Vincent van Gogh Painter Life
Vincent van Gogh was a painter. He had a short and tragic life, which ended when he killed himself. Some of his last paintings are frightening, full of twisting shapes and whirling colours.
Vincent was born on March 30, 1853, in Zundert, in the Netherlands. He was the second child in a family of six. He was especially close to his younger brother, Theo. Vincent could be a difficult child. His parents were gentle and kind and they did not always know how to cope with his fits of temper. He was also very strong-willed.
There was a gentle side to Vincent too. He loved to collect flowers and little creatures. He devised games for all the children to play. But he showed no special interest in drawing. The children grew up loving the countryside around them, with its wheat fields and woods. Vincent remembered these days fondly for the rest of his life.
VAN GOGH TRIES TO FIND A CAREER
Van Gogh became an artist quite late in his life. He started off working for a firm of art dealers—buying and selling paintings. Two of his uncles were art dealers, so it was a natural move for the young Vincent van Gogh. His brother Theo also became an art dealer.
At first van Gogh seemed to enjoy his work and was good at it. He was sent to the company’s London office in 1873, and he stayed in London for two years. During that time, he spent hours wandering around in the art galleries. As the years passed, van Gogh became less happy in his work. He felt too strongly about painting to treat it as a business. He did not like buying paintings that did not appeal to him, even if they sold for a high price. He left the company while he was working at the Paris office, and returned to London, where he spent some time teaching.
Though he still spent many hours in the galleries, another passion was taking hold of him: religion. Van Gogh had begun to read the Bible avidly. He decided to become a clergyman. Returning to the Netherlands, van Gogh tried to study so that he could enter university and learn theology, but he did not succeed. He then persuaded the Church to allow him to preach in a very poor mining area in Belgium.
Van Gogh was shocked by the terrible conditions in which the mining families lived. He began to give away everything—his food, his clothes—to help them. The Church thought that his attitude was too extreme, and he was dismissed from his post. Nevertheless, van Gogh stayed in the area, living among the poor as a pauper himself. He began to draw the miners and peasants, and scenes from their lives. Van Gogh finally realized that it was through painting that he could express his intense feelings.
FIRST STEPS IN ART
With help from his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh set off for Brussels in 1880 to study art. Again, his efforts to follow a course of study ended in failure. But he would not give up. He began to teach himself to draw and paint, using the books and paintings of great artists he admired, such as the French painter of peasant life, Jean-François Millet. Van Gogh returned to the Netherlands, where his relative Anton Mauve, who was a successful artist, taught him. After several years of work, van Gogh painted his first great masterpiece, The Potato Eaters, in 1885. After several years in the Netherlands, van Gogh felt he wanted change and new ideas. He joined his brother Theo in Paris.
VAN GOGH IN PARIS
His two years in Paris brought van Gogh into contact with many leading artists. He was influenced by Impressionist painters such as Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir. The Impressionists were producing exciting new works exploring the light and how it affected colours and shadows. Van Gogh had been painting with dark, sombre colours, but he now began to use brighter tints. He was also influenced by the Japanese prints that were admired in Paris at the time. From all these ideas, he began to develop his own unique painting style.
But the hectic life in Paris was becoming too much for him, and van Gogh decided to settle in Arles, in Provence, southern France. The climate was warmer here, and he hoped to attract a group of artists who would live and work together in an artists’ commune.
THE YELLOW HOUSE AT ARLES
The countryside around Arles was beautiful and as the weather became warmer, van Gogh took his easel and began painting outdoors. He painted some of his best-loved landscapes at this time.
In September 1888, van Gogh moved into what became known as the Yellow House in Arles. Yellow was Vincent van Gogh’s favourite colour. The artists’ commune never happenened, but Theo helped him to persuade another great artist, Paul Gauguin, to come and stay.
At first, things went well, but soon the two artists started to argue. Van Gogh was becoming mentally unstable. After one fierce argument, he cut off part of his right ear. Gauguin left the Yellow House after that. Vincent Van Gogh was ill for some time, and Theo rushed to his side, but he recovered and soon started painting again. He painted the famous Sunflowers at this time.
Further attacks of mental illness followed. Van Gogh’s strange behaviour made local people nervous and they asked the mayor to put him back in hospital. After this, he spent weeks in hospital, painting the countryside around Arles when he was let out for brief periods. But he realized that he was very ill. He admitted himself into an asylum—a special hospital for mentally ill people—in 1889.
At the asylum, van Gogh continued to paint between attacks of illness. One of his paintings from this time is Starry Night, which he painted from memory.
By now van Gogh was frequently ill. His work was becoming famous, but this did not help him overcome his depression. In 1890, Theo brought him to live closer to Paris under the care of Dr Paul Gachet, where he seemed calmer and continued to paint.
Then one day, van Gogh set off for the fields with his easel, as he often did. But this time, he took a gun and shot himself. He struggled back to the house, but he had wounded himself seriously and only survived for another day and night. Theo reached him in time to look after him in his last hours.
Vincent van Gogh’s works are now admired all over the world. He poured his anguish into them, using strong colours and bold brushstrokes to express his emotions through his landscape paintings. This kind of painting is called Expressionism, and it was to influence painters in Germany during the 1930s. In Starry Night, golden stars explode in a restless purple sky, and the trees seem to writhe in pain.
Vincent van Gogh died in his brother Theo’s arms. When he was buried, his coffin was covered with yellow flowers.