Interesting Facts about the Great Artists

It is a known fact that many artists have eccentric characterstics. In fact, they even despised being normal. The history witnessed artists that eat paint, stop showering, or open their dead wife’s tomb. Accordingly, this blog will focus on the lesser- known facts and anecdotes from the lifes of these eccentric artists rather than their life stories and works. Here is a compilation of interesting facts about the great artists such as Sandro Boticelli, Caravaggio, and Salvador Dali.

Sandro Botticelli (1444- 1510) and his Capricious Personality

Most people know the Italian Renaissance artist Boticelli from his paintings such as the Brith of Venus and Primavera. What about his personality? Georgio Vasari defines him as an eccentric and capricious artist. For example, once he placed a rock on the roof of his neighbor’s house. This rock could break the roof any moment, but he did not remove the rock until his neighbor would stop making noise.

Botticelli also destroyed several of his early works with the influence of a friar named Savonarola who was strongly against secular and nude paintings. Fortunately, he recovered from the influence of Savonarola and continued with his mythological paintings.

The Birth of Venus by Botticelli
The Birth of Venus (1485) from Web Galery of Art

A Whimsical Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Leonardo da Vinci’s whimsical charateristic stands out when we look at his personality. He left numerous unfinished work behind because he was not only a painter but also a scientist, engineer, draughtsman, sculptor, theorist, and an architect. Naturally, his slowness would often annoy his patrons. Once, the archpriest of Santa Maria delle Grazie complained the Duke of Milano about how long it took Leonardo to finish the Last Supper. Leonardo answered this saying that he was trying to find an evil look that could suit Judas, but he could use that impatient archbishop’s face if he could not come up with one. This ended the complaints.

Leonardo’s sexual orientation also caused problems. For example, he was kept in prison because of his homosexual relationships. He could have been executed if it weren’t for his political ties.

Mona Lisa
Mona Lisa (1503-5) from Web Galery of Art

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), the Sculptor

Michelangelo had an impetuous and hot-tempered personality. He was so sentsitive about his profession that he would get angry when he was called a painter, and he insisted that he was a sculptor. In this case, one may wonder how he accepted to paint the Sistine Chapel. It is because Michelangelo left Pope Julius II’s tomb unfinished and escaped to Florence. When the Pope found him, Michelangelo had to agree with painting the Sistine Chapel as a punishment.

Another interesting fact about Michelangelo is that he would not take a shower because he believed it was unhealthy. This made it really difficult for his assistants to work near him. He would also believe that sexual abstinence expanded the life-span, and it is highly possible that he never saw a naked woman.

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo
The Creation of Adam (1510) from Web Galery of Art

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) and his Anger Management Issue

Caravaggio had anger-management issues. He carried weapons with him, and even killed a man. After commiting a murder, he escaped to Napels, and his remorse showed itself in his paintings. Once, he also threatened his models by holding a knife because the workers/models did not want to hold a stinking dead body. The effort was for his painting called the Raising of Lazarus who spent three days in grave, and Caravaggio was so obsessed with realism that he actually used a body newly taken out of his grave.

The Raising of Lazarus by Caravaggio
The Raising of Lazarus (1608-09) from Web Gallery of Art

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was and English poet and artist as well as the founder of Pre-Raphaelite movement. Rossetti fell in love with a lower-class woman named Elizabeth Siddal, but he kept postponing marriage for ten years due to his commitment issues until Elizabeth’s tuberculosis got worse. After giving birth to a dead child, she started using drugs and died from overdose. After her death, Rossetti blamed himself and put all his poems into his wife’s tomb. However, his romantic jesture turned into regret, and after a couple of years, he dug up his wife’s tomb to get his poems in order to publish them.

Rossetti was also a fan of wild animals. He filled his Tudor House’s garden with several exotic animals like kangaroo, armadillo, owl, raven parrot, ox, and squirrels. His favourite pet was a marsupial animal species called wombat. He even prepared a funeral ceremony for it.

La Donna della Finestra
La Donna della Finestra (1879) from Web Gallery of Art

Edouard Manet (1832-1883)

Edouard Manet was a French impressionist artist who preferred painting daily scenes rather than mythological of Biblical ones. His avant-garde style was not initially approved, so he could not sell a single painting for 20 years. Just then, an art dealer called Paul Duran-Ruel came to his studio and started to grab the paintings which were finally accepted to the 1873 Salon exhibition. During that decade, his paintings were highly criticised by the press. These criticisms really annoyed Manet, and at last, he slapped a critic called Edmond Duranty and challenged him into a duel. Both being totally inexperienced, they bent their swords, and Duranty lost the duel with a small wound on his chest.

As for the love life of Manet, he married his piano teacher, Suzanne Leenhoff. However, Manet was not really a loyal husband. Once, he forgot that Susanne was sitting near him, and he started to follow a beautiful woman. When he realised his wife, he said ” I thought she was you.”

A Bar at the Folies-Bergere
A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1881-1882) from Web Gallery of Art

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and his Unfortunate Love Life

The tragic life of Vincent van Gogh that ended with his suicide is a well-known thing about the artist. The fact that he cut his own ear and sent it to a prostitute, as well as his habit of eating paint right from the tube are well known eccentricities of him. There were several reasons behind his behaviours such as his his frustrating love-life.

His first love was an engaged woman. The second one was his newly widowed cousin, Kee Vos-Stricker who rejected him. However, van Gogh was obsessed with her, and he holded his hand to the flame of the lamp until he could see his cousin. He eventually fainted due to the pain. The third woman was a pregnant and alchololic prostitute. Van Gogh wanted to save and provide a decent life for her, but she went back to her old job after the birth. This was his last venture into love affairs.

Café Terrace on the Place du Forum
Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles (1888) from Web Gallery of Art

Gustav Klimt’s (1862-1918) Fear of Travel

The avant-garde Australian artist Gustave Klimt had a fear of travel. Once, he was about to give up his travel and get on the first train to home when his friend found and accompanied him to the next train.

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
The Kiss (1907-08) from Web Gallery of Art

Edvard Munch (1863-1944) as a Bad Parent

Edvard Munch was another artist with a tragic life story. He lost his mother when he was five, and then his sister when she was fifteen. After losing his wife, Edvard’s father imposed his Calvinist opinions so intensely that Edvard would wake up in the middle of the night thinking that he died and went to hell. In 1885, he made his first original painting depicting her sister in death bed; however, this painting was insensibly mocked. In 1889, his father died, and his other sister Laura had sypmtoms of schizophrenia. These led to Munch’s suicidal thoughts. He did not commit suicide, but he also started to show signs of schizophrenia such as his persecution mania. Fortunately, he died as a rich and respected man.

Edvard Munch saw his paintings as his children, and he prefered to sell the copies of them. Nevertheless, he was a bad parent. He exposed his paintings to harsh weather conditions in open air. Moreover, his dog made a hole into one of his paintings, but he still ignored the case saying that the paintings should take care of themselves. Another isteresting point is that his painting, the Scream is the most stolen painting with two successful stealing score.

The Scream
The Scream (1893) from Web Gallery of Art

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santisima Trinidad Clito Ruiz y Picasso- yes, this is his real name- was a really messy person. According to the statements of his friends, he lived among piles of bottles, foods, papers, and canvases. These piles would create paths either leading to the bath or his easel. He also loved animals and had a cat, a monkey, a couple of mice, and a dog. However, he was not a responsible pet owner, so the animals had to take care of themselves.

It is also interesting that Picasso went to jail for stealing Mona Lisa painting in 1911. It was actually a misunderstanding. In 1907, a friend (Piéret) of Picasso’s friend (Guillaume Apollinaire) stole two Iberian figurines which were offered to Picasso who took them. In 1911, Piéret stole another figurine a few days before Mona Lisa was stolen. After this case, Piéret thought that he could make some money from this scandal, so he went to police and told that the security of the Louvre was very loose by showing the figurine. This led the police to arrest Picasso and Apollinaire. Fortunately, they were proven innocent and released on condition that they gave the Iberian figurines back.

Girl before Mirror by Picasso
Girl before Mirror (1932) from

Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

Salvador Dali liked luxurious parties with unusual activities such as sexual rituals and orgies even though he detested being touched. In order to afford these parties, his wife, Gala, would lock him into his studio until he finished his paintings. Dali also liked making entrances. Once, he entered a conference holding the leashes of two Russian wolfhounds in his one hand, and a cue stick in the other. He wore an old fashioned diving suiet and a helmet with a Mercedes radiator head on it. Soon after, he realised that he could not breath; however, people thought that he was performing. Fortunately, his friends realised the situation and saved him just in time.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali
The Persistence of Memory (1931) from

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Frida Kahlo was a leftist Jewish woman who had pleasure in making conservative Capitalists uncomfortable. When she was near conservative people, she made sarcastic comments about them and talked enthusiastically about Communism. Once, she was invited to a dinner at Henry Ford’s house. She knew that Ford was a commited anti-semitic, so during the dinner, she waited for a silent moment and asked in an amiable tone: “Mr. Ford, are you Jewish?”

Kahlo also had unusual pets such as hairless Aztec dogs and spider monkeys. She also cared for birds such as doves, an osprey, two turkeys, and parrots. She would also sleep with her favourite parrot called Bonito.

Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird by Frida Kahlo
Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940) from

For more information: Lunday, Elizabeth. Secret Lives of Great Artists: What Your Teachers Never Told You about Master Painters and Sculptors. Philadelphia: Quirk Books. 2008.