Famous Painters and Paintings: Vincent Van Gogh

About the famous painter Vincent Van Gogh, history and biography of the artist.


As a rule the Dutch society of the 1880s gets the full blame for Van Gogh's tragic life. But had he been born in any other clime or time, Van Gogh would have succeeded just as brilliantly in squeezing the last drop of unhappiness out of every situation into which his love for self-torture pushed him. When he had painted those landscapes and portraits and flowers that were afterward found stacked up in the garrets and basements which had played such an important part in his life, he truly had been a man "mad with color." That, combined with his obsession with the condition of the poor, the humble, and the weak, was too much for any human brain to withstand. The perfidious malice of Paul Gauguin completed Van Gogh's destruction. But if there is one fact about Vincent van Gogh that is well known, it is that he severed his left ear and gave it to a prostitute. The self-mutilation is not at all important in itself (actually, it was only an ear lobe), but it is a wildly disconcerting act and obscures the whole picture of the artist.

Van Gogh was born in Holland in 1853, the son of a vicar. Vincent was deeply religious and as a youth worked as a lay preacher among the Welsh and Belgian miners. Later he lived in Paris for 2 years and was so deeply impressed with the art of Millet that he decided to become a painter himself. A younger brother, Theo, who worked in an art dealer's shop, introduced him to Impressionist painters. Though Theo was poor himself, he gave ungrudgingly to the older Vincent and even financed his move to Arles in southern France.

In his self-chosen solitude in Arles, Vincent set down all his ideas and hopes in his letters to Theo, which read like a continuous diary. These letters, by a humble and almost self-taught artist, are among the most moving and exciting in all literature. After less than a year, Van Gogh broke down mentally. In May, 1889, he went into an asylum, but he still had lucid intervals during which he continued to paint. The agony lasted for another 14 months. In July, 1890, the 37-year-old Van Gogh committed suicide--his career as a painter had lasted but 10 years.

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