Vincent Willem Van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Zundert, Netherlands. Van Gogh was the son of a Protestant minister, and had two brothers and three sisters. His uncle was a partner at an art dealer called Goupil and Company. At age 16, Van Gogh began working at this firm for 6 years, where he worked first in Hague, then London, and finally in Paris. In 1876, Van Gogh was dismissed from the firm, and he returned to England, where he worked at a small school and took up preaching. He eventually entered a religious seminary in Brussels, leaving 3 months later for Belgium to be an evangelist. In the small area of the Borinage, Van Gogh devoted himself to being selfless and helping others, but his eccentric mannerisms were unaccepted by the miners of the area, and he was dismissed in 1879. This was a dark period, for his selflessness only got him rejected.
This rejection led Van Gogh to decide in 1880 that art was his calling, and he recognized art as a spiritual profession. He studied art at a school in Brussels that year, then stayed with his parents in Etten to continue to work on his art. During this time, Van Gogh formed a relationship with a pregnant prostitute, which created a void between his family and himself. He contracted gonorrhea, and spent three weeks in the hospital. Soon after. Van Gogh began to work with oil painting. In 1883, he moved to Nuenen, North Brabant, where his parents were. Here, he focused deeply into his drawing and painting. A woman by the name of Margot Begemann often accompanied him on his painting endeavors, and they fell in love, though their families both forbade the marriage.
Soon, there was interest from Paris in Van Gogh's work, and some was displayed in an art dealer's window. After being accused of taking advantage of one of his young peasant sitters, the Catholic village priest forbade anyone from posing for Van Gogh's work. From this point, he painted many still-life paintings, most of which were in dark and earthy tones and not up to par with the bright impressionist paintings that were popular at the time. In 1885, he moved to Antwerp, living in a small room above a paint dealer's shop. He lived on coffee, bread, and tobacco, spending the money his brother Theo sent him on painting supplies and models. This poor diet gave him severe dental problems. While in Antwerp, he studied color theory and focused on incorporating vivid colors into his works. He began to heavily consume absinthe, and was treated by a doctor, possibly for syphilis.
In 1886, Van Gogh moved to Paris and lived with his brother Theo. And painted many portraits of his friends and still life. He became fascinated with Japanese woodblock prints, collecting hundreds of them and incorporating the style into the backgrounds of many of his works, such as his Portrait of Père Tanguy. After seeing Monticelli's work, Van Gogh began to adopt brighter pain colors into his palette and invoke a bolder style to his paintings. After creating over 200 paintings in two years of living there, he soon grew bored and tired of Paris, and moved to Arles in 1888.
Van Gogh's work while he was in Arles reflected his enchantment with the city. Vibrant yellows, mauves, and blues became incorporated in his paintings. While his portrayal of landscapes are flat and with little perspective, vibrant colors make up for the lack of realism. Much of his time in Arles was spent painting still-life works of things he saw everyday, such as his chair or bedroom, or a view of cafés in the area. An artist whom Van Gogh admired, Paul Gauguin, finally agreed to visit Van Gogh in Arles in 1888. They spent some time and painted together, but Gauguin was arrogant and refused to treat Van Gogh as an equal. Later that year, he threatened Gauguin, but fled to a brothel, a place he frequented in loneliness. It was at this time that the infamous act of removing his ear was committed, although it was not mailed to an unrequited love as the stories tell, but rather left with a prostitute in the brothel “for safekeeping.”
Van Gogh spent much time in and out of hospitals after this incident, suffering from hallucinations and paranoia of being poisoned. The locals thought him to be a madman, calling him fou roux (red-haired madman.) He admitted himself into an asylum in Saint-Rémy in 1889. He was given two adjoining rooms, with one meant to be a studio for him to continue his painting. It was during his stay that his most famous and easily recognizable works, The Starry Night,and many others containing the same type of swirling patterns were created. Because of his limited subject matter during his stay, he began to do his renditions of other artists' works. He left the clinic in Spring of 1890 for one closer to Dr. Paul Gachet. Van Gogh once described Gachet as “...sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much.” His final months were filled with distress and fits of hallucinations. He was unable to work during these periods, but in the long periods of time inbetween, his work flourished. In July of 1890, Van Gogh is believed to have shot himself in the chest, although the exact location of his death is unclear.
Between 1881 and 1890, Van Gogh painted almost 900 paintings and drew over 1,000 drawings. It is unfortunate that his work was not fully appreciated until after his death, but he is known by many as the greatest painter in the world. Van Gogh's work became the inspiration for many artists, such as Francis Bacon. It is said that Abstract Expressionism of the 1940s and 1950s is based widely on Van Gogh's art. There is even an artist named Stefan Duncan, known as the American Van Gogh, whose art draws heavily on the style of Van Gogh. Even today in pop culture, Van Gogh and his work are being paid homage, appearing in movies and television series, and museums where his art is displayed are top destinations for tourists and art lovers alike. Musicians like Don McLean even wrote songs to commemorate him, with lines like “And when no hope was left in sight/ on that starry, starry night/ you took your life as lovers often do,/ but I could have told you Vincent/ this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”
Vincent Van Gogh led a tortured life absorbed in his art, turning his pain and passion into marvelous depictions of the world around him. Though his work was not appreciated in his time, many art fans and critics alike would consider him the greatest painter that ever lived. His style is easily recognizable, and his works inspire artists of all trades. Through his masterpieces, Vincent Van Gogh is able to live on and inspire millions upon millions of people long after his unfortunate suicide.
- "Vincent Van Gogh." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998.Biography In Context. Web. 7 Nov. 2013.
- "Vincent van Gogh." Wikipedia. N.p.. Web. 7 Nov 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_Gogh>.
- "Van Gogh's Impact On Art." Van Gogh Gallery. N.p.. Web. 8 Nov 2013. <http://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/impact.html>.
- McLean, Don. ""Vincent"" Recorded September 23 2006. Web, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dipFMJckZOM.