Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh

“I can’t change the fact that my paintings don’t sell. But the time will come when people will recognize that they are worth more than the value of the paints used in the picture.”Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh — Self-Portrait — 1889Vincent van Gogh — Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear — 1889 Courtauld GalleriesVincent van Gogh — Portrait artiste sans barbeVincent Van Gogh — Selbstbildnis mit verbundenem Ohr und Pfeife — 1889

Van Gogh as seen by Van Gogh: some of his self-portraits

Although the history of art is filled with famous figures, very few artists achieve -almost always posthumously- such celebrity status that their fame transcends beyond their field of work. Just as those who have never shown any interest in music are familiar with Mozart, Beethoven or Bob Dylan, even those who have never read a book on painting will know Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso… or Vincent van Gogh.

This fascination with Vincent van Gogh is probably due to a twofold reason: the attractive and complex nature of his pictorial work, which had a decisive influence on the avant-garde movements of the 20th century such as Fauvism or Expressionism; and the tortuous and tragic nature of his personal life, which includes mental illness, self-mutilation, and a long history of contempt by critics, only to become extremely appreciated after his death.

The “Dark” Van Gogh: the beginnings in Netherlands

Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me.Vincent van Gogh, 1882

Vincent van Gogh was born in 1853 in Zuenen, in the south of the Netherlands. As a teenager he moved to The Hague, where he made his first drawings. On a trip to Paris in 1875, he became acquainted with the work of Millet and other 19th century painters and fell in love with art.

After a brief stay in Etten, from where he was forced to flee after a failed romance with one of his female cousins, he moved to The Hague, where he also stayed for a short time for reasons unrelated to painting. In The Hague he painted “Rooftops, view from the Atelier The Hague”, a watercolor that stands out for its marked use of perspective.

Vincent van Gogh — Rooftops — 1882Vincent van Gogh — Die kartoffelesser — 1885

Van Gogh in the Netherlands: “Rooftops, View from the Atelier The Hague”, 1882. Watercolor, 33 x 55 cm. Collection Sammlung G. Renand ·· “The Potato Eaters”, 1885. Oil on canvas, 82 x 114 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

At the end of 1883 he traveled to his father’s house in Nuenen, where he achieved a certain stability. Van Gogh’s works in The Hague show a pessimistic, almost tragic vision of peasant life, possibly influenced by the works of Millet that Van Gogh had seen in Paris the previous decade. This is noticeable in “The Potato Eaters,” his most famous work of this period, and often considered Van Gogh’s first masterpiece.

Van Gogh in Paris: impressionism and japonaiserie

“In Antwerp I did not even know what the Impressionists were, now I have seen them and though not being one of the club, yet I have much admired certain Impressionist pictures — Degas, nude figure — Claude Monet, landscape”Vincent van Gogh, 1886

After a brief stay in Antwerp, where he studied models at the Royal Academy, Van Gogh arrived in Paris in early 1886. In the French capital he lived with his brother and art dealer Theo, a figure of enormous importance in his life. In Montmarte, then the epicenter of artistic and bohemian life, he met artists such as Toulose-Lautrec and Gauguin. The paintings of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists had a great influence on the works of Van Gogh, who changed his dark palette -typical of his first paintings in Nuenen- for a more cheerful one, using complementary colors. As relevant as the Impressionist influence was the contact with works by Japanese artists such as Hokusai or Hiroshige, whose works Van Gogh often included in his own paintings, as can be seen in his “Portrait of Père Tanguy” (1887). Van Gogh himself went so far as to write, in a letter to his brother, that “all my art is in a sense based on Japanese art.”

Vincent’s strong character led him to argue several times with Theo. During the two years the artist spent in Paris, the two quarreled and reconciled several times. The “total calm” did not come until the end of 1887, when Vincent moved to a house in Asnières. However, his health suffered, and Vincent decided to look for a new residence in the south.

Vincent van Gogh — La Guinguette au Montmartre — 1886Vincent van Gogh — Portrait of Pere Tanguy — 1887–8

Van Gogh in Paris: “”La Guinguette” in Montmarte”, 1886. Oil on canvas, 49 x 64 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris ·· “Portrait of Père Tanguy”, 1887. Oil on canvas, 65 x 51 cm. Musée Rodin, Paris.

The artistic maturity: Arles

“I am not working for myself alone, I believe in the absolute necessity for a new art of color, of design, and of the artistic life”Vincent van Gogh, 1888

In Arles, in the heart of Provence, Van Gogh found the right place to make use of the colors he had admired in the works of the Post-Impressionists and, above all, Japanese artists. He worked intensely, completing 200 paintings in less than two years, creating a remarkable body of work ranging from landscapes with a clear Japanese influence (“Peach Blossom”), portraits (“The seated Zouave”), and still lifes, including his famous series of “Sunflowers”.

Between October and December 1888, Paul Gauguin lived with Vincent van Gogh in Arles. The two months that the artists spent together represent one of the most interesting, mysterious, and at the same time famous and misunderstood moments in the history of art. A complex story of mutual admiration, envy and personality clashes culminated in the cutting off of Van Gogh’s ear shortly before Christmas in 1888. Although it was long assumed that it was Vincent himself who self-mutilated his own ear, recent studies do not rule out that it was Gauguin (who fled Arles shortly thereafter) who assaulted Vincent.

Vincent van Gogh — Sunflowers — 1888 National Gallery LondonVincent van Gogh — La chambre de Van Gogh a Arles — 1889 — Chicago Art Institute

Van Gogh in Arles: “Sunflowers”, 1888. Oil on canvas, 93 x 73 cm. London, National Gallery ·· “The artist’s bedroom in Arles”, 1888. Oil on canvas, 72 x 90 cm, Art Institute of Chicago.

Be that as it may, Van Gogh’s mental health was greatly affected by this incident. After recovering physically in the hospital of Arles, Van Gogh was admitted to the mental hospital of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, in the former monastery of Saint-Rémy.

A window to the stars: Saint-Remy

“I am working like one actually possessed, more than ever I am in a dumb fury of work”Vincent van Gogh, 1889

At the Saint-Rémy sanatorium, Van Gogh had a room and time (a lot of time) to paint, although his visits outside were limited. He painted several views of the sanatorium’s garden (such as his sensational “Irises”), and reinterpretations of paintings by masters, especially by his admired Millet. But undoubtedly the most famous work of this period — and possibly the most well known painting of his entire career — is “The Starry Night”, a work often associated with the artist’s madness, but which is actually closer to being an almost expressionistic study of what Van Gogh himself contemplated from his sanatorium room.

Van Gogh — La nuit etoilee — 1889 — Oil on canvas — MoMA — New YorkVincent van Gogh — Irises — 1889 — Getty Museum

Van Gogh in Saint-Remy: “The Starry Night,” 1889. Oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92 cm. MoMA, New York ·· “Irises,” 1889. Oil on canvas, 71 x 93 cm. Getty Museum, Malibu.

Auvers: The End

“The sadness will last forever.”Last words of Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, 1890

After his stay at the Saint-Paul sanatorium, Van Gogh traveled to Auvers-sur-Oise, on the outskirts of Paris, to live near his brother Theo. Because of his mental health history, he was under the supervision of Paul Gachet, a homeopathic doctor in charge of treating Vincent. Despite Vincent’s appreciation for the doctor (of whom he painted two portraits, one of which was at the time the most expensive painting ever sold), it seems clear that Gachet’s treatment was ineffective, and Vincent himself defined the doctor as “ sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much”.

As in Arles, in Auvers Van Gogh worked obsessively, sometimes completing several canvases in a week. His brushwork became even more vigorous, creating almost abstract compositions (as in his “Tree Roots”). In the late spring and early summer of 1890 he created his paintings of wheat fields, fields that he defined as being of “extreme sadness and loneliness.”

Vincent Van Gogh — Portrait of Dr. Gachet — 1890–68 x 57 cmVincent Van Gogh — Wheatfield with Crows — 1890

Van Gogh in Arles: “Portrait of Doctor Gachet”, 1890. Oil on canvas, 93 x 73 cm. Private collection ·· “Wheat field with Crows”, 1890. Oil on canvas, 50.2 x 103 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

On July 27, 1890, Vincent van Gogh returned seriously wounded to the Ravoux pension: a bullet wound in his chest caused him to die two days later in the arms of his brother Theo. The most widespread hypothesis is that it was Vincent himself who shot himself, unable to bear his mental suffering. He was buried in the cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise, where he rests next to his brother.

Van Gogh’s legacy

Largely ignored during his lifetime, after his death the art of Vincent van Gogh steadily gained fame. In 1901, Theo van Gogh’s wife organized the artist’s first retrospective in Paris, and in 1913 the artist’s first exhibition in America took place. In 1987, one of his “Sunflowers” broke all auction records for a painting, being sold for nearly $40 million at Christie’s London. Van Gogh broke his own record soon after, with his “Lilies” fetching $53.9 million, only to be surpassed by the “Portrait of Doctor Gachet,” acquired for $82.5 million in 1990, a century after the artist’s death.




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ART & the Art World (theartwolf)

ART & the Art World (theartwolf)

ART magazine aimed to offer an original & independent point of view about the Art World ▷ Its news, events, protagonists, glories and miseries.

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