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The life of Vincent van Gogh

22 August - 2019
by Femke van Leeuwen
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Today, the work and everything about the life of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is extremely popular, but in his time as a painter Vincent had a hard time selling his work. He has only worked as an artist for 10 years, but managed to make no fewer than 900 paintings and 1100 drawings in this short period. Why is Vincent's work only so sought after? And what did his life look like?

Vincents starts as an artist

From an early age Vincent was able to draw well, but he did not know what he wanted to do for a living. After having had several workplaces, his brother Theo van Gogh encouraged him to realize a life as an artist. Vincent kept practicing drawing and learned to paint. Theo has supported him all his life, also financially, as evidenced by the many letters the brothers have written to each other.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait with gray felt hat, 1887, © Van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait with gray felt hat, 1887, © Van Gogh Museum

In Vincent's first period as a painter, he portrayed the lives of "ordinary" Dutch people, such as the peasant family that can be seen in his work De potatoeters. His paintings were traditional, gloomy and not painted faithfully. For example, there was a lot of fuss about this painting because of the clumsy shapes of the noses and hands shown. Vincent's paintings were also difficult to sell.

Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885, © Van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885, © Van Gogh Museum

Traveling through France

Vincent found his way to France on the steam train and moved into the house of his brother Theo in Paris. In this cultural city Vincent came into contact with other artists, including Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard with whom he exchanged work. Vincent's way of painting underwent major changes during his stay in Paris. Vincent's work got a strong connection with Impressionism. The gray tones that we saw in his work such as The Potato Eaters gave way to cheerful, clear tones and new techniques. In Vincent's time, this flow of art was only appreciated within the circle of artists, so Van Gogh was still unsuccessful in selling.

Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers, 1889, © Van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers, 1889, © Van Gogh Museum

After a while Vincent traveled on to the South of France; Paris became too busy for him. He painted his most famous works, including the Twelve sunflowers in a vase, in Arles. Vincent's work from his last years is characterized by cypresses, irises, lilacs, olive trees and above all the endless cornfields.

The life of Vincent van Gogh

His letters show that Vincent read and wrote a lot, but was mostly working. For example, in 1883 he wrote: “In a dream that day passed, I had been so deeply absorbed the whole day that in a literal sense I had even forgotten food & drink - I had a slice of farm goat and a cup of coffee used in the inn where I drew the spinning wheel. ”Vincent did what he was good at on a daily basis and was not stopped by setbacks. Vincent experimented a lot with color in his works. Before he started painting, he used balls of wool to see if the colors matched well. His paintings are characterized by the frequent use of complementary colors: purple against yellow, red against green and blue against orange.

Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1890, © Van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh, Irises, 1890, © Van Gogh Museum

However, Vincent was not happy and was in multiple depressive periods. Vincent cut off his ear out of depression. It is also assumed that he committed suicide at the age of 37, although researchers argue that the bullet from which he died must have been shot by someone else. His brother Theo died six months later.

Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows, 1890, © Van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with Crows, 1890, © Van Gogh Museum

The life of ... serie

1. The life of Leonardo Da Vinci
2. The life of Picasso
3. The life of Rembrandt van Rijn