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Vincent van Gogh : Art, Life and Beyond

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

One of the world’s greatest artist known for his works ‘sunflowers’ and ‘starry night’ amongst others was in fact not a very well-known artist even after his death! Vincent van Gogh was a post-Impressionist painter whose work — notable for its beauty, emotion and colour — highly influenced the 20th-century art. Though we identify him as one of the most eminent artist, he coped with mental illness and remained poor and virtually unknown throughout his life.

What would life be, if we had no courage to attempt anything ?

- Vincent van Gogh


A melancholy child, Vincent Van Gogh was born on March 30’ 1853 in Groot – Zundert, Netherlands. His father was a country minister and mother, a moody artist whose love for nature and watercolours transferred to her son. Born exactly a year after with his elder brother (his mother gave birth to a stillborn), he was named Vincent, same as his dead older brother.


Forced to leave school at 15 due to financial problems in his family, he had to get a job and started working at his uncle’s art dealership – Goupil & Cie; a firm of art dealers in Hague. Van Gogh was fluent in French, German, English and his native Dutch by then. He fell in love with the English culture when he was shifted to the Groupil gallery in London and also became a fan of Charles Dickens & George Elliot.


He decided to become an artist and moved to Brussels in 1880 for the same. Without a formal art training, his brother Theo decided to support him financially. He began learning on his own by studying books like Travaux des champs by Jean-François Millet and Cours de dessin by Charles Bargue and his art is what helped him stay emotionally balanced. He started working on his first (considered to be) masterpiece ‘Potato Eater’ in 1885. He saw his first impressionist art in Paris and was inspired by its colour and light and started studying with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Camille Pissarro amongst others.


Paintings have a life of their own, that derive from the painter's soul.

- Vincent van Gogh

He completed more than 2,100 works – 860 oil paintings and more than 1300 watercolours and sketches. A few of Van Gogh’s well - known works include:

1. The Starry Night : Painted while he was in an asylum in France in 1889 (the year before his death). “This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,” he wrote to his brother Theo. One of his most popular works, it is a combination of memory, emotion, imagination and observation. This painting depicts an expressive swirling night sky and a sleeping village, with a large flame-like cypress, thought to represent the bridge between life and death, looming in the foreground. It is currently housed in the museum of modern art, New York, NY.

2. Sunflowers : Van Gogh painted two series of sunflowers in Arles, France: 4 between August and September, 1888 and one in January, 1889. Painted on a canvas, the painting depicts wilting yellow sunflowers in a vase are now displayed at museums in London, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Munich and Philadelphia.

3. Irises : Believed to be influenced by Japanese woodblock prints, Van Gogh painted irises after entering asylum in France in 1889. French critic Octave Mirbeau, the painting's first owner and an early supporter of Van Gogh, remarked, "How well he has understood the exquisite nature of flowers!"

4. Self-Portrait : Van Gogh painted over 43 self portraits in a span of 10 years. "I am looking for a deeper likeness than that obtained by a photographer," he wrote to his sister. "People say, and I am willing to believe it, that it is hard to know yourself. But it is not easy to paint yourself, either. The portraits painted by Rembrandt are more than a view of nature, they are more like a revelation,” he later wrote to his brother. He painted not one, but many self-portraits. His self portraits are now displayed in museums around the world including in Paris, New York and Amsterdam.


December 1888, living on coffee and bread in France, he started feeling strange and it was found that his physical and psychological health was declining. Hence, his brother Theo offered Paul Gauguin money to go watch over Vincent and within a month, Van Gogh and Gauguin were arguing constantly, and one night, Gauguin walked out. Van Gogh followed him, and when Gauguin turned around, he saw van Gogh holding a razor in his hand. Hours later, Van Gogh went to the local brothel and paid for a prostitute named Rachel. With blood pouring from his hand, he offered her his ear, asking her to "keep this object carefully." He was found by police the next morning, weak from the blood loss but he lived. He became well physically but felt depressed

And turned to painting to hope and peace but was unsuccessful. He was hospitalized once again and would paint at the (now famous) yellow house and go back to the hospital at night. There are a few stories around this, and art historians still debate over the truth of this incident.

One must work and dare if one really wants to live.

- Vincent van Gogh

Replica of Van Gogh's Ear


He moved to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence after the people of Arles signed a petition saying that he was dangerous and started painting in hospital garden in 1889. In November that year he was invited to showcase his paintings in an exhibition in Brussels and he sent 6 of them including "Irises" and "Starry Night." He produced more than 100 paintings during his time in the asylum.


Some say that On July 27, 1890, Vincent van Gogh went out to paint in a wheat field in Auvers – sur – Oise, France and shot himself in the abdomen, then walked back to his inn and passed away 2 days later. Some believe that he went to paint with a loaded pistol and shot himself in the chest and was found bleeding in his room. He was taken to a hospital and his brother Theo was called, upon reaching Theo found his brother smoking a pipe. They spent a few days together and then Theo took him home. Van Gogh was taken to a nearby hospital and his doctors sent for Theo, who arrived to find his brother sitting up in bed and smoking a pipe. They spent the next couple of days talking together, and then van Gogh asked Theo to take him home. He dies on July 29’ 1890 in Theo’s arms. He was only 37 years old. Theo, who was suffering from syphilis and weakened by his brother's death, died six months after his brother in a Dutch asylum.

As with the conflicting theories about how van Gogh lost part of his ear, though, no one can prove definitively how he died.


After Vincent’s death, her sister-in-law and Theo’s wife Johanna took it upon herself to make the world see Vincent’s work. She collected as many of his works as she could but didn’t find a lot of them because his own mother threw away crates full of his art and hence many of them were destroyed or lost ! She used to rent them to different exhibitions and museums and finally on March 17, 1901, 71 of Van Gogh's paintings were displayed at a show in Paris, and his fame grew enormously. His mother lived long enough to see her son hail as an artistic genius. Today, Vincent van Gogh is considered one of the greatest artist in human history.

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