Nowadays when we consider the oeuvre of Vincent Van Gogh and the performance of his work at auction, it becomes immediately apparent that he is one of the world’s most in demand artists. His 1890 oil painting Portrait Of Dr. Gachet is the fourth most expensive painting ever sold, fetching $144.1 million when the price is adjusted to take inflation into account. Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1889) sold for what would now be more then $107 million, Irises (1889) was sold for the modern day equivalent of $105.1 million, Self-Portrait Without Beard (1889) went for $98.5 million, A Wheatfield With Cypresses (1889) sold for $89.2 million, Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers (1888) sold for $79.9 million and Peasant Woman Against A Background Of Wheat (1890) sold for $66.8 million.

Those seven works alone generated more $670 million, but that level of commercial success, or really anything even approaching it, would have been completely foreign to Van Gogh during his lifetime. Indeed, he lived most of his life in relative poverty and obscurity, often relying on the charity of his brother Theo to support him. It is widely believed that while he was alive he only managed to sell a single painting, The Red Vineyard (1888), which raised 400 Swiss Francs, or the equivalent of $1,600 today. So how did Van Gogh evolve from an artistic genius whose abilities were recognised by some of his peers, but who failed to achieve any form of critical or commercial success during his lifetime, to the artist whose oil paintings routinely break the $100 million mark?

It was only really in the final year of his life that Van Gogh’s work started to be displayed at large exhibitions and began to achieve more widespread recognition - prior to then he had only contributed one or two paintings to minor exhibitions that often went unnoticed by critics and the public. He exhibited alongside Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Paul Signac and Émile Bernard at various exhibitions, and although there are some surviving reviews of his work in the press, he was still a relatively minor figure in a world often dominated by larger than life personas. Van Gogh’s reputation developed not through critical appraisal, but through his being the artist’s artist. Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Bernard and Edgar Degas all collected and promoted his work and by the 1890s retrospective exhibitions of his work were being held across Europe, organised by the likes of Ambroise Vollard and Julien Leclrecq.

In the years prior to the First World War his fame increased in Germany and Austria, but it wasn’t until after the end of the war that his popularity really started to grow in Britain and America, in part due to his being championed at that point by English art critics Roger Fry and Clive Bell. Economic crises in Germany and France after 1918 meant that many of his works became available to British and American collectors, and by the late 1920s that clear sign of success, forgeries, had begun to emerge. Irving Stone’s 1934 novel Lust For Life is widely credited with further developing the Van Gogh legend, and the rest as they say is history. Van Gogh went on to become one of the biggest influences on modern art and by the late 1980s he was the world’s most in demand artist.