Vincent Van Gogh: Tragic Beauty

“…The cutting of his ear has always overshadowed the incredible story of his life.” (Sherway Academy Arts & Sciences, 2017) Vincent Van Gogh is known for his colorful impressionistic paintings and the artist who cut of his ear but not everyone knows there’s more to his story. His style wasn’t always the bright impressionistic paintings. He started with a Rembrandt style of dark chiaroscuro and the transition from that to bright impressionist paintings were because of what he experienced in his life. Van Gogh told his story through his artworks. Van Gogh’s religious phase, dark times, and mental health experiences are present in his artworks.

Vincent Van Gogh was close to Theo, his younger brother. Vincent and Theo exchanged letters almost every day. Through these letters that people understood Vincent Van Gogh. Vincent Van Gogh said in one of his letters that ‘To try to understand the real significance of what the great artists, the serious masters, tell us in their masterpieces, that leads to God; one man wrote or told it in a book; another, in a picture.’ (Van Gogh, 1880) It’s not well known that Van Gogh’s father and grandfather were preachers. Vincent tried to be one but failed multiple times.

Depressed and frustrated over this failure, Vincent realizes he can still serve and share his religion through his artworks. While he was reading the bible, Vincent stated in one of his letters to Theo that “I cannot help making a little drawing now and then” (Van Gogh, 1883) He was already sketching the miners where he was sharing the word of God. Sketches of what the miners are going through. Then he did paintings with a biblical theme like The Raising of Lazarus, Pieta, and the Good Samaritan.

Vincent Van Gogh’s life wasn’t great. It was tragic right from the get-go. He was the oldest of the children but not the first born. He was born after exactly a year when Vincent Willem Van Gogh, his stillborn brother. (Sherway Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2017) They were both named Vincent Willem and his mother never moved on from this. His mother thought that the first Vincent was perfect and right from childhood he was already pressured to become perfect Vincent. His self-portrait paintings might be a theme of him being a “replacement” baby. He was also not lucky when it comes to his love life. He proposed three times and got rejected on all occasions. “For my part, I still continually have the most impossible and highly unsuitable love affairs from which, as a rule, I emerge only with shame and disgrace.” (Van Gogh, 1887)

Vincent then saved a pregnant prostitute, Sien, with a child by letting them stay with him in his tiny home. He drew then Sorrow, when he saw Sien. He fell for this prostitute and even painted The Ideal Image where a happy family was depicted. He thought he can have his own family now but Theo didn’t approve this. He threatened Vincent that if he didn’t end it, he won’t finance his art supplies anymore. Vincent’s love for making art triumphed and left Sien. He painted Sien and her child. It was called the Woman with a Child on Her Lap.

Vincent Van Gogh was deemed crazy when he cut off his ear and gave it to a prostitute in a bordello as a Christmas gift. (Sherway Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2017) He was then hospitalized and went in an insane asylum in Saint-Remy. This was when Van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Cypresses were made. Painting was his therapy. He painted in the garden of the asylum and then from his room through the its window. The Starry Night is one of the most famous works he painted.

The Starry Night represented his battle with his mental illness. Most of it was dark but the bright windows show that you can still see the light during the dark times. After being cleared and released from the hospital he then visited his brother, Theo, who just had their son, Vincent Willem. The named his son after his older brother. The Dutch painter brought a gift for his nephew. He painted the Almond Blossom which represented hope. Hope of feeling well and have a fresh start after being in an asylum.

Vincent shared his life, his experiences, through his artwork. May it be during his dark times, his religious phase, or the time he’s going through and recovering from his mental illness. Vincent Van Gogh made more than 2,000 artworks consisting of 900 sketches and 1,100 paintings. (MoMa.org) He painted everyday from sun up to sun down and every one of those artworks tells something about himself. He gave a piece of himself in those artworks. Vincent Willem Van Gogh’s story, who’s known as the mad Dutch painter who cut off his ear, might have ended tragically but he gave the people and shared to them the beauty in the tiniest of things he found through his artworks. “…find things beautiful as much as you can, most people find too little beautiful.” (Van Gogh, 1874)

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Grant P. The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh : A Critical Study. Edmonton, AB: Athabasca
  2. University Press; 2014. http://search.ebscohost.com.asa.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=
  3. true&db=nlebk&AN=781538&site=ehost-live. Accessed December 11, 2018.
  4. This book helped me understand his religion phase. It analyzed Vincent’s and Theo’s letters that provided
  5. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2018, from http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/
  6. This website
  7. Vincent van Gogh, his Life and Paintings. (n.d.). Retrieved December 19, 2018, from
  8. https://www.vincentvangogh.org/
  9. This website has a lot of information about Vincent Van Gogh. This provided me information about Vincent Van Gogh’s life and artworks. This helped me know more and understand more about his artworks.
  10. Sciences, S. A. (2017, November 04). Retrieved December 19, 2018, from
  11. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHu7-NPF55I
  12. This documentary video provided me information about Vincent Van Gogh’s experiences. His background story and his struggles. This helped me understand what was Van Gogh’s circumstances throughout his life.
  13. Gopnik, A. (2017, December 25). Van Gogh’s Ear. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from
  14. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/01/04/van-goghs-ear