Vincent van Gogh, and his paintings
Vincent van Gogh started to paint at the age of 27 in 1880 and his turbulent and disturbing life as a painter only lasted for a short time. But in a single decade, between his twenty-seventh and thirty-seventh years, Van Gogh created one of the most important legacies of painting ever to enrich the world. His striking use of color - much of it pure color, and thick-layered - exalted and even immortalized what he chose to depict: cypresses, orchards, wheat fields, and swirling clouds all ablaze under the scalding sun of Provence; a cafe in Aries crowned by a star-dappled evening sky; sunflowers and oleanders almost palpable in their brilliance; and the hard-working peasants of the Low Countries and France, for whom he had a deep, almost religious feeling.
Van Gogh was born in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands in 1853. He was forced to leave school at the age of 15 to get a job to help his financially struggling family. In his early 20's, following in the footsteps of his austere father who was a country minister, he turned to preaching in Amsterdam and Belgium. He ministered to the sick in a poverty-stricken coal mine south of Belgium; however, like so many other things in his life that turned out poorly, he found himself in need of a new profession in his late 20's. Not unlike his failed attempts at various occupations, his relationships with women were also completely disastrous. He turned to art in 1880 and moved to Brussels to become a painter. With no formal training and no money, his brother (Theo) agreed to help support him financially. Van Gogh stayed connected to his brother mainly through written letters over the next and final period of his life. These were his most turbulent years where it seemed he had set out on a path of self destruction but they were also the years when he created his greatest works of art. Theo sold only one painting for him for 400 francs, The Red Vineyards, just a few months before his untimely death.
Painting became an obsession to Van Gogh in his early years as a painter. He worked incessantly having little time for anything else. He was also studying on his own and through letters written to his brother, Theo, he made reference to the fact that he was putting himself through physical and mental anguish each day as a painter. Van Gogh moved to Paris where his brother lived and then from there moved to the south of France in the village of Arles. It was here that he moved into the famous little yellow house where he used all of his money for paints while surviving on only bread, coffee and absinthe. It is said that at this point in his life is when he began sipping turpentine, eating paint and began acting in a very disturbing and peculiar manner.
Mental illness was noticeably evident in Van Gogh's life by 1988. He was having epileptic type seizures, psychotic attacks and was often delusional. His brother, Theo, became very worried about his well being and offered a friend, Gaugin, money to go to Arles to look after his ailing brother. Gaugin moved in with Van Gogh; however, they ended up fighting constantly and Van Gogh actually threatened Gaugin with a knife. That same day the artist cut off his own ear and offered it to a prostitute he went to see as a gift. It was at this point that he was temporarily hospitalized for his mutilation as well as his poor mental state. He committed himself to an asylum not long after and all the while continued to paint. The tumultuous months that followed led up to Vincent Van Gogh's tragic demise.
Van Gogh's early expressive paintings used dark and muted colors. The Potato Eaters was his first true masterpiece; however, it was unfortunately considered to be a failure during his lifetime. Over the years he was influenced by impressionist Claude Monet, Gauguin, and transformed his style of painting to reflect impressionistic style. His most famous works include pieces like Starry Night, Sunflowers, Cafe At Night,, Irises, and Portrait of Dr. Gachet. Starry Night is one of his most popular pieces which was painted during his time in the asylum and the swirling strokes and shaken style may be considered a depiction of his own mental state.
Van Gogh did not live to see his talent recognized. Nor could he possibly ever have dreamt that he would be an enduring source of inspiration for subsequent generations of artists. Only a small circle of artists showed any interest in his work during his own lifetime. Now he is a household name and his paintings and drawings are admired throught the world.
I try more and more to be myself, caring relatively little whether people approve or disapprove. ”
- Vincent van Gogh