Essay, Research Paper
The Art and Life of Vincent van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most distinguished modern artists. His early work depicts humble subjects, peasants mostly, with a gentle hand. Many of his other paintings are mostly room settings, and still lifes of flowers with such intensity that it would seem as if he had captured a piece of the sun and used it in his painting. It is truly ironic that during his lifetime, he received no recognition whatsoever, and only sold one painting. Van Gogh faltered repeatedly in every career he attempted to pursue and felt extremely unloved by others. He did not have any friends. Van Gogh turned to art to express his strong religious feelings and his deep need for love and respect. During the latter years life, he completed over 800 oil paintings.
Vincent van Gogh was born on 1853 in Groot-Zundert, which is located in the Netherlands. At the tender age of 16, van Gogh was sent to The Hague to work for an uncle who was an art merchant. During the time he worked for his uncle, van Gogh realized that a business career did not suit him.
In 1878, van Gogh applied for admission into a theological school, but was sternly rejected. Van Gogh then decided to become a preacher. He acquired his training from a missionary society in Brussels, Belgium. Late in 1878, van Gogh represented the society as a minister to the extremely poor coal miners in the Borinage, a poor district in Belgium. “He
sympathized with their dreadful working conditions and did his best, as their spiritual leader, to ease the burden of their lives.” (http://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/bio.htm) Van Gogh was so obsessed with his work that he went without food and other necessities so he could
give to the less fortunate. (World Book, p229) The missionary society disapproved van Gogh’s actions and chose to relieve him of his duties in the summer of 1879. Van Gogh began to draw while he as in Borinage, and he decided to become a full-time painter after the missionary society decided not
to be affiliated with him any longer.
Van Gogh initially relied heavily on dark brown and olive colors and heavy brushstrokes when painting. “The Potato Eaters,” which he completed in 1885, is one of his finest works during this time period. (World Book p229)
In 1886, van Gogh headed to Paris to visit his brother Theo. While he was there, he was at once captivated by the impressionist art he saw. While under the influence of impressionism, van Gogh lightened his brushstrokes and used bright, clear colors instead of the previous darker colors.
It is said that the greatest period of van Gogh’s short, but high productive art career came near the end of his life. He packed his bags and moved to Arles, which is located in southern France, in 1888. Van Gogh suffered with a violent mental illness which caused seizures. Amidst struggles with that serious mental illness, he produced a series of passionate paintings. The dynamic color and slashing brushstrokes of van Gogh’s paintings exhibit his agitated psyche. “A great example of this would be “The Night Cafe,” a picture of emotional turbulence conceived
and executed with care and rationality.” (http://www.hearts-ease.org/gallery/19th-c/post-impressionist/vangogh/bio.html)
That same fierceness can be seen again in his self-portrait, completed in January 1889, with his head still bandaged from the self mutilation of his ear which he did during a seizure. In
this painting, all the forms were carefully assembled and depicted by hundreds of brushstrokes
of genuine color, which give the coat, face, and the hat a bursting energy, even though there are very few colors in this painting – the blue of the coat, the black of the fur hat, the flesh colors, and the background. Above all, it is the haunting face with its deeply troubled eyes that entrances one’s attention and sympathy and serves as the main focus.
In 1888, van Gogh threatened to take the life of a French painter by the name of Paul Gauguin, who was visiting him. Shortly after this incident, van Gogh was transported to the insane asylum of Saint-Remy, where he painted between recurrent spells of insanity. Saint- Remy would also be the place where he would spent the last years of his life alive. Van Gogh was treated by Dr. Paul-Ferdinand Gachet, an artist himself and early supporter of the impressionist painters.
Van Gogh is truly one of the greatest artists. When clearheaded and in good health, Vincent van Gogh could have probably produced a masterpiece in a single day. To our loss, those days were only a handful. He committed suicide in 1890, and we can only ponder what else could have been in store for us if his life had not ended so abruptly.
“The Vincent van Gogh Gallery,” http://www.vangoghgallery.com/misc/bio.htm. 25 March 2001
The World Book Encyclopedia – World Book Encyclopedia, Inc. – “V” 1991
“Vincent van Gogh,” http://www.hearts-ease.org/gallery/19th-c/post-impressionist/vangogh/bio.html. 20 March 2001