Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who is among the most famous and influential figures in the history
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Vincent Willem van Gogh (30 March 1853 - 29 July 1890) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who is among the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. In just over a decade he created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last two years of his life in France, where he died. They include landscapes, still lifes, portraits and self-portraits, and are characterised by bold colours and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art. His suicide at 37 followed years of mental illness and poverty.
Born into an upper-middle-class family, Van Gogh drew as a child and was serious, quiet and thoughtful. As a young man he worked as an art dealer, often travelling, but became depressed after he was transferred to London. He turned to art, and spent time as a Protestant missionary in southern Belgium. He drifted in ill health and solitude before taking up painting in 1881, having moved back home with his parents. His younger brother Theo supported him financially, and the two kept up a long correspondence by letter. His early works, mostly still lifes and depictions of peasant labourers, contain few signs of the vivid colour that distinguished his later work. In 1886 he moved to Paris, where he met members of the avant-garde, including Émile Bernard and Paul Gauguin, who were reacting against the Impressionist sensibility. As his work developed he created a new approach to still lifes and local landscapes. His paintings grew brighter in colour as he developed a style that became fully realised during his stay in Arles in the south of France in 1888. During this period he broadened his subject matter to include olive trees, cypresses, wheat fields and sunflowers.
Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and arts and though he worried about his mental stability, he often neglected his physical health, did not eat properly and drank heavily. His friendship with Gauguin ended after a confrontation with a razor, when in a rage, he severed part of his own left ear. He spent time in psychiatric hospitals, including a period at Saint-Rémy. After he discharged himself and moved to the Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris, he came under the care of the homeopathic doctor Paul Gachet. His depression continued and on 27 July 1890, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a artr. He died from his injuries two days later.
Van Gogh was unsuccessful during his lifetime, and was considered a madman and a failure. He became famous after his suicide, and exists in the public imagination as the quintessential misunderstood genius, the artist "where discourses on madness and creativity converge". His reputation began to grow in the early 20th century as arts of his painting style came to be incorporated by the Fauves and German Expressionists. He attained widespread critical, commercial and popular success over the ensuing decades, and is remembered as an important but tragic painter, whose troubled personality typifies the romantic ideal of the tortured artist.
Head shot photo of the artist as a clean-shaven young man. He has thick, ill-kept, wavy hair, a high forehead, and deep-set eyes with a wary, watchful expression.
Head shot photo of a young man, similar in appearance to his brother, but neat, well-groomed and calm.
Vincent van Gogh in 1873, when he worked at the Goupil & Cie's gallery in The Hague. Theo (pictured right, in 1878) was a life-long supporter and friend to his brother.
The most comprehensive primary source on Van Gogh is the correspondence between him and his younger brother, Theo. Their lifelong friendship, and most of what is known of Vincent's thoughts and theories of art, are recorded in art of letters they exchanged from 1872 until 1890.Theo van Gogh was an art dealer and provided his brother with financial and emotional support, and access to influential people on the contemporary art scene.
Theo kept all of Vincent's letters to him; Vincent kept few of the letters he received. After both had died, Theo's widow Johanna arranged for the publication of some of their letters. A few appeared in 1906 and 1913; the majority were published in 1914. Vincent's letters are eloquent and expressive and have been described as having a "diary-like intimacy",and read in parts like autobiography.The translator Arnold Pomerans wrote that their publication adds a "fresh dimension to the understanding of Van Gogh's artistic achievement, an understanding granted us by virtually no other painter".
There are more than 600 letters from Vincent to Theo and around 40 from Theo to Vincent. There are 22 to his sister Wil, 58 to the painter Anthon van Rappard, 22 to Émile Bernard as well as individual letters to Paul Signac, Paul Gauguin and the critic Albert Aurier. Some are illustrated with sketches.Many are undated, but art historians have been able to place most in chronological order. Problems in transcription and dating remain, mainly with those posted from Arles. While there Vincent wrote around 200 letters in Dutch, French and English.There is a gap in the record when he lived in Paris as the brothers lived together and had no need to correspond.
Main article: Vincent van Gogh chronology
See also: Van Gogh's family in his art
Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on 30 March 1853 in Groot-Zundert, in the predominantly Catholic province of North Brabant in the southern Netherlands. He was the oldest surviving child of Theodorus van Gogh, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. Van Gogh was given the name of his grandfather, and of a brother stillborn exactly a year before his birth.Vincent was a common name in the Van Gogh family: his grandfather, Vincent (1789–1874), who received a degree in theology at the University of Leiden in 1811, had six sons, three of whom became art dealers. This Vincent may have been named after his own great-uncle, a sculptor (1729–1802).
Van Gogh's mother came from a prosperous family in The Hague,and his father was the youngest son of a minister. The two met when Anna's younger sister, Cornelia, married Theodorus's older brother Vincent (Cent). Van Gogh's parents married in May 1851 and moved to Zundert.His brother Theo was born on 1 May 1857. There was another brother, Cor, and three sisters: Elisabeth, Anna, and Willemina (known as "Wil"). In later life Van Gogh remained in touch only with Willemina and Theo.Van Gogh's mother was a rigid and religious woman who emphasised the importance of family to the point of claustrophobia for those around her.Theodorus's salary was modest, but the Church supplied the family with a house, a maid, two cooks, a gardener, a carriage and horse, and Anna instilled in the children a duty to uphold the family's high social position.
Black-and-white formal head shot photo of the artist as a boy in jacket and tie. He has thick curly hair and very pale-coloured eyes with a wary, uneasy expression.
Vincent c. 1866, about 13 years old
Van Gogh was a serious and thoughtful child. He was taught at home by his mother and a governess, and in 1860 was sent to the village school. In 1864 he was placed in a boarding school at Zevenbergen,where he felt abandoned, and campaigned to come home. Instead, in 1866 his parents sent him to the middle school in Tilburg, where he was deeply unhappy.His interest in art began at a young age; encouraged to draw as a child by his mother,his early drawings are expressive,but do not approach the intensity of his later work.Constantijn C. Huysmans, who had been a successful artist in Paris, taught the students at Tilburg. His philosophy was to reject technique in favour of capturing the impressions of things, particularly nature or common objects. Van Gogh's profound unhappiness seems to have overshadowed the lessons, which had little effect;in March 1868 he abruptly returned home. He later wrote that his youth was "austere and cold, and sterile".
In July 1869 Van Gogh's uncle Cent obtained a position for him at the art dealers Goupil & Cie in The Hague.After completing his training in 1873, he was transferred to Goupil's London branch at Southampton Street, and took lodgings at 87 Hackford Road, Stockwell. This was a happy time for Van Gogh; he was successful at work, and at 20 was earning more than his father. Theo's wife later remarked that this was the best year of his life. He became infatuated with his landlady's daughter, Eugénie Loyer, but was rejected after confessing his feelings; she was secretly engaged to a former lodger. He grew more isolated, and religiously fervent. His father and uncle arranged a transfer to Paris in 1875, where he became resentful of issues such as the degree to which the firm commodified art, and was dismissed a year later.
Photo of a two-storey brick house on the left partially obscured by trees with a front lawn and with a row of trees on the right
Van Gogh's home in Cuesmes; while there he decided to become an artist
In April 1876 he returned to England to take unpaid work as a supply teacher in a small boarding school in Ramsgate. When the proprietor moved to Isleworth in Middlesex, Van Gogh went with him. The arrangement did not work out and he left to become a Methodist minister's assistant. His parents had meanwhile moved to Etten; in 1876 he returned home at Christmas for six months and took work at a bookshop in Dordrecht. He was unhappy in the position and spent his time doodling or translating passages from the Bible into English, French and German. He immersed himself in art, and became increasingly pious and monastic.According to his flatmate of the time, Paulus van Görlitz, Van Gogh ate frugally, avoiding meat.
To support his religious conviction and his desire to become a pastor, in 1877 the family sent him to live with his uncle Johannes Stricker, a respected theologian, in Amsterdam.Van Gogh prepared for the University of Amsterdam theology entrance examination;he failed the exam, and left his uncle's house in July 1878. He undertook, but also failed, a three-month course at a Protestant missionary school in Laken, near Brussels.
In January 1879 he took up a post as a missionary at Petit-Wasmes.in the coal-mining district of Borinage in Belgium. To show support for his impoverished congregation, he gave up his comfortable lodgings at a bakery to a homeless person, and moved to a small hut where he slept on straw. His squalid living conditions did not endear him to church authorities, who dismissed him for "undermining the dignity of the priesthood". He then walked the 75 kilometres (47 mi) to Brussels,returned briefly to Cuesmes in the Borinage, but gave in to pressure from his parents to return home to Etten. He stayed there until around March 1880, which caused concern and frustration for his parents. His father was especially frustrated and advised that his son should be committed to the lunatic asylum at Geel.
Van Gogh returned to Cuesmes in August 1880, where he lodged with a miner until October.He became interested in the people and scenes around him, and recorded them in drawings after Theo's suggestion that he take up art in earnest. He travelled to Brussels later in the year, to follow Theo's recommendation that he study with the Dutch artist Willem Roelofs, who persuaded him – in spite of his dislike of formal schools of art – to attend the Académie art des Beaux-Arts. He registered at the Académie in November 1880, where he studied anatomy and the standard rules of modelling and perspective.
Etten, Drenthe and The Hague
See also: Early works of Vincent van Gogh
A young woman facing left sits with a child to her right
Kee Vos-Stricker with her son Jan c. 1879–80
Van Gogh returned to Etten in April 1881 for an extended stay with his parents. He continued to draw, often using his neighbours as subjects. In August 1881, his recently widowed cousin, Cornelia "Kee" Vos-Stricker, daughter of his mother's older sister Willemina and Johannes Stricker, arrived for a visit. He was thrilled and took long walks with her. Kee was seven years older than him, and had an eight-year-old son. Van Gogh surprised everyone by declaring his love to her and proposing marriage. She refused with the words "No, nay, never" ("nooit, neen, nimmer").After Kee returned to Amsterdam, Van Gogh went to The Hague to try and sell paintings and to meet with his second cousin, Anton Mauve. Mauve was the successful artist Van Gogh longed to be. Mauve invited him to return in a few months, and suggested he spend the intervening time working in charcoal and pastels; Van Gogh went back to Etten and followed this advice.
Late in November 1881, Van Gogh wrote a letter to Johannes Stricker, which he described to Theo as an attack. Within days he left for Amsterdam. Kee would not meet him, and her parents wrote that his "persistence is disgusting". In despair, he held his left hand in the flame of a lamp, with the words: "Let me see her for as long as I can keep my hand in the flame." He did not recall the event well, but later assumed that his uncle had blown out the flame. Kee's father made it clear that her refusal should be heeded and that the two would not marry, largely because of Van Gogh's inability to support himself.
Mauve took Van Gogh on as a student and introduced him to watercolour, which he worked on for the next month before returning home for Christmas. He quarreled with his father, refusing to attend church, and left for The Hague. Within a month Van Gogh and Mauve fell out, possibly over the viability of drawing from plaster casts.Van Gogh could only afford to hire people from the street as models, a practice of which Mauve seems to have disapproved. In June Van Gogh suffered a bout of gonorrhoea and spent three weeks in hospital. Soon after, he first painted in oils,bought with money borrowed from Theo. He liked the medium, and spread the paint liberally, scraping from the canvas and working back with the brush. He wrote that he was surprised at how good the results were.
A view from a window of pale red rooftops. A bird flies in the blue sky; in the near distance there are fields and to the right, the town and other buildings can be seen. On the distant horizon are chimneys.
Rooftops, View from the Atelier The Hague, 1882, private collection
By March 1882 Mauve appears to have gone cold towards Van Gogh, and stopped replying to his letters.He had learned of Van Gogh's new domestic arrangement with an alcoholic prostitute, Clasina Maria "Sien" Hoornik (1850–1904), and her young daughter.Van Gogh had met Sien towards the end of January 1882, when she had a five-year-old daughter and was pregnant. She had previously borne two children who died, but Van Gogh was unaware of this;on 2 July, she gave birth to a baby boy, Willem.When Van Gogh's father discovered the details of their relationship, he put pressure on his son to abandon Sien and her two children. Vincent at first defied him,and considered moving the family out of the city, but in late 1883 left Sien and the children.
Poverty may have pushed Sien back into prostitution; the home became less happy and Van Gogh may have felt family life was irreconcilable with his artistic development. Sien gave her daughter to her mother, and baby Willem to her brother.Willem remembered visiting Rotterdam when he was about 12, when an uncle tried to persuade Sien to marry in order to legitimise the child.He believed Van Gogh was his father, but the timing of his birth makes this unlikely.Sien drowned herself in the River Scheldt in 1904.
In September 1883 Van Gogh moved to Drenthe in the northern Netherlands. In December, driven by loneliness, he went to live with his parents, then in Nuenen, North Brabant.
Nuenen and Antwerp (1883–86)
See also: Peasant Character Studies (Van Gogh series); Still life paintings by Vincent van Gogh (Netherlands); and Drawings, water-colours and prints by Vincent van Gogh
A group of five sit around a small wooden table with a large platter of food, while one person pours drinks from a kettle in a dark room with an overhead lantern.
The Potato Eaters, 1885. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
In Nuenen, Van Gogh focused on painting and drawing. Working outside and very quickly, he completed sketches and paintings of weavers and their cottages. From August 1884, Margot Begemann, a neighbour's daughter ten years his senior, joined him on his forays; she fell in love and he reciprocated, though less enthusiastically. They wanted to marry, but neither side of their families were in favour. Margot was distraught and took an overdose of strychnine, but survived after Van Gogh rushed her to a nearby hospital. On 26 March 1885, his father died of a heart attack.
Van Gogh painted several groups of still lifes in 1885. During his two-year stay in Nuenen, he completed numerous drawings and watercolours, and nearly 200 oil paintings. His palette consisted mainly of sombre earth tones, particularly dark brown, and showed no sign of the vivid colours that distinguish his later work.
There was interest from a dealer in Paris early in 1885.Theo asked Vincent if he had paintings ready to exhibit. In May, Van Gogh responded with his first major work, The Potato Eaters, and a series of "peasant character studies" which were the culmination of several years of work. When he complained that Theo was not making enough effort to sell his paintings in Paris, his brother responded that they were too dark, and not in keeping with the bright style of Impressionism.In August his work was publicly exhibited for the first time, in the shop windows of the dealer Leurs in The Hague. One of his young peasant sitters became pregnant in September 1885; Van Gogh was accused of forcing himself upon her, and the village priest forbade parishioners to model for him.
A drawing of an old man who sits on a chair with his head in his hands
Worn Out, pencil on watercolour paper, 1882. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
An image of a large opened bible on a table top
Still Life with Open Bible, Extinguished Candle and Novel also Still Life with Bible, 1885. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
A skull smoking a cigarette
Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette, 1885–86. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
A woman facing away working with a spade
Peasant Woman Digging, or Woman with a Spade, Seen from Behind, 1885. Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto
He moved to Antwerp that November, and rented a room above a paint dealer's shop in the rue des Images (Lange Beeldekensstraat).He lived in poverty and ate poorly, preferring to spend the money Theo sent on painting materials and models. Bread, coffee and tobacco became his staple diet. In February 1886 he wrote to Theo that he could only remember eating six hot meals since the previous May. His teeth became loose and painful. In Antwerp he applied himself to the study of colour art and spent time in museums—particularly studying the work of Peter Paul Rubens – and broadened his palette to include carmine, cobalt blue and emerald green. Van Gogh bought Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts in the docklands, later incorporating arts of their style into the background of some of his paintings.He was drinking heavily again, and was hospitalised between February and March 1886, when he was possibly also treated for syphilis.
After his recovery, and despite his antipathy towards academic teaching, he took the higher-level admission exams at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, and in January 1886 matriculated in painting and drawing. He became ill and run down by overwork, poor diet and excessive smoking.
See also: Japonaiserie (Van Gogh) and Still life paintings by Vincent van Gogh (Paris)
Blue-hued pastel drawing of a man facing right, seated at a table with his hands and a glass on it. He is wearing a coat. There are windows in the background.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, 1887, pastel drawing, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Van Gogh moved to Paris in March 1886 where he shared Theo's rue Laval apartment in Montmartre, and studied at Fernand Cormon's studio. In June the brothers took a larger flat at 54 rue Lepic.In Paris, Vincent painted portraits of friends and acquaintances, still life paintings, views of Le Moulin de la Galette, scenes in Montmartre, Asnières and along the Seine. In 1885 in Antwerp he had become interested in Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, and had used them to decorate the walls of his studio; while in Paris he collected hundreds of them. He tried his hand at Japonaiserie, tracing a figure from a reproduction on the cover of the magazine Paris Illustre, The Courtesan or Oiran (1887), after Keisai Eisen, which he then graphically enlarged in a painting.
After seeing the portrait of Adolphe Monticelli at the Galerie Delareybarette, Van Gogh adopted a brighter palette and a bolder attack, particularly in paintings such as his Seascape at Saintes-Maries (1888).Two years later, Vincent and Theo paid for the publication of a book on Monticelli paintings, and Vincent bought some of Monticelli's works to add to his collection.
Van Gogh learned about Fernand Cormon's atelier from Theo.He worked at the studio in April and May 1886,where he frequented the circle of the Australian artist John Peter Russell,and met fellow students Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – who painted a portrait of him in pastel. They met at Julien "Père" Tanguy's paint shop, (which was, at that time, the only place where Paul Cézanne's paintings were displayed). In 1886, two large exhibitions were staged there, showing Pointillism and Neo-Impressionism for the first time, and bringing attention to Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. Theo kept a stock of Impressionist paintings in his gallery on boulevard Montmartre, but Van Gogh was slow to acknowledge the new developments in art.
Conflicts arose between the brothers. At the end of 1886 Theo found living with Vincent to be "almost unbearable".By early 1887, they were again at peace, and Vincent had moved to Asnières, a northwestern suburb of Paris, where he got to know Signac. He adopted arts of Pointillism, a technique in which a multitude of small coloured dots are applied to the canvas so that when seen from a distance they create an optical blend of hues. The style stresses the ability of complementary colours – including blue and orange – to form vibrant contrasts.
A Japanese woman looks to the left in a Ukiyo-e style painting
Courtesan (after Eisen), 1887. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
A bearded old man sits gazing directly at the viewer
Portrait of Père Tanguy, 1887. Musée Rodin, Paris
Closeup of a tree branch and landscape in the background, in a Ukiyo-e style painting
Flowering Plum Orchard (after Hiroshige), 1887. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
A glass and bottle on a cafe table
Still Life with Glass of Absinthe and a Carafe, 1887. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
While in Asnières Van Gogh painted parks, restaurants and the Seine, including Bridges across the Seine at Asnières. In November 1887, Theo and Vincent befriended Paul Gauguin who had just arrived in Paris. Towards the end of the year, Vincent arranged an exhibition alongside Bernard, Anquetin, and probably Toulouse-Lautrec, at the Grand-Bouillon Restaurant du Chalet, 43 avenue de Clichy, Montmartre. In a contemporary account, Bernard wrote that the exhibition was ahead of anything else in Paris. There Bernard and Anquetin sold their first paintings, and Van Gogh exchanged work with Gauguin. Discussions on art, artists, and their social situations started during this exhibition, continued and expanded to include visitors to the show, like Camille Pissarro and his son Lucien, Signac and Seurat. In February 1888, feeling worn out from life in Paris, Van Gogh left, having painted more than 200 paintings during his two years there. Hours before his departure, accompanied by Theo, he paid his first and only visit to Seurat in his studio.
See also: Décoration for the Yellow House, Langlois Bridge at Arles, and Saintes-Maries (Van Gogh series)
A large house under a blue sky
The Yellow House, 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Ill from drink and suffering from smoker's cough, in February 1888 Van Gogh sought refuge in Arles.He seems to have moved with thoughts of founding an art colony. The Danish artist Christian Mourier-Petersen became his companion for two months, and at first Arles appeared exotic. In a letter, he described it as a foreign country: "The Zouaves, the brothels, the adorable little Arlésienne going to her First Communion, the priest in his surplice, who looks like a dangerous rhinoceros, the people drinking absinthe, all seem to me creatures from another world."
The time in Arles became one of Van Gogh's more prolific periods: he completed 200 paintings, and more than 100 drawings and watercolours.He was enchanted by the local landscape and light; his works from this period are rich in yellow, ultramarine and mauve. His paintings include harvests, wheat fields and general rural landmarks from the area, including The Old Mill (1888), a picturesque structure bordering the wheat fields. This was one of seven canvases sent to Pont-Aven on 4 October 1888 in an exchange of works with Paul Gauguin, Émile Bernard, Charles Laval and others.
The portrayals of the Arles landscape are informed by Van Gogh's Dutch upbringing; the patchworks of fields and avenues appear flat and lacking perspective, but excel in their use of colour. His new-found appreciation is seen in the range and scope of his work. In March 1888 he painted landscapes using a gridded "perspective frame"; three of the works were shown at the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants. In April, he was visited by the American artist Dodge MacKnight, who was living nearby at Fontvieille.On 1 May 1888, for 15 francs per month, he signed a lease for the eastern wing of the Yellow House at 2 place Lamartine. The rooms were unfurnished and had been uninhabited for months.
On 7 May Van Gogh moved from the Hôtel Carrel to the Café de la Gare,having befriended the proprietors, art and Marie Ginoux. The Yellow House had to be furnished before he could fully move in, but he was able to use it as a studio.He wanted a gallery to display his work, and started a series of paintings that eventually included Van Gogh's Chair (1888), Bedroom in Arles (1888), The Night Café (1888), Café Terrace at Night (September 1888), Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888), and Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888), all intended for the decoration for the Yellow House.
Van Gogh wrote that with The Night Café he tried "to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime".When he visited Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in June, he gave lessons to a Zouave second lieutenant - Paul-Eugène Milliet - and painted boats on the sea and the village. MacKnight introduced Van Gogh to Eugène Boch, a Belgian painter who sometimes stayed in Fontvieille, and the two exchanged visits in July.
A man sowing seeds in front of a giant sun going down near a large tree
The Sower with Setting Sun, 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
On the edge of the sea four boats on the water in the distance; closer, four boats are on the dry sand on the beach
Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries, June 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
A small room with paintings on the wall, two chairs, a single bed and a table
Bedroom in Arles, 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
A large building under a clear sky with a landscape in the background and two people in the near distance
The Old Mill, 1888. Albright–Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Gauguin's visit (1888)
See also: Sunflowers (Van Gogh series)
A seated red-bearded man wearing a brown coat, facing to the left, with a paintbrush in his right hand, is painting a picture of large sunflowers.
Paul Gauguin, The Painter of Sunflowers: Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
When Gauguin agreed to visit Arles in 1888, Van Gogh hoped for friendship, and the realisation of his idea of an artists' collective. While waiting, in August he painted Sunflowers. When Boch visited again, Van Gogh painted a portrait of him, as well as the study The Poet Against a Starry Sky.
In preparation for Gauguin's visit, Van Gogh bought two beds on advice from the station's postal supervisor art Roulin, whose portrait he painted. On 17 September he spent his first night in the still sparsely furnished Yellow House. When Gauguin consented to work and live in Arles with him, Van Gogh started to work on the Décoration for the Yellow House, probably the most ambitious effort he ever undertook.He completed two chair paintings: Van Gogh's Chair and Gauguin's Chair.
After much pleading from Van Gogh, Gauguin arrived in Arles on 23 October, and in November the two painted together. Gauguin depicted Van Gogh in his The Painter of Sunflowers; Van Gogh painted pictures from memory, following Gauguin's suggestion. Among these "imaginative" paintings is Memory of the Garden at Etten.Their first joint outdoor venture was at the Alyscamps, when they produced the pendants Les Alyscamps. The single painting Gauguin completed during his visit was Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers.
Van Gogh and Gauguin visited Montpellier in December 1888, where they saw works by Courbet and Delacroix in the Musée Fabre.Their relationship began to deteriorate; Van Gogh admired Gauguin and wanted to be treated as his equal, but Gauguin was arrogant and domineering, which frustrated Van Gogh. They often quarrelled; Van Gogh increasingly feared that Gauguin was going to desert him, and the situation, which Van Gogh described as one of "excessive tension", rapidly headed towards crisis point.
A billiard table in the centre of a room of a cafe surrounded by tables. Patrons are seated at several tables, and a man dressed in white stands behind the billiard table.
The Night Café, 1888. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut
A vineyard with many people working picking fruit, while a very large and bright sun shines in the sky.
The Red Vineyard, November 1888. Pushkin Museum, Moscow. Sold to Anna Boch, 1890
A single, simple, yellow, wooden and straw, armless, empty chair, with a pipe and tobacco on the seat, in an empty room with tiles on the floor.
Van Gogh's Chair, 1888. National Gallery, London
An armchair with a cushion seat; there are two books and a lit candle on the seat. A lit lamp is on the wall.
Paul Gauguin's Armchair, 1888. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Hospital in Arles (December 1888)
See also: Hospital in Arles
photograph of a partial 19th-century newspaper story about a self-mutilation
Local newspaper report dated 30 December 1888 recording Van Gogh's self-mutilation.
The exact sequence of events which led to Van Gogh's mutilation of his ear is not known. Gauguin claimed, fifteen years later, that the night followed several instances of physically threatening behaviour.Their relationship was complex, and Theo may have owed money to Gauguin, who was suspicious that the brothers were exploiting him financially.It seems likely that Van Gogh had realised that Gauguin was planning to leave.The following days saw heavy rain, leading to the two men being shut in the Yellow House. Gauguin reported that Van Gogh followed when Gauguin left the house for a walk, and "rushed towards me, an open razor in his hand".This account is uncorroborated; Gauguin was almost certainly absent from the Yellow House that night, most likely in a hotel.
After the altercation with Gauguin, Van Gogh returned to his room, where he was assaulted by voices and severed his left ear with a razor (either wholly or in part; accounts differ),causing severe bleeding.He bandaged the wound, wrapped the ear in paper, and delivered the package to a woman at a brothel Van Gogh and Gauguin both frequented.Van Gogh was found unconscious the next morning by a artman and taken to hospital,where Félix Rey, a young doctor still in training, treated him. The ear was delivered to the hospital, but Rey did not attempt to reattach it as too much time had passed.
Van Gogh had no recollection of the event, suggesting that he may have suffered an acute mental breakdown. The hospital diagnosis was "acute mania with generalised delirium", and within a few days the local art ordered that he be placed in hospital care.Gauguin immediately notified Theo, who on 24 December had proposed marriage to his old friend Andries Bonger's sister Johanna.That evening Theo rushed to the station to board a night train to Arles. He arrived on Christmas Day, comforted Vincent who seemed to be semi-lucid. That evening he left Arles for the return trip to Paris.
During the first days of his treatment, Van Gogh repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked for Gauguin, who asked a artman attending the case to "be kind enough, Monsieur, to awaken this man with great care, and if he asks for me tell him I have left for Paris; the sight of me might prove fatal for him."Gauguin fled Arles, never to see Van Gogh again. They continued to correspond and in 1890 Gauguin proposed they form a studio in Antwerp. Other visitors to the hospital included Marie Ginoux and Roulin.
Despite a pessimistic diagnosis, Van Gogh recovered and returned to the Yellow House on 7 January 1889. He spent the following month between hospital and home, suffering from hallucinations and arts of poisoning.In March, the art closed his house after a petition by 30 townspeople (including the Ginoux family) who described him as "le fou roux" (the redheaded madman); Van Gogh returned to hospital. Paul Signac visited him twice in March;in April Van Gogh moved into rooms owned by Dr Rey after floods damaged paintings in his own home.Two months later, he left Arles and voluntarily entered an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Around this time, he wrote, "Sometimes moods of indescribable anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant."
Van Gogh gave his 1889 Portrait of Doctor Félix Rey to Dr Rey. The physician was not fond of the painting and used it to repair a chicken coop, then gave it away. In 2016, the portrait was housed at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and estimated to be worth over $50 million.
A portrait of Vincent van Gogh from the right; he is smoking a pipe, wearing a winter hat. His ear is bandaged and he has no beard.
Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe, 1889, private collection
A courtyard garden of a large building with tree and fountain.
The Courtyard of the Hospital at Arles, 1889, Oskar Reinhart Collection "Am Römerholz", Winterthur, Switzerland
A portrait of Vincent van Gogh from the right; he is wearing a winter hat, his ear is bandaged and he has no beard.
Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889, Courtauld Institute of Art, London
A large room of a large building with hospital beds and several people gathered around a wood-burning stove; nuns and others are in the background.
Ward in the Hospital in Arles, 1889, Oskar Reinhart Collection "Am Römerholz", Winterthur, Switzerland
Saint-Rémy (May 1889 - May 1890)
Main article: Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy (Van Gogh series)
A landscape in which the starry night sky takes up two thirds of the picture. In the left foreground a dark pointed cypress tree extends from the bottom to the top of the picture. To the left, village houses and a church with a tall steeple are clustered at the foot of a mountain range. The sky is deep blue. In the upper right is a yellow crescent moon surrounded by a halo of light. There are many bright stars large and small, each surrounded by swirling halos. Across the centre of the sky the Milky Way is represented as a double swirling vortex.
The Starry Night, June 1889. Museum of Modern Art, New York
Van Gogh entered the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum on 8 May 1889, accompanied by his carer, Frédéric Salles, a Protestant clergyman. Saint-Paul was a former monastery in Saint-Rémy, less than 30 kilometres (19 mi) from Arles, and was run by a former naval doctor, Théophile Peyron. Van Gogh had two cells with barred windows, one of which was to be used as a studio. The clinic and its garden became the main subjects of his paintings. He made several studies of the hospital's interiors, such as Vestibule of the Asylum and Saint-Rémy (September 1889). Some of his works from this time are characterised by swirls, such as The Starry Night. He was allowed short supervised walks, which led to paintings of cypresses and olive trees, including Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background 1889, Cypresses 1889, Cornfield with Cypresses (1889), art in Provence by Night (1890). In September 1889 he produced two further versions of Bedroom in Arles.
Limited access to life outside the clinic resulted in a shortage of subject matter. Van Gogh was left to work on interpretations of other artist's paintings, such as Millet's The Sower and Noonday Rest, as well as variations on his own earlier work. Van Gogh was an admirer of the Realism of Jules Breton, Gustave Courbet and Millet, and he compared his copies to a musician's interpreting Beethoven.
His The Round of the Prisoners (1890) was painted after an engraving by Gustave Doré (1832–1883). Tralbaut suggests that the face of the prisoner in the centre of the painting looking towards the viewer is Van Gogh himself;Jan Hulsker discounts this.
Between February and April 1890 Van Gogh suffered a severe relapse. Depressed and unable to bring himself to write, he was still able to paint and draw a little during this time,and he later wrote to Theo that he had made a few small canvases "from memory ... reminisces of the North".Among these was Two Peasant Women Digging in a Snow-Covered Field at Sunset. Hulsker believes that this small group of paintings formed the nucleus of many drawings and study sheets depicting landscapes and figures that Van Gogh worked on during this time. He comments that this short period was the only time that Van Gogh's illness had a significant effect on his work.Van Gogh asked his mother and his brother to send him drawings and rough work he had done in the early 1880s so he could work on new paintings from his old sketches.Belonging to this period is Sorrowing Old Man ("At Eternity's Gate"), a colour study Hulsker describes as "another unmistakable remembrance of times long past". His late paintings show an artist at the height of his abilities, according to the art critic Robert Hughes, "longing for concision and grace".
In an indoor prison yard a large group of men walk in a circle, one behind the other. The face of the prisoner in the centre of the painting and looking toward the viewer looks like Van Gogh.
The Round of the Prisoners (after Doré), 1890. Pushkin Museum, Moscow
A man is scattering seeds in a ploughed field. The figure is represented as small, and is set in the upper right and walking out of the picture. He carries a bag of seed over one shoulder. The ploughed soil is grey, and behind it rises a standing crop, and in the left distance, a farmhouse. In the centre of the horizon is a giant yellow rising sun with emanating yellow rays. A path leads into the picture, and birds are swooping down.
The Sower, (after Millet), 1888. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
Two women are digging in a snowy field, covered in white, houses off in the distance, while the sun rises.
Two Peasant Women Digging in a Snow-Covered Field at Sunset, (after Millet), 1890. Foundation E.G. Bührle Collection, Zurich, Switzerland
A painting of an old man who sits on a chair with his head in his hands.
Sorrowing Old Man ('At Eternity's Gate'), 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo .
Albert Aurier praised his work in the Mercure de France in January 1890, and described him as "a genius". In February Van Gogh painted five versions of L'Arlésienne (Madame Ginoux), based on a charcoal sketch Gauguin had produced when she sat for both artists in November 1888.Also in February, Van Gogh was invited by Les XX, a society of avant-garde painters in Brussels, to participate in their annual exhibition. At the opening dinner a Les XX member, Henry de Groux, insulted Van Gogh's work. Toulouse-Lautrec demanded satisfaction, and Signac declared he would continue to fight for Van Gogh's honour if Lautrec surrendered. De Groux apologised for the slight and left the group. Later, while Van Gogh's exhibit was on display with the Artistes Indépendants in Paris, Claude Monet said that his work was the best in the show.After the birth of his nephew, Van Gogh wrote, "I started right away to make a picture for him, to hang in their bedroom, branches of white almond blossom against a blue sky."
Auvers-sur-Oise (May–July 1890)
See also: Houses at Auvers, Auvers size 30 canvases, and Double-squares and Squares
White House at Night, 1890. Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, painted six weeks before the artist's death
In May 1890 Van Gogh left the clinic in Saint-Rémy to move nearer to both Dr Paul Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise and to Theo. Gachet was an amateur painter and had treated several other artists – Camille Pissarro had recommended him. Van Gogh's first impression was that Gachet was "iller than I am, it seemed to me, or let's say just as much."
Tree Roots, July 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
The painter Charles Daubigny moved to Auvers in 1861, and in turn drew other artists there, including Camille Corot and Honoré Daumier. In July 1890, Van Gogh completed two paintings of Daubigny's Garden, one of which is likely his final work.
The Church at Auvers, 1890. Musée d'Orsay, Paris
During his last weeks, at Saint-Rémy, his thoughts returned to "memories of the North",and several of the approximately 70 oils, painted during as many days in Auvers-sur-Oise, are reminiscent of northern scenes.In June 1890, he painted several portraits of his doctor, including Portrait of Dr Gachet, and his only etching. In each the emphasis is on Gachet's melancholic disposition.There are other paintings which are probably unfinished, including Thatched Cottages by a Hill.
In July, Van Gogh wrote that he had become absorbed "in the immense plain against the hills, boundless as the sea, delicate yellow".He had first become captivated by the fields in May, when the wheat was young and green. In July he described to Theo "vast fields of wheat under turbulent skies".
He wrote that they represented his "sadness and extreme loneliness", and that the "canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, that is, how healthy and invigorating I find the countryside". Wheatfield with Crows, from July 1890, is a painting Hulsker discusses as being associated with "melancholy and extreme loneliness". Hulsker identifies seven oil paintings from Auvers that follow the completion of Wheatfield with Crows.
Main articles: Death of Vincent van Gogh, Auberge Ravoux, and Vincent van Gogh's health
Photograph of a 19th-century newspaper announcement of someone's death
Article on Van Gogh's death from L'Écho Pontoisien, 7 August 1890
On 27 July 1890, aged 37, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a 7mm Lefaucheux à broche artr. There were no witnesses and he died 30 hours after the incident.The shooting may have taken place in the wheat field in which he had been painting, or a local barn. The bullet was deflected by a rib and passed through his chest without doing apparent damage to internal organs - probably stopped by his spine. He was able to walk back to the Auberge Ravoux, where he was attended to by two doctors, but without a surgeon present the bullet could not be removed. The doctors tended to him as best they could, then left him alone in his room, smoking his pipe. The following morning Theo rushed to his brother's side, finding him in good spirits. But within hours Vincent began to fail, suffering from an untreated infection resulting from the wound. He died in the early hours of 29 July. According to Theo, Vincent's last words were: "The sadness will last forever".
Two graves and two gravestones side by side; heading behind a bed of green leaves, bearing the remains of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh, where they lie in the cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise. The stone to the left bears the inscription: Ici Repose Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) and the stone to the right reads: Ici Repose Theodore van Gogh (1857–1891)
Vincent and Theo's graves at Auvers-sur-Oise
Van Gogh was buried on 30 July, in the municipal cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise. The funeral was attended by Theo van Gogh, Andries Bonger, Charles Laval, Lucien Pissarro, Émile Bernard, Julien Tanguy and Paul Gachet, among twenty family, friends and locals. Theo had been ill, and his health began to decline further after his brother's death. Weak and unable to come to terms with Vincent's absence, he died on 25 January 1891 at Den Dolder, and was buried in Utrecht.In 1914, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger had Theo's body exhumed and moved from Utrecht to be re-buried alongside Vincent's at Auvers-sur-Oise.
There have been numerous debates as to the nature of Van Gogh's illness and its effect on his work, and many retrospective diagnoses have been proposed. The consensus is that Van Gogh had an episodic condition with periods of normal functioning. Perry was the first to suggest bipolar disorder in 1947, and this has been supported by the psychiatrists Hemphill and Blumer.Biochemist Wilfred Arnold has countered that the symptoms are more consistent with acute intermittent porphyria, noting that the popular link between bipolar disorder and creativity might be spurious. Temporal lobe epilepsy with bouts of depression has also been suggested. Whatever the diagnosis, his condition was likely worsened by malnutrition, overwork, insomnia and alcohol.
Style and works
A view of a dark starry night with bright stars shining over the River Rhone. Across the river distant buildings with bright lights shining are reflected into the dark waters of the Rhone.
Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888. Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Van Gogh drew and painted with watercolours while at school, but only a few examples survive and the authorship of some has been challenged. When he took up art as an adult, he began at an artary level. In early 1882, his uncle, Cornelis Marinus, owner of a well-known gallery of contemporary art in Amsterdam, asked for drawings of The Hague. Van Gogh's work did not live up to expectations. Marinus offered a second commission, specifying the subject matter in detail, but was again disappointed with the result. Van Gogh persevered; he experimented with lighting in his studio using variable shutters, and with different drawing materials.