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Friday, 10 April 2015

Vincent Van Gogh


Vincent van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Groot-Zundert, a village close to Breda, in the predominantly Catholic province of North Brabant in the southern Netherlands. He was the oldest surviving child of Theodorus van Gogh and Anna Cornelia Carbentus.

His father, a calvinist minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, died in 1885. Van Gogh found his father's profession appealing and would be drawn to it later in his life.

Theodorus van Gogh

Vincent was given the name of a brother stillborn exactly a year before his birth. He felt unwanted as a child feeling he was a substitute for the other Vincent who his parents had tragically lost

Vincent didn't get on with his three sisters, one of whom  described him as serious and introspective. However, he cherished a lifelong friendship with his brother Theo, who was four years his junior.

In 1864 his parents unable to cope with Vincent's prickly temperament sent him away to a school in Zevenbergen where he spent five unhappy years.

Vincent c. 1866, approx. age 13


In July 1869, Van Gogh's uncle Cent helped him obtain a position with the art dealer Goupil & Cie in The Hague.

After his training, in June 1873, Goupil transferred him to London, where Van Gogh lodged at 87 Hackford Road, Brixton and worked at Messrs. Goupil & Cie's offices at 17 Southampton Street, near Convent Garden.

Van Gogh became moody after being rejected by a girl and was transferred to Goupil & Cie's Paris branch, where he became resentful at how art was treated as a commodity and started to lecture prospective customers on moral issues. On April 1, 1876, Goupil dismissed Van Gogh for lack of motivation.

Goupil & Cie Editeurs, Place de l'Opéra, Paris

Van Gogh returned to England for unpaid work as a supply teacher in a small boarding school in Ramsgate, where he taught languages and maths. When the proprietor of the school relocated to Isleworth, Middlesex, Van Gogh moved with him, but the arrangement did not work out and he left to become a Methodist minister's assistant.

Whilst living in England Van Gogh fell in love with the country’s national game of cricket.

At Christmas 1876, Van Gogh  returned home and found work in a bookshop in Dordrecht for six months.

To support his wish to become a pastor, Van Gogh's family sent him to Amsterdam to study theology in May 1877, but he failed the entrance exam.

After dropping out in 1878, Van Gogh became a missionary in a poor Belgian mining region known as the Borinage.

Bulb Fields (see below) was the first garden painting by Vincent van Gogh. Completed in The Hague in 1883, this painting depicts rectangular plots of blue, yellow, pink, and red hyacinths.

After his father's death on March 26, 1885, Van Gogh worked constantly in all the hours under the sun with little sleep to try to make a go of life as an artist. He painted furiously all the time, never stopping, slowly cracking up.

In the months following his father's death, Van Gogh painted The Potato Eaters, considered his first major work. The painting symbolized the rugged, honest peasant, wrestling life and livelihood from the soil.

Van Gogh had received little formal art training until the winter of 1885-86 when he spent three months at the academy in Antwerp. This proved a disappointment, as he was dismissed after a few months by Professor Eugène Siberdt.

In 1886 Van Gogh went to Paris to join his brother Théo, who was the manager of Goupil's gallery. Theo had supported Vincent financially throughout his life and he was able to introduce him to the impressionists in Paris such as Gauginm Cezanne and Monet.

In 1888 Van Gogh rented and decorated a yellow house in Arles, south east France in which he hoped to found a community of “impressionists of the south.”

Van Gogh first painted his masterpiece, Sunflowers in Paris in 1887. His still life of 15 sunflowers in a jar came about after the troubled artist stumbled on the past-their-best flowers discarded in the street. He returned to his subject a year later in Arles, this time showing bouquets of sunflowers in a vase.

Van Gogh painted a picture a day for the last 70 days of his life.  ll in all, he produced 900 paintings in a 10 year career, making him one of the most prolific painters of all time. However, by the time of his death in 1890, he had only sold one painting. The Red Vineyards Near Arles was bought by the Belgian artist Anna Boch.

Van Gogh had the habit of sucking on or biting his paintbrushes while he worked


Van Gogh was red haired, freckled, with extremely deep bright blue green eyes,

Self-Portrait, September 1889

Whilst in England Van Gogh fell in love with his Landlady's daughter, Eugénie Loyer. He was unable to confess to her of his feelings until he was about to return to Holland. When Vincent finally told her of his love, she rejected him, saying that she was secretly engaged to a former lodger

In 1881, Van Gogh declared his love to his widowed cousin Kee Vos, who rejected him with the words "No, nay, never" ("nooit, neen, nimmer").

Van Gogh move in with the prostitute Sien Hoornik and her children in 1882 and considered marrying her; his father was strictly against this relationship and even his brother Theo advised against it. They separated a year later.

Jeanne Calment, the French supercentenarian who has the longest confirmed human lifespan on record remembered Van Gogh. She recalled he was: "Ugly as sin, bad tempered, a grumbler and smelling of alcohol."


Van Gogh wished for a long time to go into the ministry. He preached his first sermon at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Kew, London and he begun with the words: "I am a stranger on this Earth. Hide not thy commandments from me. It is an odd belief and a good belief that our life is a pilgrim’s progress."

He worked for a time as co-worker at Turnham Green Congregational church in London, but Van Gogh preached long, ambiguous sermons that he read badly.

In 1878. Van Gogh started working as a missionary to the poor miners who worked in harsh conditions in Belgium. He  had desired for a long time to devote his life to suffering humanity. "It always strikes me”, he wrote, “and is very peculiar that whenever we see the image of indescribable and unutterable desolation; of loneliness, poverty and misery, the end and extreme of things, the thought of God comes into one's mind."

By 1880, disillusioned at the church authorities negative reaction to his work with the Belgian miners, Van Gogh decide to serve God in his paintings rather than in the pulpit. He left the Christian ministry a bitter man and tried to find the love he was missing in relationships with women.


On December 23, 1888, Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh's painting companion, threatened to leave him alone to spend a hard winter in Arles. In retaliation,, the tortured Dutchman came at the French artist with an open razor. He was stopped by Gauguin, but instead cut off part of his own left earlobe.

Van Gogh put the severed part of his ear in an envelope, wrapped his bleeding head in a scarf and handed it to a girl he knew in a brothel.  When the prostitute opened the envelope she promptly fainted.

The incident led to Van Gogh's painting Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, which was sold privately in the late 1990s for an estimated US$80/$90 million.

After cutting off his ear, Vincent van Gogh painted a portrait of  Dr. Félix Rey the 23 year old intern doctor who treated him. By January 17, 1889 van Gogh had given the portrait to Rey as a keepsake. While appreciative, the doctor never really liked the painting and used it for years to repair a chicken coop. It's now worth $50 million.

By 1889 Van Gogh was physically weak, having caught both gonorrhoea and syphilis from consorting with prostitutes and without half his teeth. He was feeling increasingly increasingly lonely and inadequate after the incident with Gauguin.

Van Gogh often ate lead-laden paint chips and sucked on his brushes, perhaps contributing to his bad health.

In May 1889 Van Gogh left Arles and entered an asylum (at his own request) in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. He spent much of his time there painting the irises which he saw growing in the gardens of the hospital.

His painting A Starry Night, which Don McLean references in his song "Vincent," was painted by the artist in 1889 inside Saint-Rémy-de-Provence asylum. He painted the night sky from memory.

Still Life: Vase with Pink Roses is an oil painting on canvas completed in 1890 by Van Gogh in Saint-Rémy. At the time the work was painted, the troubled artist was readying himself to leave the Saint-Rémy asylum for the quiet town of Auvers-sur-Oise outside of Paris. The painting reflects the optimism Van Gogh felt at that time about his future, both in his choice of flowers as a subject and the colors used.

In May of 1890, Van Gogh appeared to have regained his health and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise. However two months later he shot himself in the chest. The injured artist was able to walk back to the Auberge Ravoux, where he was attended by two physicians. However, without a surgeon present the bullet could not be removed. After tending to him as best they could, the two physicians left him alone in his room, smoking his pipe. Theo rushed to be with his brother as soon as he was notified,  but within hours Van Gogh began to fail due to an untreated infection caused by the wound. He died in the evening of July 29, 1890 aged 37.

Van Gogh's last words were: as "La tristese durera toujours", which meant, "The sadness will last forever" in French.

Vincent and Theo's graves at Auvers-sur-Oise. By Héric SAMSON - Wikipedia 

His last painting was Wheat Field with Crows. The work shouted out the torment Van Gogh was going through in his last months of his life.

Vincent Van Gogh didn't start to paint until the age of 28. In the nine years, until his death at 37, he painted over 800 paintings.

During his brief career Van Gogh had only sold one painting, but his finest works were all sold in less than three years after his death.

Vincent van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet was sold at auction in Christie's New York office on May 15, 1990 for a total of US$82.5 million. At the time it was the world's most expensive painting.

Portrait of Dr. Gachet 

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