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The Life and Artistic Career of Vincent Van Gogh

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Vincent Willem Van Gogh was born to Theodorus Van Gogh and Anna Carbentus on March 30th,1853, in the Netherland town of Zundert. He was the oldest of 5 younger siblings, one of whom was Theo Van Gogh. Despite being a successful student and earning high grades, Vincent left school at age 16 to begin an apprenticeship at Goupil and Cie. Goupil and Cie was an art dealership of which his uncle was a partner. His younger brother, Theo, also apprenticed under the company. Despite his fondness for art, he reportedly disliked art dealing.

He began his apprenticeship at The Hague, later moving to London and eventually Paris, where he was let go from the company in 1876. He traveled around Europe trying at odds jobs, including teaching and priesthood, before discovering his love for drawing and painting in 1880. He returned to live with his parents in 1881, but still traveled periodically. His brother Theo, having succeeded as an art dealer at Goupil and Cie, financially supported him during this time. As means to repay him, Vincent sent him artwork to sell in France. However, at the time, the paintings weren’t purchased or well-received.

In 1888 Vincent was famously rumored to have cut off his ear to gift to a former sex worker who often modeled for him. However, this actually could have been the work of his roommate at the time, painter Paul Gauguin, who was also a talented fencer. Some scholars theorize that Gauguin cut off Vincent’s ear during a dispute, and that Vincent lied to cover for his roommate. After this incident, he was hospitalized until 1889. After that, he admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital for about a year. During his time there, he made over 150 paintings, including some of his most famous works. “Starry Night” depicted the view from his room window and “Irises” was a study of the irises growing in the hospital garden. In 1890, he painted his famous painting “Almond Blossom” for his brother Theo’s newborn son, who was also named Vincent Willem Van Gogh in his uncle’s honor. 1890 is the year that Vincent’s artwork began to sell, be displayed, and be generally well-reviewed by the public, although not nearly on the scale that it is today. Upon his release from the mental hospital, he moved to France.

On July 27th, 1890 Vincent left the inn he was staying at with his art supplies, supposedly headed to a wheat field where he liked to paint. He returned 5 hours later without his painting supplies, but with an abdominal gunshot wound. He died from this wound two days later, on the 29th, at age 37. Though long-thought to be suicide, new evidence points to him most likely having been shot by a second party by mistake. A popular theory has him being shot by the younger brother of a neighborhood boy that he befriended over a love of art. The younger brother was reported to have both often teased Vincent and keep a revolver as part of a costume. Vincent, despite insulting suicide earlier in life by saying it was an act of “moral cowardice”, insisted to both police and his brother that he had killed himself, and that no one else was to be blamed for his death. It is thought that he was covering for the boys to protect their identities. Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know what actually happened.

Van Gogh’s painting style is very recognizable. Vibrant colors, which he found very important, and short brushstrokes are very signature to him. Naturally, like most people, I’m a big fan of Van Gogh. I love that he had a vibrant, colorful take on the world/places around him, often despite his circumstances. I’m annoyed when people attribute his skill of creativity to his struggle with mental illness, however I think that his ability to create in spite of it should be celebrated. His frequent use of vibrant, complementary/contrasting colors, specifically blues and warm yellows together, is my personal favorite thing about his paintings. In my youth, I had small posters of both Starry Night Over the Rhône and The Potato Eaters. Despite being works from the same artist, the two paintings evoke almost completely opposite feelings. Starry Night Over the Rhône exudes peace, warmth, and clam, while The Potato Eaters has a cold, dark, despairing atmosphere.

Vincent Van Gogh was, in both my opinion and the opinions of many others, one of the best, most unique painters. It’s heartbreaking that his life and artistic career were both heavily addled by mental illness and cut short before they found wide-scale acceptance and success. His colorful depictions of nature, people, places, and otherwise dull, everyday objects heavily influenced expressionism, and has, without a doubt, inspired countless artists to persistently create work of their own despite whatever challenges or tribulations, such as mental illness, are holding them back. 

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