6 Posthumous Discoveries Of Art, Literature, and Music

An early film directed by 23-year-old Orson Welles has been rediscovered. Welles was a director best known for 1941’s Citizen Kane, which has been called the best film of all time, but he also was the mastermind behind 1938’s Too Much Johnson, a stage revival incorporating film footage shot as a prologue that never made it to Broadway. For years, people thought the 40-minute film that was to be used in the play had burned up in a fire in Spain. But Too Much Johnson has reappeared — discovered in the warehouse of a shipping company in northern Italy, where the footage had apparently been abandoned in the 1970s. Welles’ early work will premiere in October at Pordenone’s Silent Film Festival.

In honor of this posthumous discovery, let’s explore some other works of art, literature, and music that were discovered and appreciated after the artist’s death. 

1. Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh was a Dutch post-impressionist painter whose career only lasted 10 years, but yielded thousands of pieces. When Van Gogh shot himself in 1890, he had only sold one painting. After his death in the early 20th century, retrospective exhibits in Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, Berlin, and New York sparked an interest in his work, and he would go on to later affect generations of artists. Next to Picasso, his paintings are some of the most expensive ever sold.

2. Franz Kafka

The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika were discovered after Franz Kafka died in 1924. Before his death, he demanded that his friend Max Brod burn his archive. Instead, Brod prepared texts for those three novels and locked up the rest of the archive. 

3. Nick Drake

Nick Drake, a singer-songwriter who created gentle and melancholy music, didn’t achieve much commercial success while he was alive. Deeply depressed, Drake overdosed at the age of 26 in 1974, but it wasn’t until Robert Partridge pushed the posthumous release of his retrospective album Fruit Tree in 1979 that his work was fully recognized. And it wasn’t until the release of the Garden State soundtrack in 2004 that millennials discovered him, then realized they had never been alive for a moment of Drake’s career. Today many artists, including Robert Smith, Kate Bush, Beck, and the Black Crowes, cite him as a musical influence.

4. Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson was a poet all her life, but only a few of Dickinson’s 1,800 poems were published in her lifetime. She died in 1886 at the age of 55, and that year, Emily's younger sister Lavinia discovered her horde of poems. Dickinson’s first collection of poetry was published four years after her death, but it wasn’t until 1955 that her work was published without heavy editing.

5. Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer was a 17th-century painter most known for Girl With a Pearl Earring. After he died in massive debt, some of his paintings were sold under the names of other artists to increase their value. In the 19th century, Vermeer was rediscovered by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger, who attributed about 60 paintings to him in an essay. Three hundred years after his death, Vermeer has come to be recognized as a master painter of the Dutch Golden Age. 

6. Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, one of the most famous works about the expatriate writers' circle in 1920s Paris, was discovered and published posthumously by his widow Mary. These memoirs published in 1964 (three years after his suicide) included sketches of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound.