7 Masterpieces Rejected By Art Critics

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by Tanya Singh

Art and its creative process is rewarding and simultaneously rigorous mentally and physically. There is a lot of effort that gets put into following this career path. Many creative professionals across the globe struggle to pursue art-making as their main or sole source of income. The trick is to keep moving forward despite all the obstacles you may face. When circumstances become challenging, a solution that can help you move forward is to reflect back on the old masters for inspiration, techniques, and more! “All great works are trophies of victorious struggle.” ~ Julius Meier-Graefe

Most masters, as we know them now, struggled as well. They managed to look past the rejections and the criticism, focusing on their art alone because they believed in themselves. In this article, we will see some of the obstacles that the greatest artists faced in their lifetime, to inspire you to keep moving forward and help you realize that rejection is just a part of the process that evolves you.

Pablo Picasso

art criticism masterpieces
The Dream, Pablo Picasso

Perhaps, the most widely known artist across the globe, Pablo Picasso is known for revolutionizing art with his innovative technique and profound understanding of the human form. However, just like every great artist that ever lived, his work was severely criticized as “schizophrenic” and even “satanic” in the beginning.

Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist labeled his technique as an “underworld form,” something that was evil and did not belong in art galleries. “As to the future Picasso, I would rather not try my hand at prophecy, for this inner adventure is a hazardous affair and can lead at any moment to a standstill or to a catastrophic bursting asunder of the conjoined opposites,” he said.

Well, he was right, he shouldn’t have tried his hand at prophecy!


Claude Monet

art criticism masterpieces
Sunrise, Claude Monet

The term “Impressionism”, the art movement that Claude Monet was part of, was actually coined by an art critic Louis Leroy, who was trying to criticize Monet’s works at the Exhibition Of The Impressionists. He called the painting an “impression” because he thought that the works looked incomplete and showed poor handling of technique. “Impression, I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it — and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape,” he wrote in this very sarcastic review in Le Charivari, a French magazine.

Paul Cézanne

art criticism
Olympia, Paul Cezanne

The Impressionists, in general, were not very popular with the critics. They had staged their own exhibition, which was not a common thing at that time, to break away from the nepotism and academic restrictions of elitist society on art.

Paul Cézanne was even called a “madman” by Marc de Montifaud, a French art critic and author. Describing his masterpiece, Olympia, a painting inspired by Manet’s work, the critic said, “Mr. Cézanne merely gives the impression of being a sort of madman, painting in a state of delirium tremens.”

Both Claude Monet and Paul Cézanne, or rather all the Impressionists, still retain their position (over 100 years after that first exhibition) as some of the highest sellers in the market today.

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Vincent Van Gogh

art criticism
The Red Vineyard, Vincent van Gogh

Who doesn’t know about Vincent Van Gogh’s sad, sad story? No, we are not talking about the horrific incident with the ear.

We are talking about the fact that the most celebrated artist (today) only sold a single painting in his lifetime, and that too, for just 400 francs (equal to about $1000 today). Most critics outrightly dismissed his works as amateur, and some even went as far as to say that is was “strange, intense and feverish.”

Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings, every single one of them, are worth over $60 million today.

Marcel Duchamp

art criticism
Fountain, Marcel Duchamp

We all know Marcel Duchamp to be the greatest conceptual artist of all time. But did you know, his most famous work, Fountain, only managed to stay in the gallery for a couple of days and was actually thrown out in the trash? The pieces that exist today, 17 to be exact, are replicas commissioned by the artist after the original was lost in 1917.

Just in case you were wondering, each of these replicas is estimated to be worth over $2,000,000 today!



Andy Warhol

art criticism
Shoe, Andy Warhol

The face of pop art, Andy Warhol, was undoubtedly the most unapologetically controversial artists of his time. Critics thrashed his works as “aesthetic frauds” and criticized him for reducing art to a “hands-off business”.

In 1956, Andy Warhol donated a work of his (Shoe) to the Museum Of Modern Art in New York. Soon after, Alfred H. Barr Jr., the Director of the Museum Collections at the time, wrote Warhol a letter rejecting his (free gift!) work due to “limited gallery and storage space.” “We must turn down gifts offered since we feel it is not fair to accept as a gift a work which may be shown only infrequently,” he explained.

Today, the Museum of Modern Art has 168 of Warhol’s works in their private collection including the Shoe.

Barnett Newman

art criticism
Cathedra, Barnett Newman

A pioneering artist of the Abstract Expressionist art movement that took American art by storm, Barnett Newman was one of the most influential artists of his time. But not everyone was impressed with his color field technique.

In a review for his exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Frank Getlein, a noted art critic at the time, compared Newman to a house painter and said that the museum “could have saved a good chunk by getting the plan and having the thing run off by the janitors with rollers.”

In 2014, one of Newman’s paintings, Black Fire 1 sold for $84.2 million setting a record for the artist.

We’ve all been there. The very moment you create something, you open yourself up to critique. Whether you ask for it or not, art criticism can be a hard pill to swallow. Training yourself to accept and learn from your harshest critics is one of the most difficult – but most rewarding – skills to develop as an artist. But if the masters could do it, so can you!

Receiving art criticism doesn’t need to be a scary experience. It’s a good opportunity to re-examine what it is that you’re trying to say with your artwork, and what it is that people are reading from your artwork. No artwork will please all audiences, but learning about your audience, engaging with feedback, and having an open mind will guarantee you not only grow as an artist, but as a person.

Useful Article: Make Art Criticism Work For You

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Have more ideas or an article pitch? Write to us at blogs@agora-gallery.com.

Tanya Singh is a budding art historian and writer. She is currently pursuing her postgraduate studies at the LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. With a versatile portfolio, she has over three years of experience in writing as well as editing.


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14 responses to “7 Masterpieces Rejected By Art Critics”

  1. John Smith avatar

    Maybe these artists were (too) ahead of their time, breaking new ground and in some sense presenting prophecy. The Urinal reminds me of the many worthless NFTs people bought during the peak of the hype.

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  3. Cesar Soliz avatar

    Not their best work, but… no one can expect to be perfect every time! I can’t tell you how manny time I have revamped my websites, thinking, “OMG it could be so much better!” … but then it’s already out there. If you haven’t had that experience, as an artist, you will soon.. (though knowing when it’s ‘done’ has it’s merits, too.)

  4. Madhav Messon avatar

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  5. Bob Canning avatar

    Thank you for this excellent article. I cite it in my defense of a proposed public art project here in Petaluma, California (one hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge). Lotsa people hate it! If you’re interested, click on http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8303126-181/petaluma-riverfront-art-proposal-evokes?utm_source=Boomtrain&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pac_daily&utm_source=Boomtrain&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pac_daily&sba=AAS (hope it works).

  6. Jerry avatar

    Well, I think I’m going with the original critics on this one. Duchamp’s Fountain should have been thrown into the trash and should have remained there. The mistake wasn’t their criticism: the mistake was placing a $2,000,000 price tag on a urinal because they bought into the BS of the supposed art critics. Total nonsense!

  7. Subodh avatar

    Very motivational logic with the immortal facts! However, we should also be thankful to the people who have criticized the artworks… as their criticism seemed to have given space for rest of us to think differently to be able to understand the artworks as “the master pieces”.

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Dear Subodh,

      We completely agree! Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Maribel Matthews avatar

    So true so many of the greatest masters had to struggle to make a living from art.
    If not for their perseverance we would not have the wealth of their priceless art to enjoy and inspire us today!

  9. Jesse W. avatar

    Helpful article – please do one on pre-1850 artists who were criticized.

    1. Agora Experts avatar

      Dear Jesse,

      Thank you for the suggestion. We will surely try to produce one!

  10. Thomas John Taylor avatar

    A Lifetime of Creation Evolves The Consciousness until The Pain of Rejection becomes Pleasure.

  11. Bob Coonts avatar

    Enjoyed this!