Vincent van Gogh was a Post-Impressionist artist who lived in the late 1800s. Although you may not know exactly who he is, you know his work. His infamous wave-like Starry Night is one of his more familiar masterpieces. Van Gogh’s paintings of nature and everyday objects captivate our minds and imaginations; drawing us into their world. His techniques, moods, themes, and use of color make him a unique and individual artist. Although not appreciated in his time, Van Gogh has left a lasting impact on the world with his work.
Vincent Van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Zundert, The Netherlands. He was one of six children born to a clergyman father and loving mother. Throughout the years, he maintained a close relationship to one of his younger brothers Theo, valuing his advice and company. At the age of sixteen years old, he began to work for an art dealership owned by his uncle called, Goupil & Co. in The Hague. During his employment there, he worked in places such as Paris and London. His admiration for the art that passed through the company’s possession is evident among the 928 letters he sent to his brother, Theo.
In April 1876, Vincent left his place of employment and took on a teaching position at a school for men. During this time Vincent developed a devotion to theology and the Bible. He had a desire to begin a career in ministry, but his studies proved more difficult than anticipated. In 1879 Vincent travelled to a district in Belgium to preform missionary work. During this time, due to his choosing to live in extreme poverty, he was let go by the church. Nevertheless, he stayed and sketched the villagers and their lives. This proved to be a turning point in his artistic career.
The subjects and themes that Vincent focused on were everyday images and occurrences. He focused on the mundane substances like flowers, landscapes, and peasants, bringing a new perspective to them. His artistic eye ranged from depicting wheat fields and irises, to a chair, a skull, or fishing boats. He also completed numerous self-portraits, as well as portraits of others. Vincent preferred to paint the peasant families he came in contact with, but his main focus was on capturing the lives of the region’s poor, including their struggles. He once said, “In the poorest little house, in the filthiest corner, I see paintings or drawings.” Throughout his life as an artist, he painted various places and lives. However, he tended to prefer covering floral beauties, everyday objects, and peasant life the most.
Van Gogh enjoyed both sketching and painting. For paintings, he mostly used oil on canvas. At times, he would prepare for his paintings as many artists did, by drawing a sketch. He chose to apply his paint using a technique that until him, was not frequently used. This technique is called impasto. Impasto is done by applying paint in thick layers onto a canvas. In addition to this technique, he at times used pointillism.
Pointillism is done by applying paint on in dots. Vincent once said that “color in a picture is like enthusiasm in life.” During the time he lived in the Dutch areas, he primarily worked in dark tones such as shade of greys and blues. His move to Paris ushered in his fascination with Impressionism and the bright colors that accompanied it. Impressionism inspired Van Gogh to experiment with a lighter palate. Van Gogh used many colors in his paintings, but the ones he emphasized the most were blues and reds, yellows and oranges. Aside from Impressionism, Van Gogh also became inspired by Japanese prints.
The colors and themes that Vincent used helped to effectively set the mood for his paintings. For instance, take his infamous sunflower paintings. The primary colors that he used were pigments of yellow, and the mood set was a cheerful one. Contrast that painting with The Potato Eaters. Created in 1885, Vincent painted dark tones throughout the painting, bright or happy color cannot be found in this painting. The mood set by this masterwork is a somber one. The hardships and struggles of the everyday lives the peasants lived are quite obviously portrayed in this painting. He used his colors to garner emotional response to his paintings. Vincent’s mood swings also played a significant role in the work that he created.
Vincent Van Gogh lead a tumultuous life that was filled with failed love, volatile behavior, and mental health issues. He was rejected by multiple women, which thrust him into despair. He once went into a two-year period where he took up residence with an unwed prostitute and her children. But he had his happy moments. His correspondence with his younger brother, Theo was always a source of joy to him. In addition to this, in 1888, Vincent began renting four rooms of a building in southern France called the Yellow House. He envisioned this a place for artists to gather and feel at home. Artist Paul Gauguin soon joined Vincent there.
However, Vincent was prone to erratic and emotional behavior. Different circumstances in his life brought on many of these episodes. Multiple diagnoses have been suggested, including epilepsy, manic depression, and bipolar disorder, among other issues. Vincent once said,” I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process.” One particular emotional outburst happened during an argument with his fellow painter, Paul Gauguin, and resulted in Vincent severing the lower half of his right ear.
Vincent commemorated this event with his Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear. Shortly after this, he self-admitted himself to a mental hospital called Saint-Paul. During his stay, Vincent completed over a hundred masterworks. His infamous piece, “Starry Night,” is one of them. About a year after his stay at Saint-Paul, his mental health reached its breaking point. In the afternoon of July 27, 1890, Vincent Van Gogh went out into the countryside and shot himself in the chest. He managed to limp back to where he was residing, but due to inadequate medical attention, an infection set in. He died two days later at only thirty-seven years old with his brother Theo at his side.
Vincent Van Gogh was an eccentric Post-Impressionist artist whose masterpieces were not appreciated during his lifetime. He was not a wealthy man and was primarily supported by his brother. Just one of his paintings, Red Vineyard at Arles, sold while he was alive. It wasn’t until after his death that his artwork became famous. The impact that he made on the artistic world can still be seen today.
Artists proceeding his time have adopted his unique use of brushstrokes, colors, and palette. There have been movies and bio-documentaries filmed, along with multiple pop culture references created about him. While many may not know much about the man himself, an individual would be hard pressed to find a person that has not laid eyes on some form of his Starry Night. Vincent Van Gogh brought a new perspective to the world around him through his depiction of the things we see every day. He was, and still is, an amazing and influential artist whose work can be enjoyed and appreciated, even today.
- “Biography of Vincent Van Gogh.” vincent-van-gogh-gallery.org. Accessed October 5, 2018. https://www.vincent-van-gogh-gallery.org.
- “How to Read Art.” Scholastic Art 47, no. 1 (September 2016): 4. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mih&AN=117464953&site=ehost-live.
- Petersen, Jennifer B and Pritchard, Joshua. “Vincent Van Gogh.” last modified August 1, 2017. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mih&AN=17933914&site=ehost-live.
- Swerdlow, Joel L., and Lynn Johnson. “Vincent van Gogh: Lullaby in Color.” National Geographic 192, no. 4 (October 1997): 100. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mih&AN=9709142216&site=ehost-live.
- Van Gogh,Vincent. “Vincent van Gogh The Letters.” Van Gogh Museum, huygens ing. May 9, 1873. vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let249/letter.html.
- Van Gogh, Vincent. “Vincent Van Gogh.” Quotesss. Accessed October 26, 2018. https://quotesss.com/author/91082-vincent-van-gogh.
- Van Gogh, Vincent, “Vincent Van Gogh Quotes.” BrainyQuote. Accessed October 26, 2018. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/vincent_van_gogh_384763.