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Vincent van Gogh

Read about the troubled life of brilliant and influential painter Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh's mark on the art world has lived on long past his death in 1890. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Vincent van Gogh's mark on the art world has lived on long past his death in 1890.

Vincent van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853, to Anna Cornelia Carbentus and Reverend Theodorus van Gogh in Groot-Zundert, Holland. Little did his parents know that their son would cope with serious mental problems for most of this life, take his own life with a single gunshot and have a huge impact on the world of art.

Young Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was the second of six children, with two brothers and three sisters. He studied languages as a young boy, but his formal education ended by the time he was 15. In 1869, Vincent began working in a Hague gallery that was operated by international art dealers Goupil and Cie. Three years later, Goupil transferred van Gogh to London. By 1874, he had been moved once again, this time to Paris.

Vincent van Gogh changed his mind about becoming a professional art dealer and instead devoted his life to helping the poor, following in the footsteps of his father. His parents paid for his education, but Van Gogh soon abandoned it in favor of starting a ministry with Borinage miners. This time in Van Gogh's life became prominent in his future artwork because he identified with the working class. Many of his later pieces depicted peasant life.

Vincent van Gogh: Later Years

Vincent van Gogh worked with the miners for some time, and then became an artist after pressure from his brother, Theo. He lacked any formal training or even an exceptional talent, and his parents doubted his abilities. Despite this, Theo pushed Vincent to succeed. Theo sent money to Vincent on a regular basis to support his new vocation. Van Gogh moved back to his parents' home when he was 27 years old, in 1881. He started teaching himself how to draw, concentrating on mastering shading, perspective and anatomy. He experimented with various techniques and subjects. At the time, he was getting lessons from his cousin, Anton Mauve.

Van Gogh had a relationship with a pregnant prostitute Sien Hoomik, with whom he already had one child. Mauve shunned Van Gogh for his relationship and the two had a falling out. Van Gogh still worked on honing his skills, though, and Hoomik often modeled for him. He soon broke off the relationship, and by the time he was 29 he had moved into a rented room and had created a makeshift studio.

During his time in the Netherlands, from 1881 to 1885, Van Gogh concentrated mostly on painting workers and peasants. His first pieces of work were painted heavily, with dark colors and clumsy strokes in his effort to show the life of the poor. Van Gogh's most famous piece of art from this time period was The Potato Eaters, 1885. According to iBiblio.org, van Gogh told his brother Theo, "I have tried to emphasize that those people, eating their potatoes in the lamp-light, have dug the earth with those very hands they put in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labor, and how they have honestly earned their food."

In 1885, Van Gogh moved to Antwerp to study at the art academy and then, by early 1886, he had moved to Paris with Theo. He was engrossed in the modern art that was so popular in the city and thus moved away from the dark colors used in his painting The Potato Eaters. He began to paint with vibrant colors and experiment with techniques used by impressionists and postimpressionists.

Mental Illness

Van Gogh's mental illness started to appear in 1888. He dealt with delusions, epilepsy and psychotic attacks. One day, Van Gogh pursued his friend Gauguin with a knife, threatening his life. The same day, Van Gogh returned home and mutilated his ear. According to VanGoghGallery.com, he offered the ear to a prostitute as a gift. He was temporarily hospitalized.

Van Gogh committed himself to an asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence at the end of 1888. If he attempted to paint for a long period, Van Gogh would suffer an attack. However, he continued to create art. Often, he would copy artists he admired. He used a different range of colors. Instead of the dark tones, he softened his palette to pinks and mauves. Nevertheless, the brushstrokes showed his agitated state. This is when Van Gogh created The Starry Night, his most popular piece of art. Some believe that the swirling lines used to show the sky represent his deteriorated mental state

Vincent van Gogh's Demise

In 1890, Van Gogh left Saint-Remy-de-Provence and tried to resume contact with his brother Theo. His work increased and he was creating close to one painting every day. Still, he sold only one and considered his life wasted. On July 27, 1890, Van Gogh tried to kill himself when he shot himself in the chest. He survived the gunshot, but ended up dying a couple of days later from the wound.

Van Gogh's brother Theo died six months later. His widow brought Van Gogh's collective work to Holland and worked hard to get the artist the recognition he never received when alive. After his creations were published, Van Gogh achieved almost instant fame.

Vincent van Gogh's Fame

Only Rembrandt is viewed as a greater Dutch painter than Van Gogh, and he still only sold one painting during his lifetime. Van Gogh created all of his work -- 1,100 drawings and 900 paintings -- during a ten-year period before succumbing to mental illness and committing suicide. Eleven years after his death, on March 17, 1901, there was a show in Paris that included 71 of Van Gogh's paintings. Following the show, his fame took off.

Van Gogh's mark on the art world has lived on after his death. He impacted fauvism, expressionism and early abstraction enormously. His influence can be found in other areas of art in the 20th century. Much of his work is in The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which is dedicated to Van Gogh's creations. Van Gogh's paintings are among the most expensive works of art in the world. Irises sold on March 30, 1987, for a record price of $53.9 million at Sotheby's in New York. Portrait of Doctor Gachet sold in 1990 for $82.5 million at Christie's, beating the previous record. Ironically, van Gogh's mother threw away several of his paintings while he was alive and after his death. However, in her lifetime, she did see her son's creations become famous.

Impact on Art

Vincent van Gogh's art continues to have a tremendous impact on the art world. He completed thousands of paintings that, according to Van Gogh Gallery, many have tried to replicate to no avail. Artists continue to try to mimic his style today.

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