Arguably one of the most famous and recognizable painters in history, Vincent van Gogh was relatively unknown when he died in 1890 at the age of 37. Troubled, quiet and suffering from various mental illnesses, van Gogh had no training when he began painting in 1881. Often depicting figures in their natural states, van Gogh's work used bright colors and sweeping brushstrokes to create a distinctive style that continues to influence and inspire generations of artists, thinkers and enthusiasts.
Aside from details such as his birth date in 1853 in Groot-Zundert, Holland, few specifics about van Gogh's early life are known. After holding an array of odd jobs throughout Holland, van Gogh was hired by the Hague Gallery in 1870 at the age of 16 and trained to be a professional art dealer. The gallery relocated van Gogh to London in 1873 and then to Paris in 1875. Disillusioned by the frequent relocation, van Gogh eventually left Paris for Belgium where he spent time amongst the miners of the town of Borinage, an experience that was later depicted in his painting.
Later Years and Artistic Training
Supported by his brother Theo financially as well as emotionally, van Gogh devoted himself to painting. In 1881, van Gogh began receiving formal lessons from his cousin, Anton Mauve, in an attempt to master basic techniques such as shading and perspective. He eventually chose to focus on drawing and painting figures. Van Gogh moved around Europe. He lived in Drenthe and Paris, where he spent time with artists Claude Monet and Paul Gauguin, and took classes at prestigious institutions such as the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium in 1885.
Final Years and Death
Van Gogh had been plagued by epilepsy and various mental illnesses, including depression and bipolar disorder, his entire life. In 1888, van Gogh threatened his friend, Paul Gauguin with a knife and mutilated his own ear. Later that year, he committed himself to a mental institution. The fact that van Gogh had sold only a single painting throughout his career led him to believe he had wasted his life. On July 27, 1890, van Gogh shot himself in the chest in an attempt to take his life and, while he survived the attempt, he succumbed to his wounds two days later.
Van Gogh only sold a single painting in his lifetime, "Red Vineyard at Arles," to the sister of a friend in 1888. After his death, his 900 paintings including his first major work "The Potato Eaters" and his most famous work, "The Starry Night," became the subject of great interest. Some sold at auction for millions of dollars. His post-Impressionist style, use of vivid colors, and deeply emotional and personal subject matter is thought to have given birth to the Expressionist movement. His work influenced generations of painters from Jackson Pollock to Francis Bacon.
- "Vincent van Gogh: A Biography"; Julius Meier-Graefe; 1987
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