Vincent Van Gogh(1853-1890)
Van Gogh, the eldest of six children of a Protestant pastor, was born 30 March 1853, and reared in Groot Zundert, a small village in
the Brabant region of southern Netherlands. Van Gogh's birth came one year to the day after his mother gave birth to a first,
stillborn child - also named Vincent. His early years in his father's parsonage were happy, and he loved wandering in the
countryside. At 16 he was apprenticed to The Hague branch of the art dealers Goupil and Co., of which his uncle was a partner.
Vincent was relatively successful as an art dealer and stayed with Goupil & Cie. for seven more years. In 1873 he was transferred to the London branch of the company and quickly became enamoured with the cultural climate of England. He fell in love with the daughter of his landlord and sank into depression, upon being rejected by her. He would remain in London for two more years.The relationship between Vincent and Goupil's became more strained as the years passed and in May of 1875 he was transferred to the Paris branch of the firm. It became clear as the year wore on that Vincent was no longer happy dealing in paintings that had little appeal for him in terms of his own personal tastes. Vincent left Goupil's in late March, 1876 and decided to return to England where his two years there had been, for the most part, very happy and rewarding.
In April Vincent van Gogh began teaching at Rev. William P. Stokes' school in Ramsgate. He was responsible for 24 boys between the ages of 10 and 14. His letters suggest that Vincent enjoyed teaching. After that he began teaching at another school for boys, this one lead by Rev. T. Slade Jones in Isleworth. In his spare time Van Gogh continued to visit galleries and admire the many great works of art he found there. He also devoted himself to his Bible study--spending many hours
reading and rereading the Gospel. The summer of 1876 was truly a time of religious transformation for Vincent van Gogh. Although raised in a religious family, it wasn't until this time that he seriously began to consider devoting his life to the Church.
After working briefly in a bookshop in Dordrecht in early 1887, Van Gogh pursued his desire to serve the Church and decided to begin formal theological studies in Amsterdam. In January, 1879 Vincent began his duties preaching to the coal miners and their families in the mining village of Wasmes. Vincent felt a strong emotional attachment to the miners. He sympathized with their dreadful working conditions and did his best, as their spiritual leader, to ease the burden of their lives. Unfortunately, this altruistic desire would reach somewhat fanatical proportions when Vincent began to give away most of his food and clothing to the poverty-stricken people under his care. Despite Vincent's noble intentions, representatives of the Church strongly disapproved of Van Gogh's asceticism and dismissed him from his post in July. It was then that Vincent began to draw the miners and their families, chronicling their harsh conditions. It was during this pivotal time that Vincent van Gogh chose his next and final career: as an artist.
In autumn of 1880, after more than a year living as a pauper in the Borinage, Vincent left for Brussels to begin his art studies. Vincent was inspired to begin these studies as a result of financial help from his brother, Theo. Vincent and Theo had always been close as children and throughout most of their adult lives maintained an ongoing and poignantly revealing correspondence. It is these letters, in total more than 700 extant, which form most of our knowledge of Van Gogh's perceptions about his own life and works. Vincent continued drawings lessons on his own, taking examples from books. In the summer Vincent was once again living with his parents, now situated in Etten,and during that time he met his cousin Cornelia Adriana Vos-Stricker (Kee). Kee had been recently widowed and was raising a young son on her own. Vincent fell in love with Kee and was devastated when she rejected his advances.
Despite emotional setbacks with Kee and personal tensions with his father, Vincent found some encouragement from Anton Mauve (1838-88), his cousin by marriage. Mauve had established himself as a successful artist, and from his home in The Hague, supplied Vincent with his first set of watercolours--thus giving Vincent his initial introduction to working in colours. Van Gogh continued to work throughout upto 1885, but once again became restless and in need of new stimulation. He enrolled briefly in the Academy in Antwerp in early 1886, but left it about four weeks later feeling stifled by the narrow and rigid approach of the instructors. As he demonstrated frequently throughout his life, Vincent felt that formal study was a poor substitute for practical work. It was now time to explore new horizons and begin a journey which would further refine his craft. Vincent left The Netherlands to find the answers in Paris . . . . and in the company of the Impressionists.
Vincent van Gogh had written to his brother, Theo, throughout early 1886 in an effort to convince Theo that Paris was where he belonged. Theo was all too aware of his brother's somewhat abrasive personality and resisted. As always, Vincent was undeterred and simply arrived in Paris unannounced in early March. Theo had no choice but to take Vincent in. Theo, as an art dealer, had many contacts and Vincent would become familar with the ground-breaking artists in Paris at that time. Van Gogh's two years in Paris were spent visiting some of the early exhibitions of the Impressionists (displaying works by Degas, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Seurat and Sisley). There's no question that Van Gogh was influenced by the methods of the Impressionists, but he always remained faithful to his own unique style. Throughout the two years Van Gogh would incorporate some of the techniques of of the Impressionists, but he never let their powerful influence overwhelm him. To add further to the complex tapestry of Van Gogh's style, it was at this point in Paris that Vincent became interested in Japanese art. Japan had only recently opened its ports to outsiders after centuries of a cultural blockade and, as a result of this long-held isolationism, the western world was fascinated with all things Japanese. Van Gogh began to acquire a substantial collection of Japanese woodblock prints (now in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam) and his paintings during this time would reflect both the vibrant use of colour favoured by the Impressionists, and distinct Japanese overtones.Van Gogh's two years in Paris had a tremendous impact on his ongoing evolution as an artist. But he had acquired what he was seeking and it was time to move on. Never truly happy in large cities, Vincent decided to leave Paris and follow the sun, and his destiny, south.
The months to follow would be happy ones. Vincent took a room at the Café de la Gare at 10 Place Lamartine in early May and rented his famous "Yellow House" (2 Place Lamartine) as a studio and storage area. Vincent wouldn't actually move into the Yellow House until September, in preparation for establishing it as the base for his "Studio of the South." Despite the improved state of Theo's financial affairs, Vincent nevertheless remained true to form and spent a disproportionate amount of his money on art supplies instead of the basic necessities of life. Malnourished and overworked, Van Gogh's health declined early October, but he was heartened upon receiving confirmation that Gaugin would join him in the south. Vincent worked hard to prepare the Yellow House in order to make Gaugin feel welcome. Gaugin arrived in Arles by train early on 23 October.
The next two months would be pivotal, and disastrous, for both Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gaugin. Initially Van Gogh and Gaugin got on well together, painting on the outskirts of Arles, discussing their art and differing techniques. As the weeks passed, however, the weather deteriorated and the pair found themselves compelled to stay indoors more and more frequently. The relationship between Van Gogh and Gaugin deteriorated throughout December, however. Their heated arguments became more and more frequent--"electric" as Vincent would describe them. Relations between the pair declined in tandem with Vincent's state of mental health. On 23 December Vincent van Gogh, in an irrational fit of madness, mutilated the lower portion of his left ear. He severed the lobe with a razor, wrapped it in cloth and then took it to a brothel and presented it to one of the women there. Vincent then staggered back to the Yellow House where he collapsed. He was discovered by the police and hospitalized at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Arles. After sending a telegram to Theo, Gaugin left immediately for Paris, choosing not to visit Van Gogh in the hospital. Van Gogh and Gaugin would later correspond from time to time, but would never meet in person again. By the end of December and the early days of January, Vincent made a nearly full recovery.
By this time, however, some of the citizens of Arles had become alarmed by Vincent's behaviour and signed a petition detailing their concerns. The petition was submitted to the mayor of Arles and eventually to the superintendent of police who ordered Van Gogh readmitted to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital. Vincent realized that his position was a precarious one and, after discussions with Theo, agreed to have himself voluntarily confined to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Van Gogh left Arles on 8 May. In the new hospital, he was looked after by Dr. Paul Gachet, whom he befriended. By 1890, his mental health just kept deteriorating and adding to his feelings of guilt at his inescapable dependence on Theo (now married and with a son) and his inability to succeed. In despair of ever overcoming his loneliness or of being cured, he shot himself and died two days later on July 29, 1890.
Vincent worked on The Potato Eaters throughout April of 1885. He had produced various drafts in preparation of the final, large oil
on canvas version. The Potato Eaters is acknowledged to be Vincent van Gogh's first true masterpiece and he was encouraged by the
outcome. Although angered and upset by any criticism of the work (Vincent's friend and fellow artist, Anton van Rappard, disliked
the work and his comments would prompt Vincent to end their friendship), Vincent was pleased with the result and thus began a new,
more confident and technically accomplished phase of his career.
Although Van Gogh only ever produced three copies of Japanese paintings, the Japanese influence on his art would be evident in subtle form throughout the rest of his life. For example, the Portrait of Père Tanguy (1886) shows his usage of distinct Japanese overtones.
In Arles, he painted his series of sunflowers, which actually is said to have begun during his stay in Paris. These paintings with their vibrant splashes of yellow creating a truly vibrant effect in the eyes of the viewer. Van Gogh is said to have been truly at home in rural settings, as is depicted in his masterpiece - Starry Night (1889), with it's bizzare "whirly" effects of the rural night-sky. It is also the theme of the famous Don MacLean song - Starry Starry Night.
His admiration for Jean-François Millet's works are evident in such masterpieces as Sower with Setting Sun (1888), inspired by The Sower (1850) painted by Millet. Van Gogh also loved to paint self portraits and there are many each illustrating the various phases of his life. The common characteristic to all of them is the depth in the eyes, giving an insight on all the madness and suffering he had to live through. His other famous portrait include that of Dr. Gachet (1889).
Van Gogh painted more than 700 paintings and more than 800 sketches,