Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is one of our favorite artists. He was the son of a Protestant minister, and was named after a stillborn brother who was born exactly a year before himself. Our Vincent became the oldest of three sisters and two brothers, and although he was intelligent he left school at 16 to become a clerk for an art dealer, finding himself working and exploring the finest art in the Hague, London, and Paris.
After being dismissed and traversing a number of odd jobs, including teacher and amateur preacher, until his brother Theo recommended that Vincent concentrate on drawing. Theo and Vincent were very close and constantly writing letters to each other, in which Vincent would often include small sketches and drawings, but he had never considered pursuing his talent before.
And so Vincent moved to Brussels to begin his life as an artist – which was quite unprofitable, and so Theo was kind enough to support his brother financially for nearly the rest of Vincent’s life. Their parents were quite disappointed in Vincent, both because he was a starving artist and because he had fallen deeply in love with his cousin, Kee Vos (who did not return Vincent’s affections). He lived with his parents off and on for much of his career.
After moving to Paris with Theo, Vincent’s paintings became brighter and more expressive, taking advantage of novel techniques and fantastical colors. Vincent dreamed of starting an “artists’ colony” in France where painters from near and far could live together and collaborate, but this dream never came to fruition. He managed to convince fellow artist Paul Gauguin to join him for a short time, but the two painters’ personalities clashed – eventually leading to Vincent threatening Gauguin with a razor, and then proceeding to slice his own ear off and present it wrapped in newspaper to a nearby prostitute.
After this episode, Vincent’s mental health began to fluctuate and decline, until he admitted himself into a psychiatric institution where he continued to work on his paintings, at one point completing over 150 paintings in a single year. He began to gain some notoriety at this time, and some of his artwork was displayed in Brussels with positive response. Vincent eventually left the psychiatric hospital and moved to the north of France, where he met doctor and fellow artist Paul Gatchet, who would become Vincent’s close friend.
But Vincent’s depression and nervous attacks eventually caught up to him, and he committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a pistol, dying in a hospital soon after. He left at least 850 paintings and more than one thousand sketches and other drawings on paper, and his legacy lives on in the van Gogh Museum, which was opened in 1973 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Visiting the van Gogh museum two years ago was an amazing and special experience. Explore more about van Gogh’s life and works at the van Gogh museum website, and plan a visit yourself if you ever get the chance!
Images from Getty Images.