Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris
Generally considered one of the two greatest Dutch painters (along with Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669), and one of the greatest Post-Impressionists, Vincent van Gogh profoundly influenced the development of Expressionism in modern art. The son of a Protestant pastor, van Gogh grew up in the Brabant region of the southern Netherlands. At 16 he was apprenticed to his uncle's art dealership, Goupil and Co., first in The Hague and then in London and in Paris, until April 1876. Daily contact with works of art piqued his artistic sensibilities, but he hated art dealing. His outlook on life darkened when he suffered a broken heart in 1874. Van Gogh became increasingly solitary, tried becoming a language teacher and lay preacher, and then joined the ministry. After training as an evangelist in Brussels (1878), he left to do missionary work in a poor coal-mining region in southwestern Belgium. In the winter of 1879-80, he underwent a major spiritual crisis, gave away all his worldly goods, was immediately dismissed from his position and sank into despair. He began to draw seriously and restored much of his self-confidence through art. Van Gogh's career as an artist lasted only ten years. He initially limited himself almost exclusively to drawing and watercolor while studying at the Brussels Academy. In 1881 he settled in The Hague to work with the Dutch landscape painter Anton Mauve (1838-1888) and in 1882 he began to experiment with oil paint. Van Gogh's study of works by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) and Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) showed him the expressive power of color, which led him to move to Antwerp to study the works of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), whose ability to depict a mood with a combination of colors was an epiphany to van Gogh. Around the same time, Van Gogh discovered Japanese prints and Impressionist painting. After three months at the Antwerp Academy he left in 1886 to live with his brother Theo (1857-1891) in Paris, where Van Gogh was introduced to the latest developments in French painting and met Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Camille Pissarro (1831-1903) and Georges Seurat (1859-1891). The evolution of his painting while in Paris from 1886 to 1888 led to the creation of his personal idiom and style of brushwork. By the summer of 1887 van Gogh was painting in pure colors and using a broken brushwork that was owed something to pointillistism. His Postimpressionist style had crystallized by the beginning of 1888, when he left Paris for Arles, in the southeast of France. There he initially worked with amazing speed and intensity, determined to capture an effect or a mood. His subjects at Arles included blossoming fruit trees, views of the town and surroundings, self-portraits, portraits of friends, interiors and exteriors of his house, a series of sunflowers, and a starry night sky. He rented and decorated a house in Arles, hoping to persuade his Parisian friends to join him. Gauguin arrived in October 1888, and for two months they worked together, but their relationship rapidly deteriorated with tragic results. On Christmas Eve 1888, Van Gogh snapped under the strain and cut off part of his left ear. Gauguin fled and Van Gogh was taken to a hospital. Several weeks later, he again showed symptoms of mental illness and was sent back to the hospital. Van Gogh feared losing his renewed capacity for work, and in April 1889 asked to be temporarily committed to the asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Van Gogh stayed there for a full year, troubled by recurring attacks and working only intermittently. Plagued by loneliness, he returned Paris in May 1890 to see Theo. Four days later he went to stay at Auvers-sur-Oise with a homeopathic doctor, artist and collector, Paul-Ferdinand Gachet (1828-1909), a friend of Pissarro. Back in a village community, at first Van Gogh worked enthusiastically. This short-lived phase ended in quarrels with Gachet and feelings of guilt for his failure to succeed as an artist. Van Gogh shot himself and died two days later on July 29, 1890. Van Gogh was a virtual unknown at the time of his death. Of the more than 800 oil paintings and 700 drawings that constitute his life's work, he sold only one during his lifetime. His fame dates from the early years of the 20th century, and since then his legend has only continued to grow. (Rev. TNB 1/2014) Selected bibliography: De la Faille, J. B. The Works of Vincent van Gogh. New York: Reynal & Co., 1970. Hulsker, Jan. The Complete Van Gogh: Paintings, Drawngs, Sketches. New York: Harrison House and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1984.