Artist Profile

Vincent Van Gogh

Friday is Artist Profile Day!

Let’s meet Vincent Van Gogh

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh

Self-portrait with straw hat, 1887

Born: 1853 in the Netherlands

Died: 1890 in France (age 38) from a self-inflicted gunshot wound

Where they lived: Van Gogh moved from the Netherlands to England and Belgium.

Family: His father was a minister and his mother was an artist. His parent’s first son also Vincent was stillborn. He has 3 younger sisters and 2 younger brothers. At the age of 15, due to financial difficulties he had to leave school to go to work. He worked at an art dealership. He was fluent in Dutch, English, French, and German.


Background: In 1873, he transferred to a gallery in London in which he fell in love with the culture. He also fell in love with his landlady’s daughter, Eugenie Loyer. After she rejected his marriage proposal, Van Gogh suffered a breakdown. He began to devote his life to God and tried to become a minister in both Amsterdam and Belgium but was rejected.

Professional background/training: Van Gogh had almost no professional training as an artist. He took lessons on his own and studied books by Charles Bargue. He believed to be a great painter you must first master drawing. He studied with Picasso, Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec, and others while living in Paris.

Japanese artwork also influenced him. He was unable to afford to travel there but Lautrec convinced him to travel to Arles in the south of France. He spent his money on paint rather than food (coffee, bread, and absinthe) which caused him to feel sick. Not only was he physically sick but his mental health was declining as he had been eating painting and sipping on turpentine. Theo was concerned and paid Charles Gauguin to watch over Vincent. They began to argue and on that fateful night, Vincent was seen with a razor. He paid for a prostitute named Rachel at a brothel and he gave her his ear that he had cut off. He was found the next day by the police and admitted to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital. Theo came to visit him and found him weak from blood loss and suffering violent seizures. He survived this ordeal and was released a few weeks later but he was alone and depressed and was hospitalized again. The people of Arles signed a petition that he was violent so he was sent to Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence where he began to paint the hospital gardens.


Art Genre: Post-impressionist

Art medium used: Oil paint and watercolors (symbolic and bold use of color). He used chalk, pencil, reed pen, and charcoal for drawing (often mixed mediums).

Subject Matters: Landscapes, Portraits, Cityscapes, and Flowers/Blossoms

Famous Artwork:  Potato Eaters, Irises, Starry Nights, The Yellow House


Other Information: Struggled with mental illness throughout his life (self-destructive). He remained poor and relatively unknown throughout his lifetime. His instability becomes the romantic image of a tortured artist.

He had a catastrophic love life. His cousin Kate, a recent widow who was repulsed by him. He then fell in love with Clasina Maria Hoornik who was an alcoholic prostitute.

His brother Theo often supported Vincent financially and tried selling Vincent’s artwork. Van Gogh moved to Paris and showed up at his apartment uninvited.

His artwork helped with his emotional stability.

After he moved to Paris, his artwork was influenced and greatly changed by the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists. Lighter color palette, broken brush strokes used by the Impressionists and he attempted the pointillist technique of the Neo-Impressionists.

In January 1890, he moved to Auvres (north of Paris) to become a patient of Dr. Paul Gachet. On July 27th, he went out to paint and took a loaded pistol. He shot himself in the chest but this wound did not kill him immediately. He died two days later in his brother’s arms at home. Theo who suffered from syphilis and was weakened by his brother’s tragic death; he also suffered a mental breakdown and died six months later in a Dutch asylum. Theo’s wife, Johanna was a dedicated supporter of Vincent’s artwork and reburied Theo’s body next to Vincent’s. She also collected as many of his pieces of art as she could even though the boy’s mother had thrown away crates of his work.

 

His fame grew after a show in Paris in 1901.

He completed more than 2100 works including 860 oil paintings and more than 1300 watercolors, sketches, and drawings.

Irises sold for a record $53.9 million. Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82.5 million.

Portrait of Dr Gachet, 1890

Personal Opinion: I have always been drawn to the artwork of Vincent Van Gogh. In particular I love Café Terrace At Night and his multiple flower and garden paintings such as Irises. His use of color has always helped draw me in to his art.

I struggle with my personal feelings towards Van Gogh; I feel sorry for him. He never knew his own fame. He struggled financially his entire life and now his art is worth millions of dollars each. His struggles with mental illness destroyed his life; however did it help his creativity? Did his mental illness lead to his artistic genius or vice versa? Did his art cause him to go mad? How prolific would he have been if he hadn’t committed suicide at such a young age? Was it his life circumstances? What about his difficult relationships with women throughout his life?


Sources:

Vincent Van Gogh Biography

Van Gogh Museum

The Story of Van Gogh

Van Gogh Gallery

Style and Technique of Van Gogh

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