Vincent van Gogh
Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853 – 1890) is among the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. Van Gogh was unsuccessful during his lifetime and was considered a madman and a failure. He created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last two years of his life. They were characterised by bold colours and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art.
Vincent van Gogh’s Art
- Starry Night
- “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh depicts the view from the east-facing window of Van Gogh’s asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just before sunrise, with the addition of an idealised village. “The Starry Night” is regarded as one of Van Gogh’s most beautiful works and is one of the most recognised paintings in the history of Western culture.
- Starry Night Over the Rhône
- “Starry Night Over the Rhône” is one of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings. The painting of Arles at night time was painted from the quay on the east side of the Rhône River. This spot was only a two-minute walk from the Yellow House which Van Gogh was renting at the time.
- “Sunflowers” by Vincent van Gogh, was painted in 1888 and is one of four sunflower paintings in his “Arles Sunflowers” series. Sunflowers were symbolic of happiness for Van Gogh. The “Arles Sunflowers” series was painted in Arles and was intended to decorate Gauguin’s room in the house that he had rented in the South of France. He and Gauguin worked there together for three months. “Sunflowers” was the painting that Van Gogh was most proud of and it is one of Van Gogh’s most famous works and one of the most reproduced.
- “Irises” is one of several paintings of ‘Irises’ by Vincent van Gogh and one of a series of paintings he painted at the asylum in Saint-Rémy, France, in the last year before his death. In 1889 after several episodes of self-mutilation and hospitalisation, Van Gogh chose to enter an asylum. There, in the last year before his death, he created over 120 paintings. Shortly after entering the asylum, Van Gogh started Irises, working from nature in the asylum’s garden. He called painting “the lightning conductor for my illness” because he felt that he could keep himself from going insane by continuing to paint.
- Self Portrait, dedicated to Paul Gauguin
- “Self Portrait, dedicated to Paul Gauguin” by Vincent van Gogh is a self-portrait depicting his face as it appeared in the mirror, his right side in the image is, in reality, the left side of his face. Van Gogh’s painted dozens of self-portraits, they were an essential part of his work of a painter. Vincent van Gogh wanted to reinvent painting through the genre of portraiture, he encouraged other artists to paint themselves, and then to exchange the canvases. Van Gogh received self-portraits from Emile Bernard, and Gauguin and Van Gogh sent this portrait to Gauguin with the inscription “To my friend Paul Gauguin”. He described the process of creating his portrait in several letters to his brother Theo, an art dealer in Paris, explaining how he modelled his features influenced by Japanese prints. He added colour effect with the contours of his jacket and painted the background in a “pale Veronese green” without shadows.
- Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin
- “Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin” by Vincent van Gogh, is one of six paintings that van Gogh painted of his close friend, a postal worker from the southern French town of Arles. Joseph Roulin, the local postman, was one of his favourite sitters in Arles. Van Gogh wrote to his brother: “I am now at work with another model, a postman in a blue uniform, trimmed with gold, a big bearded face, very like Socrates.” Van Gogh painted several portraits of Joseph Roulin and Madame Roulin, as well as their children. The “Roulin Family” is a group of portrait paintings that Vincent van Gogh painted in Arles in 1888 and 1889. Van Gogh loved to paint portraits. However, it was difficult for financial reasons for him to find models. Fortunately, the entire family agreed to sit for Van Gogh, over several sittings and each was a delight for Van Gogh.
- White House at Night
- “White House at Night” by Vincent van Gogh was created six weeks before his death. It is thought that van Gogh painted “White House at Night” around 8:00 PM based on the position of the “star” in the painting. Astronomers calculated that the star in the picture must be Venus which was bright in the evening sky in June 1890. Does this painting express Van Gogh’ s psychological tension? The painting itself has had a turbulent history. In the late 1920s, it became part of a private collection of a German industrialist. Pictures of this style were labelled “degenerate art” by the Nazis, which contributed to this painting and other Post-Impressionism paintings being kept secret.
- The Night Café
- “The Night Café” by Vincent van Gogh depicts the interior of Café de la Gare, in Arles. Five customers are sitting at tables, and a waiter in a light coat is standing and facing the viewer. A half-curtained doorway in the centre background is leading to the private quarters. The title of this painting is inscribed lower right beneath the signature. In highly contrasting and vivid colours, the paint is applied thickly, with the perspective leading toward the door in the back.
- Self-Portrait as a Painter
- “Self-Portrait as a Painter” by Vincent van Gogh is one of the dozens of self-portraits, Van Gogh made, and they are an essential part of his body of work as a painter. Van Gogh painted over 30 self-portraits placing him among the most prolific self-portraitists of all time. Van Gogh used portrait painting as a method of introspection and a way of developing his skills as an artist.
- Self Portrait with Felt Hat
- “Self Portrait with Felt Hat” by Vincent van Gogh is one of the dozens of self-portraits, he made, and they were an essential part of the body of work as a painter. Van Gogh painted over 30 self-portraits placing him among the most prolific self-portraitists of all time. Van Gogh used portrait painting as a method of introspection and a way of developing his skills as an artist.
- Wheat Field with Cypresses (MET)
- “Wheat Field with Cypresses” at the MET is one of three similar 1889 paintings by Vincent van Gogh, as part of his wheat field series. All were created at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole mental asylum at Saint-Rémy near Arles, France, where Van Gogh was voluntarily a patient. The works were inspired by the view from the window at the asylum. The painting depicts golden fields of ripe wheat, a dark green cypress towering like a green obelisk and lighter green olive trees, with hills and mountains that nearly merge with the white clouds and swirling blue sky.
- Self-Portrait ‘Mutilated Ear
- “Self-portrait ‘Mutilated Ear’” by Vincent van Gogh shows Van Gogh after a confrontation with Gauguin in which with a razor, Van Gogh in a rage severed part of his left ear. Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions, and he often neglected his physical health and drank heavily. The exact sequence of events which led to Van Gogh’s mutilation of his ear is not known. This self-portrait shows his mutilated ear and following this incident, his friendship with Gauguin ended and he spent time in a psychiatric hospital. After he discharged himself and moved nearer to Paris, and came under the care of the homoeopathic doctor. His depression continued, and in 1890, Van Gogh was shot in the chest with a revolver. He died from his injuries two days later.
- Green Wheat Field with Cypress (National Gallery, Prague)
- “Green Wheat Field with Cypress” by Vincent van Gogh was completed in 1889, while van Gogh was voluntarily incarcerated at the asylum of St. Paul near Saint-Rémy in Provence, France. Van Gogh created several paintings of wheat fields with cypresses when he was able to leave the asylum and explore the landscape. This painting does not manifest the psychological tension that can be found in some of his other pictures during this period.
- The Raising of Lazarus
- Rembrandt’s paintings have influenced many successive painters, including Van Gogh who also painted a picture called “The Raising of Lazarus (after Rembrandt)”, based on a print of the Rembrandt image. Van Gogh depiction left out the central figure of Christ with his arm raised he focused on the human suffering and identified with Lazarus in the tomb. Lazarus in the Van Gogh painting below, has a red beard, just like Van Gogh. Prints from other masters inspired Van Gogh during his stay at the hospital in Saint-Rémy, and he made his version of the Raising of Lazarus from an etching by Rembrandt. With his ginger beard, Lazarus bears some resemblance to Van Gogh himself. The painter may have seen a parallel between Lazarus’ return from the dead and his struggle from mental illness towards recovery.
Vincent van Gogh Facts
- Van Gogh was born in the Netherlands
- Initially, van Gogh planned to be a pastor and worked as a lay preacher in Belgium. It was only on being let go from this job that he decided that his future lay in painting.
- Van Gogh didn’t start painting until he was 27 years old.
- Van Gogh never received any formal art training.
- Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, worked in an art gallery and introduced van Gogh to many artworks.
- Van Gogh visited many parts of Europe including Netherlands, France, Belgium and England.
- Japanese woodblock prints profoundly influenced Van Gogh. He collected pictures of Japanese woodblock prints, and he practised making copies.
- Van Gogh had several close relationships with many fellow artists, including Paul Gaugin and Emile Bernard.
- Van Gogh artistic career was only ten years.
- Van Gogh was a prolific letter writer, especially to his brother.
- He created over 900 paintings plus many more drawings and sketches.
- He died at the age of 37
- As a poor artist, van Gogh didn’t have money to pay for models, so he painted himself instead. He created hundreds of self-portraits.
- Van Gogh considered himself and many of his paintings to be failures.
- Van Gogh cut off his ear in 1888.
- Experts believe that that Gaugin cut off Van Gogh’s ear, following a violent dispute and that they both conspired to blame it on van Gogh so that Gaugin would not be jailed.
- Van Gogh wrapped up his removed ear and gave it to a prostitute in a nearby brothel.
- Van Gogh suffered mental health challenges for many years, and in 1889 he voluntarily admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy.
- Van Gogh spent a year in the hospital, from which he created some of his most well-known paintings.
- Van Gogh spent his adult life in poverty, surviving on cheap food. His diet consisted mainly of bread and coffee; he drank alcohol excessively and always had his pipe in hand.
- After leaving the asylum, Van Gogh’s mental health continued to deteriorate, and in 1890, he shot himself in the chest. He died two days later.
- There is speculation that Van Gogh did not shoot himself but that he was shot in a prank that went wrong. Van Gogh protected the identity of who shot him, by claiming that he shot himself.
- Only 37 years old when he died, he had just sold one painting in his lifetime.
- On his deathbed, van Gogh’s last words to his brother were “the sadness will last forever”.
- Van Gogh’s brother died very soon after Van Gogh’s death.
Vincent van Gogh and Japanese Art
These portraits of the Postman Joseph Roulin by Vincent van Gogh reflected his deep interest in Japanese prints. Van Gogh discovered Japanese Art in magazine illustrations of artwork created by woodblock prints using Japanese techniques that depicted Japanese life. In 1885, van Gogh started collecting “ukiyo-e” prints that he bought in small Parisian shops.
Van Gogh shared these prints with his contemporaries and organised a Japanese print exhibition in Paris in 1887. One version of Van Gogh’s Portrait of Pere Tanguy (1887) featured a backdrop of Japanese prints. Japanese woodblock prints inspired him, and in his works, he reflected the vibrancy of colour and light that he observed in Japanese woodblock prints.
Vincent van Gogh
- Name: Vincent Willem van Gogh
- Born: 1853 – Zundert, Netherlands
- Died: 1890 (aged 37) – Auvers-sur-Oise, France
- Resting place: Cimetière d’Auvers-sur-Oise, Auvers-sur-Oise, France
- Nationality: Dutch
- Movement: Post-Impressionism
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“The best way to know God is to love many things.”
– Vincent van Gogh
Photo Credit: 1) Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons