There are many famous people who continue to live with us through their work. Whether they sought recognition or not, none of them could have known just how famous they would become posthumously. So here’s a list of the top 16 people who made a profound impact on society as well as culture even after their death.

1. Vincent Van Gogh

This artist died in 1890 having sold only 1 painting, and popular recognition of his artistic work only came about after 1910.

Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime. It sold for the equivalent of approximately $109. He was a shy child with low self-esteem but later discovered his love for drawing and painting, and then developed his artistic career during his 20s. Later he went into depression and suffered from epilepsy, which led to his death. After his demise, around 2000 pieces of his art were discovered which are valued in millions today. 

2. Emily Dickinson

The works of Emily Dickinson that described her personal thoughts on death, mortality and nature only came to light after her death in 1886. 

Emily Dickinson was a shy recluse who barely published any of her poems during her lifetime. Upon her death, her sister Lavina discovered 40 hand-bound volumes of nearly 1,800 of her poems and got them published. Many believe an unfulfilled romantic relationship focused her writing style on being highly personal and related to her own life events.  

3. Franz Kafka

This German language writer never lived to enjoy fame, as publishers wouldn’t accept his work and no one took him seriously during his lifetime.

Now considered as the most influential existentialist writer of the 20th century, Franz Kafka never received fame when he was alive. He died in 1924, due to the fact that he was suffering from tuberculosis and was no longer able to eat. Before his death, Kafka had instructed his friend Max Brod to burn all his work. But, thankfully, Brod got all his work published and the rest is history. 

4. Edgar Allan Poe

This American writer who died in 1849 never even made enough money to support himself during his lifetime. 

Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. While Poe was able to publish his prose as well as short stories, he never made enough money to support himself. And, after the death of his wife, he gave in to excessive drinking. His work is honoured all over the world for introducing a new type of writing style and theme into the literature world. The actual cause of Poe’s death still remains a mystery. 

5. Henry David Thoreau

This philosopher died in 1862 but his literature has inspired many leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy.

An American author, philosopher and historian, Henry David Thoreau was able to truly emphasize the importance of natural living and being one with nature and the natural world. During his lifetime, Thoreau was never understood by people as a result of which only two of his books got published while he was still alive. Today, his literature has inspired many leaders, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy.

6. Henry Darger

This artist died in 1973 but he became popular only when his fantasy manuscript was discovered in the 1990s. 

Darger was considered as a mentally challenged person who lived a recluse life in Chicago. But he used his experiences and life journey to create astonishing art and literature. Today, he is best known for his fantasy manuscript ‘The Story of the Vivian Girls, in what is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion’, along with several hundred drawings and watercolour paintings. 

7. Gregor Johann Mendel

This scientist died in 1884 but his profound work was not recognized until the 20th century. 

Gregor was a German-speaking scientist who gained posthumous fame as the founder of the modern science of genetics. He discovered the basic principles of heredity through experiments in his monastery garden with the pea plants, but his discovery was mostly misunderstood by the contemporary scientific community. Today, he has two laws named after him, both dealing with genetics.

8. Galileo Galilei

This Italian astronomer died in 1642 but his theories were only accepted in the early 19th century.

Galileo Galilei was a scientist, mathematician, and astronomer who played a major role in the scietific revolution by providing treasured information and astrological tools to the scientific world. He built the first telescope & discovered sunspots, moon craters and many other celestial bodies in the outer space. Though in his time, he was often criticized by those heavily involved in religion, who believed that the world was fixed and did not revolve around the sun. 

9. Alfred Wegener

This meteorologist died in 1930 but his hypothesis was not widely accepted until the 1950s. 

Alfred Lothar Wegener was a German polar researcher, geophysicist and meteorologist. During his life, he focused his research heavily on continental drift, in which he believed the continents were connected to each other and were gradually moving around the earth. But the lack of concrete evidence never earned his work any approval. After his death, Tuzo Wilson found substantial evidence to prove that Wegener’s theories were correct.

10. Johannes Vermeer

This painter died in 1675 but he was only recognized for his talent in the 19th century.

Best known for his paintings of domestic scenes of middle-class life, Vermeer never gained recognition for his talent during his lifetime. While he did make his living as a painter, he wasn’t that famous beyond the city of Delft, and was certainly never wealthy. The stress of financial pressure is claimed to be the reason of his death. Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger rediscovered Vermeer in the 19th century, by publishing an essay attributing 66 pictures to him.

11. John Keats

Critics did not like Keats’ poetry during his lifetime, but by the end of the 19th century he had become one of the most beloved of all English poets.

The early critical opinion of Keats’s poetry was not favorable, with the notable exceptions of his close friends and the exiled Percy Shelley. Only after his death at the age of 25 did his work begin to be appreciated for its style and sensuality. 

12. Stieg Larsson

Well known as a journalist during his life, he only became famous as an author after his death.

Stieg Larsson is best known for his Millennium trilogy which includes novels like ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’, and ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest’. Although Larsson was known in Sweden as an outspoken journalist and editor, his legacy as a famous writer began after his death in 2004.

13. Oscar Wilde

This iconic author was totally bankrupt at the time of his death, and only gained his fame after his death as a result of the circumstances of his imprisonment. 

He was an Irish playwright, novelist and poet. He passed away in 1900 in Paris completely bankrupt from paying legal fees for his arrest and imprisonment for the crime of homosexuality. His work gained wide popularity after his death and he became one of London’s most popular playwrights. 

14. Nick Drake

This English musician who commited suicide in 1974 became famous after his new albums were released in the 1980s.

Nick Drake, who died 41 years ago was the perfect musician for the digital era. He failed to find a wide audience during his lifetime, but his work has gradually achieved wider notice and recognition. Drake suffered from major depression and died in 1974 after overdosing on antidepressants. 

15. Jeff Buckley 

The singer of the legendary song ‘Hallelujah’ became massively famous after the posthumous release of several of his productions.

A musical legend who died too soon, having released just one album, Jeff Buckley remains one of the most critically acclaimed artists of the 1990s. Buckley drowned at night while swimming near Memphis, Tennessee. Since his death, there have been many posthumous releases of his creations, including a collection of four-track demos and studio recordings for his unfinished albums. 

16. Johann Sebastian Bach

This Baroque composer only became widely famous after a revival of interest in his music in the 1800s.

One of the greatest composers of all time, Bach was little-known while alive and was mostly recognized for performing on the organ. Technically brilliant and highly skilled, he only became widely famous after a revival of interest in his music in the 1800s.

Never give up!