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Who was Van Gogh? Posted by on May 3, 2010 in Dutch Language

One of the Dutch worldwide famous painters is Vincent van Gogh. Everyone has heard of him and the most people will recognize at least some if his paintings. In 1973, even his own museum was opened. But what exactly is the history behind this great man?

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born in Zundert, on March 30 in 1853, as the oldest of five kids. After going to school in his village his parents sent him to two boarding schools. Although he was not a bad student, he left in the middle of his school career in 1868. He returned to Zundert and never went back to school.

One of his first jobs regarding the arts was his employment at Goupil & Cie in 1869. This international art trade company was based in Paris and Van Gogh worked at the department in Den Haag as the youngest servant. In 1873 he was promoted and went to Brussels, but was relocated back to Den Haag again.

It time in Den Haag didn’t take long. In June of 1873 he started to work for Goupil in London, where his love for paintings increased. Still, his work for Goupil went from bad to worse. Van Gogh started to focus more on the Bible and his need to help other people. When he eventually was fired in 1876, he decided to become a minister.

In that same year he decided to become a teacher at boarding school. His interest for religion began to turn into an obsession. His parents were worried and tried to convince him to come back to Holland. He let them convince him and moved to Amsterdam in 1877.  He studied theology and was send out in December 1878 to a poor mining area in Belgium to work as a preacher. Together with the mine workers he lived like them. He gave all his property away and slept on the floor. The church didn’t approve of his close involvement and he was fired. Still, he kept working for the poor.

Van Gogh kept struggling with his need to mean something. In 1880 he realized that he can serve God as well via the arts, because he thought that in the essence of art lays God. He moved to Brussels and considered enrolling in the Academy of the Arts, but decided to study at home. Because he didn’t have any work, his brother Theo supported him until his death. He fell in love with his niece who rejected him. His persistence for her love created a break between him and his parents and his intense religious beliefs started to diminish.

At the end of 1881 Van Gogh’s stayed a couple of weeks in Den Haag. He received lessons in painting from Anton Mauve, the husband of Van Gogh’s niece. Mauve introduced him to water and oil paint. After some trouble with his father, Van Gogh returned in 1882. He rented an atelier and took more lessons from Mauve. In that same year he received his first assignment by his uncle who asked him to paint twelve townscapes of Den Haag.

Van Gogh decided to move to the province of Drenthe in 1883. He drew landscapes and farmers, but got lonely and returned to his parents house. Still, he kept up the farmer drawings. When his father died in 1885 he completed his first great drawing: de Aardappeleters (the potato eaters).

The painter left Holland forever and moved to Antwerpen in 1885. Here it was way easier for him to get nude models and  materials. Still, he decided to move to Paris in 1886. He moved in with his brother Theo on the Montmartre. Van Gogh, who had only seen Dutch art and French impressionists, got in touch with impressionists like Claude Monet. This changed his way of painting.

He studied the work of the impressionists and trid to give it his own style. His pallet became lighter and his pencil strokes looser. He also took over the subjects of French café’s and boulevards. Another thing he experimented with was the dotting technique of the neo-impressionists.

Because making money was something no one can forget about, Van Gogh started to focus on self portraits. Because he couldn’t afford a model, he bought a mirror to paint himself. He painted around 20 self portraits in which he experimented a lot with style and color. One of his last self portraits, “Zelfportret als schilder” (self portrait as a painter), shows his personality with great strength.

Van Gogh looked back on his older paintings and thought they are way too gray. He experimented more with color, using different strings of wool to test the effect of color combinations. He often painted outside of the Asnieres, a village near Paris where a lot of impressionists worked.

With this new life came new friends, who Van Gogh called the “kunstenaars van de Petit Boulevard” (the artists of the Petit Boulevards), with Toulouse-Lautrec, Signac, Bernard and Anquetin. These artists were younger and less famous than the impressionists Van Gogh learned from. They met each other often in the color trade of Pere Tanguy, where Van Gogh also meets Gaugin several times. In1887 he decided to show Gaugin and his friend’s work in a Parisian restaurant. Tanguy sometimes displays Van Gogh paintings in his window displays.

The painter decided to move to Provence, since he couldn’t seem to work in Paris. He rented an atelier in Arles, the Yellow House, and invited Gaugin to move in with him. While waiting for Gaugin, Van Gogh painted a lot of sun flowers and still lived to decorate the atelier. He was inspired by the bright colors of Provence and created painting after painting, all with a powerful look. Gaugin, who arrived in 1888, described Van Gogh paintings as marvelous.

The spring of Provence inspired him to paint landscapes and flourishing trees. In the summer he focused more on the life of the country side. He often painted his canvasses in one session.

In October, Gaugin arrived in Arles. The duo got into great discussions about art, which took its toll on the two of them.  During a psychotic  episode in December, Van Gogh threatened to cut Gaugin’s ear off with a razor. Later on, he cut a piece of his own left ear off and ended up in the hospital. He left the hospital in January of 1889.

Things didn’t go better with the artist. He thought his breakdown was caused by too much drinking and smoking, but couldn’t stop. In May 1889, he decided to stay in a mental hospital for treatment in Saint-Rémy. His doctor concluded he suffered from an acute mania with visual and auditory hallucinations.

He stayed a year in the hospital and used painting as therapy. Van Gogh turned the cell next to him into an atelier. At first he wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital, so he painted through the bars of his cell. Later on he was allowed to go out and drew corn fields and olive trees in the nearby area. The strict rules had a good influence on the artist and he felt happier than he did in the outside world.

Still, sometimes he couldn’t leave his room because of major attacks. Once he swallowed paint to poison himself so after this episode he had only pencils to draw with. During those heavy times he created duplicates of famous artists like Rembrandt and Millet and gave the black and white pictures his own personal color modulation.

In the meantime the year of 1890 started. Even though Van Gogh was sick, he created one masterpiece after the other and sent them to Theo in Paris. Theo was utterly impressed by the creations of his brother. Others started to notice Van Gogh’s work as well. He was given room for six of his paintings in the art circle Les Vingts from Belgium and when he showed his art in de Salon des Indépendants (tow paintings in 1889 and  ten in 1890), his friends from Paris told him about the success. Gaugin wrote: “I send you my sincere compliments. For many artists you are the most remarkable one.”

In January of 1890, Albert Aurier in the Merure the France, wrote a positive critique about Van Gogh’s paintings. Aurier connected him to the symbolists, who received a lot of attention in this decennium, just like post-impressionist groups such as the Nabis. Van Gogh was moved, but didn’t agree that he had so much influence in the world of the art. He thought he would always be of secondary value.

In May of 1890 Van Gogh left the institution and went to Auvers-sur-Oise, a place close to Paris. The artist moved in with Paul Gachet, a homeopathic healer and amateur painter. He gave Van Gogh the advise to forget about his sickness and to focus on his paintings.

Van Gogh started working right away. He painted the surroundings and for two months he created almost a painting a day. Even though everything passed peacefully, Van Gogh feared another attack.

In the beginning of June 1890, Van Gogh visited Theo in Paris.  All this time Theo had worked at the art dealer Boussod and he had grown tired of his work. He told Van Gogh he wanted to start his own company, but that it would mean they would have less to spend. The painter was worried about Theo and his worries made him deeply sad.

On the 27th of July Van Gogh walked into a corn field and shots himself in the chest. He stumbled back to the house, where he died two days  later, in the company of Theo.  The day after he was buried in Auvers, with among others Lucien Pissarro, Emile Bernard and Pere Tanguy as persons present.  Van Gogh’s coffin was covered with yellow flowers with his pencils and standard next to the coffin. His paintings were left to Theo, who would have a great influence on artists in the future.

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  1. Bernadette Joolen:

    That was a very nice piece. His was such an inspirational story. I first learned the story of Vincent van Gogh in highschool, when I read the novel, Lust for Life, by Irving Stone. It had a huge influence on me!

    My family was from Holland. (We came to the States in 1961). My brothers are named Vincent and Theo, just like the brothers van Gogh. Thanks for your lovely post!

    ~bernadette joolen,
    a dutch girl who lives in seattle now…=)

  2. Peter Simon:

    An excellent post with a very good video. Let me add for lovers of Vincent’s art that besides the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, it’s highly worth visiting the Kröller-Müller museum in the Hoge Veluwe, near Arnhem, which also has a large number of his paintings, among other modern art.

  3. barbara:

    Thank you for that good article. I love Van Gogh’s paintings and I feel for his difficult life. I have made a little video of his painting.

  4. noortje:

    Thank you guys. I agree that Van Gogh is one of the most inspiring artists Holland has ever known