The Story of Vincent van Goghjames
Vincent van Gogh’s life, biography, and impact on art.
Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh was born March 30, 1853 and grew up in Holland. He was the oldest surviving child of Theodorus van Gogh and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. A year before Vincent was born they had a stillborn son who was also named Vincent. Vincent (the second, if you will) had three sisters and two brothers. He formed an exceptionally tight bond with his younger brother Theo that lasted throughout his life.
The love for art ran in Vincent’s family (and does to this day, with film director descendant Theo van Gogh being famously murdered in 2004) . Three of Vincent’s uncles were art dealers and one of them was a successful sculptor, also named Vincent. With the help of his uncle, he also became an art dealer at Goupil & Cie in The Hague in July 1869. His younger brother Theo became an art dealer at Goupil & Cie. Theo was the one who encouraged Vincent to start painting and he was the one who provided Vincent with painting materials and financial support throughout his career.
Vincent was eventually terminated from Goupil & Cie in April 1876. He worked in England as a supply teacher in a small boarding school in Ramsgate, and, after that was a minister’s assistant. He also worked in a bookshop in Dordrecht for six months. In May 1877 he moved to stay with is uncle Jan van Gogh in Amsterdam to study theology.
Aside from the love of art, religion was deeply ingrained in the van Gogh family. Vincent’s father was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and his grandfather held a degree in theology from the University of Leiden. His uncle, Johannes Stricker, was a respected theologian who published the first “Life of Jesus” in the Netherlands. Even with his passion and enthusiasm for religion, Vincent failed two exams that would have led to a career as a pastor. In January 1879, he worked as a missionary in a coal-mining district in Belgium, living in poor conditions with the miners that he preached to, and giving away all of his possessions to the poor. However, the church authorities dismissed him for his overzealousness after less than a year.
His quest for love was equally unsuccessful. While in London he had confessed his feelings to Eugénie Loyer, his landlady’s daughter. She rejected him claiming that she was already engaged. When he moved with his parents to Etten, he was also rejected when he proposed marriage to his recently widowed cousin, Kee Vos-Stricker. During his time in The Hague, he began a relationship with Sien Hoomik, a pregnant prostitute who had already has a child out of wedlock. When his father learned of their relationship he pressured Vincent to abandon Sien. Not one to give up, in 1884 Vincent became involved with the neighbor’s daughter, Margot Begemann. She was ten years older than him but they were fond of each other and decided to marry, but both families were opposed to it. His string of failures continued when in the spring of 1887 he became involved with a cafe owner named Agostina Segatori but their relationship quickly became stormy so they both decided to separate.
He was 27 years old when he finally decided to become an artist. In November 1880 he entered the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Belgium and studied there for nine months. His first major work, The Potato Eaters, was exhibited in 1885 at the Leurs in The Hague. In 1886, he went to Paris to study with Cormon where he also met Pissarro, Monet and Gauguin. He went to Arles in 1888 where he thought of founding a utopian art colony. It was there where he painted his famous Sunflowers, Van Gogh’s Chair, Night Cafe, Bedroom in Arles and Starry Night Over Rhone. He was later joined by Paul Gauguin but their frequent arguments somehow led to van Gogh pursuing Gauguin with a razor. That incident ended up with van Gogh losing his left ear lobe, perhaps as a result of Paul Gauguin’s sword (one theory suggests that Van Gogh’s claim of doing it himself was to protect his friend from any trouble). He was sectioned at a hospital where he worked on interpretations of other artist’s paintings.
In 1889, Van Gogh voluntarily entered the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, a mental hospital in Saint Remy. This is where he painted his most famous work, The Starry Night. The clinic and the garden at the hospital became the main subjects of his paintings. He frequently suffered episodes of ill mental health during his time at the clinic but was still able to paint. His supervised walks led to several paintings of cypresses and olive trees such as Cornfield with Cypresses and Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background. He was able to leave the clinic in May 1890.
In July 27, 1890, Van Gogh was believed to have shot himself in the abdomen while he was painting in a wheat field. He was able to walk back to the inn where he was staying. Theo rushed to see his brother the following morning. Vincent van Gogh died later that evening at the age of 37. According to Theo, his last words were “the sadness will last forever”. He was buried at the municipal cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise.
Vincent’s brother Theo died six months after his death. His widow Jo van Gogh-Bonger inherited a large collection of Vincent’s paintings, drawings and letters. She dedicated herself to promote Vincent’s work. She loaned out Vincent’s painting to various exhibitions and published his letters to Theo. She also moved Theo’s remains from the Netherlands and re-interred them in Auvers-sur-Oise next to Vincent. When Jo passed away, her son Vincent Willem van Gogh inherited his uncle’s work. He founded the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in 1973.
Vincent produced over 1,900 drawings and paintings. He was only able to sell one painting during his lifetime. Today, he is considered a genius and his paintings are worth millions of dollars. He is considered as one of the greatest and most recognizable painters in history. Some elements of Van Gogh’s style have been adapted by several abstract expressionists such as Willem de Koonig, Howard Hodgkin and Jackson Pollock. His influence also extends to other forms of art such as poetry and music. His artwork and life story will surely inspire great works of art for centuries to come.