WHO WAS VINCENT VAN GOGH?

vangoghAn extremely influential artist, Vincent van Gogh’s artistic effects can be seen throughout art history – the Fauves and German Expressionists, for instance, worked after his death and utilized many of van Gogh’s elements, such as the subjectivity and use of colour, to great effect. He would influence the Abstract Expressionists and the Neo-Expressionists through his use of expressive brushstrokes and palate. Even though only one painting of nearly nine-hundred sold during his lifetime, Van Gogh ’s impact on the art world after his death is immense, and his legacy will live on in perpetuity.

Van Gogh’s Biography

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on March 30th, 1853 in Groot-Zundert, in the southern Netherlands.  He was the oldest surviving child of his family and was given the name of his grandfather, and of a brother who was born a stillborn.  His brother and friend Theo was born four years later.

He was, by all accounts, a serious and thoughtful child and in 1860 he was sent to the local school.  In 1864, he was sent to a boarding school and felt abandoned, and in 1866 his parents moved him to a middle school where he remained deeply unhappy. Van Gogh’s artistic talent showcased itself at a young age and his early drawings were quite expressive. In 1868, Vincent van Gogh would return home but he had changed, and in his words had become “gloomy and cold and sterile.”

In 1869, his uncle Cent helped him by assisting in obtaining a position for him with an art dealer in The Hague. Here, he continued his own training and learned much about art and in 1873 he was transferred to London. He was successful at his work here and at the young age of 20 out earned his father.  After an unrequited passion with his landlady’s daughter, Eugenie Loyer, he grew more isolated and morose. His father and uncle arranged to bring him to Paris, but he was resentful, and often railed against the commodification of art. Vincent van Gogh was eventually fired from his art position.

In 1881, being significantly impoverished, van Gogh decided to move back in with his parents, where he taught himself how to draw. He would also become madly infatuated with his cousin, which caused a great deal of tension in his family.

Career Highlights

Van Gogh’s most significant works were all created in the years preceding his death and include, among so many others, Starry Night, Café Terrace at Night and The Potato Eaters.

The Starry Night, which was completed in 1889, is often considered Vincent van Gogh’s crowning achievement and was painted entirely from memory. It depicts the east-facing window of his asylum room at Saint-Remy-de-Provence, just before sunrise. It is, in addition to van Gogh’s most important works, one of the most recognizable pieces of western art ever created.

The piece, according to art historian Meyer Shapiro, was created under the “pressure of feeling” and that the painting is “visionary…inspired by a religious mood.” Indeed, the solemn and meditative qualities of The Starry Night are considerable. Not only this, however, but the painting’s almost hallucinatory character are extremely expressive, and this blend of chaos and stillness is one of the most compelling aspects of the piece. It has also been described as a highly religious painting, involving van Gogh’s deeply spiritual and personal reflections on his religion as a whole.

Vincent van Gogh himself, interestingly enough, didn’t care for the piece much, if at all, and considered the work a failure for being “an abstraction,” with the blame solely at the stars for being, “too big.”

Regardless, this painting remains beautifully evocative and is rightly famous for advancing the act of painting that which is beyond the physical world.

A continually troubled man, Vincent van Gogh shot himself in the chest on July 27, 1890.  While he tried to get help, he was unable to be saved and died on the evening 29 hours after the gunshot.  His last words are haunting: “The sadness will last forever.”  He was only 37 years old. His influence wouldn’t fully emerge until the mid-1900’s, where he would forever after be considered one of the most significant artists of all time.

Fun Facts about Vincent van Gogh

  • Vincent van Gogh painted almost 900 paintings in less than ten years when he decided to fully commit himself to art.
  • He was a prolific letter writer as well, having composed nearly 800 letters in his lifetime, mainly to his brother Theo.
  • Contrary to popular belief, only van Gogh’s earlobe was cut off and not the entire ear. The story of how it became to be cut is shrouded in mystery and his friend, Gauguin claimed fifteen years after the incident that Vincent van Gogh followed ”several instances of physically threatening behaviour.”
  • Starry Night was composed in an asylum where he had voluntarily admitted himself to recover from his previous ear-cutting breakdown. The painting was his view from his bedroom window and his been part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection since 1941.
  • Only one of his paintings sold during his lifetime, The Red Vineyard which sold for 400 francs seven months before his death. To contrast, in 1990, his most expensive painting Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $148.6 million.


Concluding Thoughts

One of the most popular artists of all time, Vincent van Gogh attempted to convey his spiritual and emotional states with each of his works, and goes quite a long way in explaining his immense popularity.  Each of his works were incredibly personal and evocative, easily allowing the viewer to lose themselves in their beauty. Each painting vividly depicts the artist’s vision and his style is a well-loved one that will stand the test of time. His radically emotional style would continue to affect artists and movements throughout the twentieth century and into the present day, solidifying van Gogh in the canon of art history and guaranteeing him one of the most prestigious places among the greatest artists of all time.  Musart is pleased to be able to showcase the work of this legendary artist.

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