Vincent van Gogh Biography
Nowadays most of Van Gogh paintings are in the museum bearing his name.After Theo's widow Johanna’s death in 1925 the collection is inherited by her son, Vincent Willem van Gogh (1890-1978). On the initiative of the Dutch state, which pledges to build a museum devoted to Van Gogh, Vincent Willem van Gogh, in 1962, transfers the paintings he owns to the newly formed Vincent van Gogh Foundation. Construction of the museum building, designed by the modernist Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld, begins in 1969. The museum officially opens its doors in 1973. Since then, the building houses the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings, on loan from the Vincent van Gogh Foundation.
Vincent Willem van Gogh is born on March 30, 1853, in Zundert, in the south of the Netherlands, as the oldest son of Theodorus van Gogh, a preacher and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. Four years later, in 1857 van Gogh's favorite brother, Theodorus (Theo), is born.
At the age of 16, in July 1869, van Gogh starts an apprenticeship at Goupil end Cie, international art dealers with headquarters in Paris. Van Gogh works in the Hague at a branch gallery established by his uncle Vincent. In August 1872, from the Hague, Vincent begins writing letters to Theo. Their correspondence continues for almost 18 years.
In June 1873, van Gogh is moved to Goupil in London. Daily contact with works of art kindles his appreciation of paintings and drawings. He admires the realistic paintings of peasant life by Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton. Gradually van Gogh loses interest in his work and turns to the Bible. Van Gogh is transferred to Paris, to London and Paris again, to then be dismissed from Goupil’s in March 1876. Driven by a growing desire to help his fellow man, Van Gogh decides to become a clergyman.
Vincent returns to England in 1876 to work as a teacher and assistant preacher at a boarding school. In November, Van Gogh delivers his first sermon. His interest in evangelical Christianity and ministering to the poor becomes obsessional. Due to a lack of professional perspectives, Van Gogh returns to Amsterdam in 1877. When he is refused admittance in theology school, Vincent briefly enters a missionary school near Brussels and in December 1878 leaves for the Borinage, a coal-mining area in southern Belgium, to work as a lay preacher. Van Gogh identifies with the miners, sleeping on the floor and giving away his belongings. His extreme commitment draws disfavor from the church and he is dismissed.
Vincent"s desire to be useful, transforms into the wish to become an artist while still be in God’s service. He writes: "To try to understand the real significance of what the great artists, the serious masters, tell us in their masterpieces, that leads to God; one man wrote or told it in a book; another, in a picture." Van Gogh moves to Brussels and studies independently, sometimes assisted by Dutch artist Anthon van Rappard. Because Vincent has no livelihood, Theo, who is at Goupil’s Paris branch, supports him. He did this regularly until the end of Vincent’s life. Because of that, Van Gogh considers his paintings as the fruit of their combined efforts.
When he decides to become an artist, nobody could have guessed his immense talent. With surprising speed, the clumsy but enthousiastic apprentice develops a strong artistic personality with his color effects and simple but unforgettable compositions. At his parents’ house in Etten, Van Gogh refines his drawing techniques. Vincent leaves at the end of 1881 to rent a studio in La Hague.Van Gogh makes his first independent watercolor and painted studies in the summer of 1882. His uncle Cornelis van Gogh commissions him to produce 12 view paintings of The Hague.
In September 1883 Vincent travels to the province of Drenthe in the northeastern Netherlands. Van Gogh paints the landscape and peasants, but lonely and lacking proper materials, he soon leaves for Nuenen, in Brabant, to live with his parents. Following in the footsteps of Millet and Breton, by 1884 Van Gogh resolves to be a painter of peasant life. Tensions develop when Vincent accuses Theo of not making a sincere enough effort to sell the paintings Van Gogh has begun to send him.
Theo admonishes Vincent that his darkly colored paintings are not in the current Parisian style, where Impressionist artists are now using a bright palette. In 1885, Vincent completes the Potato Eaters, his first large-scale composition and first masterpiece. After a long stay in the countryside of Brabant, Van Gogh leaves the Netherlands for the Belgian city of Antwerp in November 1885. He will never return to his native country. Van Gogh is invigorated by Antwerp’s urbaneness: "I find here the friction of ideas I want." He has access to better art supplies and is exposed to the collections of Dutch and Belgian art. Among the exotic goods entering Europe through Antwerp are Japanese woodblock prints, which Van Gogh starts to collect. In January 1886, Vincent enrolls in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp but he withdraws within two months.
In early 1886, Van Gogh moves in with Theo in Montmartre. It is a crucial period of development for his painting style. Theo, who manages the Montmartre branch of Goupil’s (now called Boussod, Valadon & Cie), acquaints Vincent with the paintings of Claude Monet and other Impressionists. Now he sees for himself how the Impressionists handle light and color, and treat the town and country themes.
He begins to meet the city’s modern artists, including Paul Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Camille Pissarro. Vincent’s Paris work is an effort to assimilate the influences around him; his palette becomes brighter, his brushwork more broken. Like the Impressionists, Van Gogh takes his subjects from the city"s cafés and boulevards, and the open countryside along the Seine River. Through Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, Van Gogh discovers the stippling technique of Pointillism “What is required in art nowadays,” Van Gogh writes, “is something very much alive, very strong in color, very much intensified.” Unable to afford models to perfect his skills, Vincent turns to his own image: “I deliberately bought a good mirror so that if I lacked a model I could work from my own likeness.” He paints at least 20 self-portrait paintings in Paris. His experiments in style and color can be read in the series. The earliest are executed in the grays and browns of his Brabant period; these dark colors soon give way to yellows, reds, greens, and blues, and his brushwork takes on the disconnected stroke of the Impressionists. To his sister Van Gogh writes: "My intention is to show that a variety of very different portraits can be made of the same person." One of the last portrait paintings Van Gogh paints in Paris, Self-Portrait as an Artist, is a dramatic illustration of his personal and artistic identity. Van Gogh regularly paints outdoors in Asnières, a village near Paris where the Impressionists often set up their easels. Later, Van Gogh writes to his sister Wil: "And when I painted the landscape in Asnières this summer, I saw more colors there than ever before.”
Among his new friends Van Gogh counts the painters he refers to as the "artists of the Petit Boulevard" -- Toulouse-Lautrec, Signac, Bernard, and Louis Anquetin-artists who are younger and not as famous as the Impressionists. He organizes a group show of his and his friends’ paintings at a Paris restaurant. The artists often gather at Père Tanguy’s paint shop, where Van Gogh regularly sees Gauguin. Tanguy, who generously advances supplies to many young artists, occasionally displays Van Gogh paintings in his store window. Van Gogh buys Japanese prints and studies them intensively. He arranges an exhibition of Japanese woodcuts at a Paris café and his own work takes on the stylized contours and expressive coloration of his Japanese examples.
In early 1888, Vincent leaves for Provence in the south of France: "It appears to me to be almost impossible to work in Paris." He rents a studio in Arles, the "Yellow House," and invites Paul Gauguin to join him. In anticipation of his arrival, Van Gogh paints still lifes of sunflowers to decorate Gauguin’s room. Paul describes the paintings as "completely Vincent." Inspired by the bright colors and strong light of Provence, Vincent executes painting after painting in his own powerful language. “I am getting an eye for this kind of country," he writes to Theo. Whereas in Paris his paintings covered a large range of subjects and techniques, the Arles paintings are consistent in approach. Vincent Van Gogh enters a period of immense creative activity. He has little to distract him from his painting, for he knows almost no one: “Whole days go by without my speaking a single word to anyone." He befriends the local postman, Joseph Roulin, and paints portraits of his entire family. Captivated by the spectacle of spring in Provence, Vincent paints the blossoming fruit trees and later, in summer, scenes of rural life. Van Gogh paints outdoors, often in a single long session: “Working directly on the spot all the time, I tried to grasp what is essential." He identifies each season and subject with specific colors: "The orchards stand for pink and white, the wheatfields for yellow." Color also becomes an expressive, emotional tool. For "Bedroom in Arles", Van Gogh depicts his room with a stark simplicity, using uniform patches of complimentary orange and blue, yellow and violet, red and green.
Personal tensions grow between the two men. In December, Van Gogh experiences a psychotic episode in which he threatens Gauguin with a razor and later cuts off a piece of his own left ear. He is admitted to a hospital in Arles and stays there through January of 1889. Theo, in Paris, marries Johanna Bonger in the spring.
After his discharge from the hospital in Arles, he voluntarily admits himself to the psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy, 15 miles from Arles. He attributes his breakdown to excessive alcohol and tobacco, giving up neither. Fearful of a relapse, in May 1889 he writes: "I wish to remain shut up as much for my own peace of mind as for other people’s." The admitting physician notes that Van Gogh suffers from "acute mania with hallucinations of sight and hearing." Although subject to intermittent attacks, Vincent converts an adjacent cell into a studio, where he produces 150 paintings Van Gogh paints the world he sees from his room, deleting the bars that obscure his view. In the hospital’s walled garden he paints irises, lilacs, and ivy-covered trees. Later Van Gogh is allowed to venture farther afield, and he paints the wheatfields, olive groves, and cypress trees of the surrounding countryside. The imposed regimen of asylum life gives Vincent a hard-won stability. When losing the confidence to execute original paintings, Van Gogh regains his bearings by painting reproductions after his favorite artists, including Millet, Rembrandt and Delacroix. Van Gogh makes more than twenty reproductions of Millet’s peasant scenes, and reinvents Delacroix’s Pieta, in which the bearded Christ bears some resemblance to himself. After one particularly violent attack, in which he tries to poison himself by swallowing paint, Van Gogh is forced to restrict himself to drawing. While in Arles and Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh sends his paintings to Theo in Paris. Despite his illness, he paints one masterwork after another, including Irises, Cypresses, and The Starry Night. Theo encourages his brother: "They have an intensity of color you have not attained before . . . but you have gone even further than that. . . . I see that you have achieved in many of your paintings . . . the quintessence of your thoughts about nature and living beings." Others are beginning to notice Vincent’s work, too. The progressive Belgian artists’ group "Les Vingt" includes six of his paintings in their 1890 exhibition. When Vincent Van Gogh exhibits recent paintings at the Salon des Indépendants - two paintings in 1889 and ten in 1890 - friends in Paris assure him of their success. "Many artists think your work has been the most striking at the exhibition," writes Gauguin. Theo’s son, Vincent Willem van Gogh, is born in January 1890.
After his long period of confinement at Saint-Rémy, Vincent leaves for Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris in May 1890. Though removed from the immoderate pace of life in Paris, he is close enough that he can easily visit Theo. Van Gogh places himself in the care of Paul Gachet, a homeopathic physician and himself an amateur painter. Van Gogh warms to Gachet immediately, writing to Theo that he had "found a perfect friend in Dr. Gachet, something like another brother." Gachet advises Van Gogh to concentrate entirely on his painting. Vincent paints portrait paintings of his new acquaintances and the surrounding landscape, including nearby wheatfields and the garden of the painter Daubigny. Working with great intensity, Van Gogh produces nearly a painting a day over the next two months. Vincent briefly enjoys a peaceful, mentally stable period. In early July Van Gogh visits Theo in Paris. Theo is considering setting up his own business, and he warns Vincent that they will all have to tighten their belts. Strongly affected by Theo’s dissatisfaction, Van Gogh grows increasingly tense: "My life is also threatened at the very root, and my steps are also wavering".
On July 27, 1890, Vincent Van Gogh walks to a wheatfield and shoots himself in the chest. He stumbles back to his lodging, where he dies two days later, on July 29, with Theo at his side. Van Gogh is buried in Auvers on July 30. Among the mourners are Lucien Pissarro, Emile Bernard, and Père Tanguy. Bernard describes how Vincent’s coffin is covered with yellow flowers, "his favorite color . . . . Close by, too, his easel, his camp stool, and his brushes had been placed on the ground beside the coffin."
Van Gogh paintings are left to Theo, but his true legacy will be realized in his powerful influence on artists of the twentieth century. Theo holds a memorial exhibition of Vincent Van Gogh paintings in September 1890 in his Paris apartment. His own health suffers a precipitous decline, and on January 25, 1891, Theo dies. His widow returns to the Netherlands with their infant son and her husband’s legacy, the collection of Vincent Van Gogh paintings.