Vincent Van Gogh

I remember as a kid growing up and seeing different paintings at some point or another and hearing about the artists behind those paintings. I found back than that I do enjoy Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings quite a bit. After reading some biographies about him I have gained a bit more interest and appreciation is his work. I have seen several of his paintings but I am of course more familiar with “Starry Night” and 2 of his self-portraits – one being the one he did after he cut off his ear. “Starry Night” is one of my all-time favorite paintings. How it has a neighborhood down at the bottom and in the night sky how he did the clouds and the stars and the moon and in the foreground what looks like a mountain or something helps make it such an interesting piece. One of my most favorite songs was even inspired by him and his work.

Vincent Van Gogh was a post-impressionist painter and was born on March 30, 1853 in Zundert, Holland in The Netherlands which is a predominantly Catholic area. His father was a Dutch pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church so he was brought up in a religious and cultured atmosphere. Vincent was the oldest child and was given the name of his grandfather who lived from 1789-1874 and his stillborn brother who was born the year before he was. “Vincent” is a very common name in the Van Gogh family. Three of his grandfather’s six sons were art dealers.

He was highly emotional and also lacked self-confidence. His interest in art started at an early age when he began to draw as a child and continued to make drawings which lead to his decision to become an artist. July 1869 to June 1873 were happy times for him. He worked for an art dealer and was very successful and earning more than his father, however in 1873 he fell in love with his landlady’s daughter but when he confessed his feelings to her she rejected him. It made him increasingly isolated. He was also in another failed and unhappy romance. In 1876 his employer terminated his employment. He had also worked unsuccessfully as an art dealer and as a clerk in a bookstore in Belgium and was dismissed by his employer for overzealousness.

He decided to stay in Belgium to study art. He was determined to make happiness by creating beauty. His early Dutch period work is somber-toned genre paintings. The most famous of that period is “The Potato Eaters” which he painted in 1885. During that same year he went to Antwerp where he discovered the work of Peter Paul Rubens and bought many Japanese prints. He also began to drink absinthe (which is a distilled highly alcoholic beverage) very heavily. For most of February of 1886 he was ill and run down by overwork, a poor diet and excessive smoking.

He moved to Paris, France in March 1886 where he shared an apartment with his brother. He studied with Fernand Cormon. During this time he also met Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin who taught him impressionism so he began to lighten his very dark palette and paint in short brushstrokes like the Impressionists. During his stay in Paris he painted portraits of his friends, still-life paintings, views of Le Moulin de la Galette, scenes in Montmarte, Asnieres and along the Seine.

His nervous temperament made him a difficult companion and night-long discussions with his brother combined with painting all day undermined his health. He also had conflicts with his brother that his brother thought was unbearable so Vincent moved to Asnieres which is a northwestern suburb of Paris in the spring of 1887. While he lived there he met and became friends with Emile Bernard who was another Post-Impressionist painter. With Emile he adopted elements of pointillism which is a technique in which a multitude of small colored dots are applied to the canvas that when seen from a distance will create an optical blend of hues.

In February 1888 he felt worn out from his time in Paris that he decided to move south to a town named Arles. During his two years in Paris he had painted over 200 paintings.

He arrived in Arles, France on February 21, 1888 hoping for refuge because he was ill from alcoholism and smoker’s cough. He took a room at the Hotel-Restaurant Carrel. He moved to the town with thoughts of founding a utopian art colony. During his stay he met a Danish artist by the name of Christian Mourier-Petersen who became his companion for two months. To Van Gogh, Arles appeared to be a very filthy place and also exotic. He once wrote that it was the brothels and that the people there were drinking absinthe and that they all seem to be creatures from another world.

He enjoyed the landscape of Arles and paintings of his from that era are draped in yellow, untramarine and mauve colors. “They appear flat and lack perspective but excel in intensity of color.” Three paintings of his during that era were shown during the Societe des Artistes Independants.

In May 1888 he signed a lease at the Yellow House and used it as a studio and he moved from the Hotel-Restaurant Carrel to Café de la Gare. He was hoping to have a place to display his paintings. Paintings like “The Night Café”, “Starry Night Over The Rhone” and “Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” were intended to form the decoration for the Yellow House. When describing “The Night Café” he wrote: “I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime.”

In October 1888 his friend Paul Gauguin decided to visit him in Arles where they painted together and also visited Montpellier but there friendship began to deteriorate in December. Vincent wanted to desperately be treated as Paul’s equal. They fought majorly about art and Vincent felt fear that Paul would someday desert him.

Vincent was very frustrated and ill one day in late December that he took a razor blade and confronted Paul with it but panicked so he fled to a local brothel. He was very lonely and depressed at the time so he visited the prostitutes often as his emotional and sensuous point of contact with other people. He cut off his ear and wrapped it in newspaper and handed it to one of the prostitutes. He then went home staggering and was found unconscious by Paul.

He was taken to a hospital where he remained for several days in critical state. While at the hospital he asked for Paul but Paul had refused to see him. Paul once wrote of Vincent: “His state is worse.” Paul left Arles never to see Vincent again.

After he got out of the hospital, Vincent returned to the Yellow House but spent the next few months between the hospital and home suffering from hallucinations and delusions. In March police closed down his house because the local townspeople called him the redheaded madman.

He committed himself to the Saint Paul Asylum (Saint Paul-de-Mausole) in May 1889 and stayed a year. He moved to Auvers-sur-Oise in May 1890 and stayed with Dr. Paul Gachet who also treated other artists. Vincent also painted several paintings of the physician including “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” which is a pretty famous painting.

In February 1890 he suffered a new crisis where he had fits of despair and hallucinations where he couldn’t work. In between these fits he was able to work. On July 27, 1890 at the age of 37 he shot himself in the chest.

Vincent Van Gogh lived a very sad and tragic life. Over the years I have learned that most artistic minded people have lead very tragic lives. Some psychiatrists after reading about his life believe he had schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. In 1971 after reading a biography about Van Gogh, Don McLean said it best in his very somber and sad song “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)”:

Starry, starry night.
Paint your palette blue and grey,
Look out on a summer’s day,
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they’ll listen now.

Starry, starry night.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze,
Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue.
Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain,
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand.

Now I understand what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they did not know how.
Perhaps they’ll listen now.

For they could not love you,
But still your love was true.
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.

Starry, starry night.
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless head on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world and can’t forget.
Like the strangers that you’ve met,
The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose,
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.

Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will…

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This is an original article but I did do some research for it.

Bibliography:

Van Gogh Gallery. His Life and Times. Van Gogh Gallery. 28 September 2012. <http://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/bio.html&gt;.

Various authors. Vincent Van Gogh. Wikipedia. 28 September 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_gogh&gt;.

Vggallery. Vincent Van Gogh Biography. Vggalery. 28 September 2012. <http://www.vgallery.com/misc/bio.htm&gt;.

Vincent Van Gogh Art. Vincent Van Gogh Biography. Vincent Van Gogh Art. 28 September 2012 <http://www.vincentvangoghart.net&gt;.

McLean, Don. “Vincent (Starry Starry Night).” American Pie. 1971, United Artists Records UAS-5535.

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