicole,

    Some creators are way ahead of the population and times. Like you do with your books, they offer something new, something different. It can take years for others to catch up. There are so many people who just don’t “get” what is offered, or they’d rather attach themselves to the familiar. Apparently, Van Gogh was very much respected by his colleagues, but his painting style and approach to subject matter was new and foreign to potential buyers. People have to be educated, so I guess that’s what branding is about today.

    On the one hand social media levels the playing field, on the other hand the playing field is so vast it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. And, who has the right to judge the difference? As you wrote, there are artists whose work is superior and unknown while others with inferior product become widely successful.

    So, your comments raise a few questions here…

    Toole’s strength wasn’t as a marketer. What did his mom do with marketing before he died? Why couldn’t Johanna do the same while Van Gogh was alive? Who in our circles could be promoting us while we are still living? Why don’t they?

    • Hey Nellie,
      I doubt Toole’s mother did *anything* with marketing…maybe did whatever the publisher told her to do since her son wasn’t around to do it. Back then publishers actually pushed the books they published…they didn’t just throw the author out there to sink or swim. And you’re right, something different sometimes takes awhile to catch one. The moral of the story really is: Keep trying! Frank Herbert was rejected by like twenty publishers before he found success with his Dune series, and back then twenty rejections was an *amazing* amount of perseverance. Today, I can get that in a weekend’s work 🙂


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