Artists Behaving Badly

Temperamental masters of the art world

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Edvard Munch, painter of The Scream, once said, "Illness, insanity, and death were the black angels that kept watch over my cradle and accompanied me all my life." It was something of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

In his first romantic entanglement, which took place when he was 21, Munch had a dangerous two-year liaison with the wife of a cousin. Early in his career he became enamored with French Decadent Symbolist poetry, which moved him to create a new standard for his art—emphasizing foremost a pantheistic conception of sexuality. The results were portrayals of women as helpless innocents or threatening succubi. In another dicey contretemps years later, part of a finger from Munch's left hand was shot off during a quarrel with his ex-fiancé.

Vincent van Gogh

The most famous post-Impressionist, Vincent van Gogh is often mythologized as an artist who struggled with inner demons throughout most of his life. He was an alcoholic, and may have been addicted to absinthe, a liquor that was outlawed in the 20th century because it caused convulsions, hallucinations, mental deterioration and bouts of psychosis in those who imbibed. But van Gogh is most infamous for cutting off part of his left ear with a razor and delivering the bloody token to a prostitute, advising her to "guard this object carefully."

Gianlorenzo Bernini

One of the most extreme cases of love gone bad involves the Italian Baroque sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini. Bernini's mistress, the wife of one of his assistants, was having an affair with the artist's younger brother. When Bernini discovered their perfidy, he was so incensed that he attempted to kill his brother using an iron crowbar, and sent a hired thug to disfigure the face of his mistress with a razor.

Jacques-Louis David

Jacques-Louis David was a prominent painter during the French Revolution and was intensely involved in the overthrow of the monarchy. A stalwart Jacobin, he voted for the execution of Louis XVI during the National Convention of 1792. As a result of the government's overthrow, David was essentially a dictator of the arts in France until 1794, when he was arrested and imprisoned for a total of six months. During his time in power, he was responsible for much of the revolutionary propaganda that flooded the streets of Paris.


Some artists develop habits that may spark the creative muse, but are peculiar all the same. Michelangelo had a reputation for being surly and difficult to please. He was suspicious of other artists, onlookers and even members of his own family. His fits of rage were also legendary, so it comes as no surprise that he went through a slew of assistants during his career. He was touchy about his birthright and physical appearance, specifically his nose, which was flattened during a fight when he was a youth.

In his old age, Michelangelo is rumored to have worn a hair shirt beneath his outer garments, in an effort to mimic the trials of St. John the Baptist. Michelangelo also wore boots made from cured dog skin for months at a time. When it came time to remove them, his skin peeled off as well.


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