To kick off the new year we’re going big. With plenty of colour we present…
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh was born in Holland on March 30th 1853. Before he became an artist he worked at several occupations including art dealer, preacher and teacher. The artists of the day were using bright colours yet Van Gogh’s paintings were dark. In 1886 he moved to Paris and produced at least twenty self-portraits while honing his craft. Paris life did not suit Vincent and he moved to Provence and settled in Arles in 1888.
These were the last years of his life and during this time he created many of his masterpieces and other revered works. He seemed to suffer much inner conflict and was hospitalised from time to time, eventually shooting himself in the chest resulting in his death two days later. His body of work was inherited by his brother Theo who had maintained Vincent through the years. Nowadays Vincent van Gogh is hailed as one of the great masters of the art world, yet during his life time he only sold a single painting. He was to become famous for his usage of colour and light. His technique was to thickly spread paint onto canvas with a palette knife of very heavy brushstrokes. Certainly his post impressionism work was a heavy influence on many of the major 20th century art movements. He has become to many the archetypal artist with a tortured soul.
Vincent was from a religious family and the son of a minister though following his uncle into art dealing initially. Tiring of art dealing his return home saw him studying theology. Although an intense scholar, he failed the necessary exams to enter religious programmes. He was an intelligent man with an ability to speak different languages. He worked as a missionary in a small impoverished mining town living amongst them and preaching. He transitioned at this time to art as he became less enamoured with preaching and more excited and interested in the observation of his community
At 27 years Vincent joined the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Belgium. He had his heart broken for the first time and began to paint. The following years were fallow for Vincent both in love and art.
The Potato Eaters was Vincent’s initial major work. Some interest was developing in his work but he had to live frugally while continuing to paint. His move to Paris brought more critical acclaim but the sale of his paintings remained elusive.
Upon his move to Arles, he dreamed of starting a colony for artists. Paul Gauguin was amongst his visitors and Vincent became extremely agitated when Gauguin left, so much so he cut off his ear and left it at a brothel he and Gauguin used as a keepsake for Gauguin. Despite contrary reports, it is believed he only cut a small portion of his ear lobe off. He was however, hospitalised after this incident. This period saw the famous “Sunflowers” painting produced, yet the cheery subject matter was in contrast to Vincent’s increasing psychotic episodes and decline. He spent time in and out of the local asylum.
In all he produced over 900 works in his life time. Although Vincent has been dubbed a tortured soul and mad genius, it seems his sanity may be subject to argument. While it is true that he tried to eat poisonous paint and suffered breakdowns, experts believe his painting shows no evidence of psychosis and in fact, he suffered from a kind of epilepsy, painting only during lucid periods.
Whatever his state of mind was and there is no question, he lived with disappointment and demons, the world at large continues to be enthralled by his art as it offers so much to so many in a riot of colour and technique. One of the most iconic paintings must surely be “Starry Night” where dark azure vortexes whirl about the crescent moon and stars as the village lays slumbering beneath the church spire oblivious of the astral events overhead. This work was created during one of his stays in the asylum at Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France.
Vincent attempted to kill himself in a wheat field shooting him in the chest, not dying until two days later aged 37 years. His brother Theo died 6 months after him and is buried in the next grave in Auvers. The brothers had exchanged hundreds of letters of their lifetime and Theo’s widow dedicated herself through these letters and Vincent’s paintings to achieving recognition for Vincent’s art.