Vincent van Gogh Profile

Carolyn and I have both really enjoyed the extraordinary artwork of Vincent van Gogh. The legendary Dutch post-impressionist artist is recognized as one of the greatest painters that ever lived, and he has become one of the most famous and influential figures in art history. Van Gogh’s paintings are among the most valuable in the world, and in many ways, he personifies the quintessential archetype of the mad and tormented artistic genius.

In the span of a decade, van Gogh created an astonishing 2,100 pieces of artwork. These pieces included landscapes, still lifes, portraits, and self-portraits, and they featured dramatic brushwork with bold and vivid colors. However, despite his immense talent, van Gogh was unsuccessful commercially, and this resulted in years of poverty and severe depression that ultimately led to his suicide. Recounting Van Gogh’s tragic life is extremely sad, and it’s so ironic that someone with such a profoundly unhappy life, with so many so-called “failures,” produced so many astoundingly beautiful works of art in such a short period of time.

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born in 1853, in the predominantly Catholic province of North Brabant in the Netherlands. He was born into an upper-middle class family; his father was a minister, and his mother was a religious woman who came from a prosperous family. His brother Theo, who was to play an important role in his life, was born in 1857, and he also had another brother and three sisters. Van Gogh was described as being a “serious,” “quiet,” and “thoughtful” child who was “passionate about drawing.”

In 1860 Van Gogh attended his village school, after being educated at home by his mother and a governess. Four years later Van Gogh went to a boarding school in Zevenbergen, where he had a difficult time and felt “abandoned.” In 1866 he attended a Middle School in Tiburg, where he was also “deeply unhappy.” Van Gogh didn’t like school but he became interested in art at a young age, and was encouraged to draw by his mother.

In 1869 Van Gogh’s uncle arranged for him to get a job as an art dealer in The Hague, and in 1873 he was transferred to the London branch of the art dealership. This was a happy time for Van Gogh, as he was making good money, and according to Theo’s wife, this was “the best year in Vincent’s life.”
However, after being rejected by a woman he admired, Van Gogh grew more isolated and religiously fervent. Throughout his life, romantic rejection and loneliness plagued Van Gogh. In 1875 he was transferred to an art dealership in Paris, where he wasn’t as happy, and he became resentful of how the dealers commodified artwork. He was fired from this position after a year.

In 1876 Van Gogh returned to England to work as a substitute teacher in a small boarding school in Ramsgate, which didn’t last long; he left to become a minister’s assistant and then to work in a bookshop. He wasn’t happy at any of these jobs and mostly spent his time doodling and translating passages from the Bible. Van Gogh immersed himself in Christianity and became increasingly religious. In 1877, Van Gogh went to live with his uncle, a theologian, who supported his desire to become a pastor, but he failed his theology entrance exam at the University of Amsterdam, and he also didn’t pass a three-month course in Protestant missionary near Brussels, Belgium.

In 1880, at Theo’s suggestion, Van Gogh began devoting more attention to his art, and he went to study with the Dutch artist Willem Roelofs, who persuaded him to attend the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. In 1880 Van Gogh registered at the Académie, where he studied anatomy and the standard rules of modeling and perspective.

In 1881, Van Gogh returned home to stay with his parents. That year his recently widowed cousin, Cornelia “Kee” Vos-Stricker, arrived for a visit, and they took long walks together. Van Gogh declared his love for her and proposed marriage, but she declined, with the words, “no, nay, never,” largely because of Van Gogh’s inability to support himself. Van Gogh was emotionally crushed. He journeyed to Amsterdam but Kee wouldn’t see him, and her parents wrote that his “persistence is disgusting.”

In 1882, Van Gogh’s second cousin Mauve introduced him to oil painting and lent him the money to set up a studio. Van Gogh hired people off the street to serve as models. He liked working in this medium and was able to continue with money from Theo. That same year Van Gogh began living with an alcoholic prostitute and her daughter, which his family disapproved of. The woman drowned herself in a river years later.

In 1885, during a two-year stay in Nuenen, Van Gogh completed numerous watercolors, drawings, and almost 200 oil paintings. His paintings consisted mainly of somber earth tones, particularly dark brown, without the vivid and iconic bold colors that distinguished his later work.

In 1885 Van Gogh’s work was exhibited for the first time, in the shop windows of an art dealer in The Hague. That year he moved to Antwerp, where he lived in poverty, ate poorly, and spent the money that Theo sent him on art supplies and models instead of food. Van Gogh spent time studying the artwork in museums and he broadened the colors in his palette. He also began drinking absinthe heavily and suffered from a series of venereal diseases.

In 1886 Van Gogh moved to Paris where he shared Theo’s apartment and continued his painting. However, conflicts between the two brothers arose, and by the end of that year Theo said that he found living with his brother to be “almost unbearable.” Van Gogh moved to a suburb of Paris, and in 1887 there was an exhibit of his work in Paris.

In 1888 Van Gogh moved to Arles, where he entered into one of his most prolific periods. Here, Van Gogh completed 200 paintings and more than 100 drawings and watercolors. That year the post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin visited Arles and the two painted together, but they didn’t get along well, and their relationship got worse over time. It was during this time that the bizarre incident that Van Gogh is probably most famous for occurred— the severing of his own left ear.

The exact sequence of events remains a mystery, but it is said that Van Gogh was hearing voices in his head on the night that he cut off his left ear with a razor. There was severe bleeding and he bandaged the wound. Then Van Gogh wrapped the ear in paper and delivered it to a woman at a brothel that he had frequented. He was found unconscious the next morning and was brought to a hospital where he was treated. Van Gogh had no recollection of the event. His hospital diagnosis was “acute mania with generalized delirium.” Theo visited him and he recovered. Gauguin left Arles and Van Gogh never saw him again.

Van Gogh gave his painting Portrait of Doctor Felix Rey to his physician. His doctor was not very fond of the painting and gave it away. In 2016 the painting was estimated to be worth more than $50 million.

In 1889 Van Gogh was placed in an asylum in Provence, France, where he continued his painting in a cell with barred windows. Flowing, swirling energies and blurring boundaries, such as in his iconic painting “The Starry Night,” characterize his work during this time.

In 1890 Van Gogh left the asylum and moved to a suburb of Paris near his doctor and Theo. Several months later Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver. There were no witnesses, and the shooting took place in the wheat field where he had just been painting. Van Gogh survived the shooting but died of an infection resulting from the wound around 30 hours later. According to Theo, his brother’s last words were, “The sadness will last forever.” He was buried in the municipal cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise.

There has been much speculation as to the type of mental illness that Van Gogh suffered from and how this influenced his creativity. Many experts believe it was a type of bipolar disorder, while others have suggested temporal lobe epilepsy with bouts of depression. Whatever the etiology of the illness was, it was certainly a very high price that Van Gogh paid in order to bring us the glorious beauty that he did.

Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime, Red Vineyard at Arles. The remainder of his more than 900 paintings were not sold or made famous until after his death when his reputation grew steadily among artists, art critics, dealers, and collectors. It’s so sadly ironic that Van Gogh suffered so much due to his lack of commercial success and romantic rejection, was considered a madman and a failure during his lifetime, and today he is regarded as one of the greatest artists who ever lived, as collective value to all of his work that is now estimated to be worth over 10 billion dollars.

Van Gogh’s paintings are located in many museums and art collections. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has many of his most iconic works. The museum houses the largest collection of his work worldwide, with 200 paintings, 400 drawings, and 700 letters. As one ascends through the museum, the artwork is presented in chronological order, and one can witness the transformation of his mind over time. More of Van Gogh’s work can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the National Gallery of Art in London. Through all his personal torment and darkness, Van Gogh’s ecstatic soul is miraculously singing to us.

Some of the quotes that Vincent Van Gogh is known for include:

I dream my painting and I paint my dream.

Be clearly aware of the stars and infinity on high. Then life seems almost enchanted after all.

…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?

Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.

I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process.

What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.

If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.

The heart of man is very much the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too.

by David Jay Brown

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