The Post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was born March 30, 1853 in Holland. Before moving to Paris at age 33, he worked for an art dealer, as a teacher, and as an evangelical preacher.
In early 1886, Van Gogh moved to Paris to live in his brother’s apartment in Montmartre. His brother was an art dealer, and through him, he met Camille Pissarro and Paul Gauguin.
Up until this point, his paintings were of peasant life in sombre colours. Once settled in Paris, however, his paintings took on new painting styles and brighter colours, and he started painting urban and suburban subjects. He liked the bright colours Impressionists used, and left his original use of sombre colours behind him. He still differed quite a bit from the Impressionists, though: Impressionists painted what they saw, but Van Gogh painted what he felt.
Van Gogh and Georges Seurat became very good friends, and the influence of Seurat can be seen in Van Gogh’s use of some Neo-Impressionist (pointillist) techniques.
He also studied with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and he exhibited works at Cafe Tambourin with Louis Anquetin, Emile Bernard, and Toulouse-Lautrec.
He stayed in Paris only two years, and then moved to Arles, southern France, in 1888. His move to Arles had a big influence on his art.
Vincent van Gogh had gone to Arles with the intention of creating a colony of artists... but nobody came. Eventually, Paul Gauguin came to try it out.
Gauguin was a good friend but was critical of Van Gogh’s art. He would comment on the sloppiness and speed of his method and his use of too much nature as subject. Gauguin painted slowly and deliberately and kept redoing portions until it was perfect in his eyes.
Van Gogh’s technique was quite particularly his own. He started out his painting career using the Impressionist technique of quick, unblended brushstrokes like dashes of colour. He then moved on to waves and swirls. He piled the paint on thick; sometimes he would squeeze the paint out of the tube and then push it around a bit, moulding it, and then leave it like that. This is called impasto and became typical of his work. He used bold colours that were not meant to be descriptive of just the object itself, but of feelings and meaning. He used yellow and white most; to Van Gogh, yellow was the colour of creation and was his favourite. He’d had no conventional art training.
Gauguin had planned to visit him for the winter, but left within two months because, during a quarrel, Van Gogh threatened him with a razor. Later that night, Van Gogh cut off part of his own ear and the pursuant blood loss ended him up in the hospital. This is the famous Van Gogh Ear story I’m sure you have heard about.
This incident marked the known or observed beginning of a long fight with mental illness for Van Gogh. It wasn’t long before he put himself into an asylum, where they treated what was most likely schizophrenia or epilepsy with cold baths. He painted 200 paintings that year in the asylum.
After a year there, he found better care under an experienced doctor in Auvers, just northwest of Paris. This same year, 1890, Van Gogh’s brother called on him to tell him one of his paintings sold...the only one he would ever sell in his lifetime!
His life seemed to be picking up as that year progressed, but then, out of concern he was a financial drain on his brother, he walked out to a fields one day and shot himself in the chest. He walked home, smoked a pipe in bed all night, and died the next day in his brother’s arms. It was July 29th, 1890.
Vincent van Gogh only became famous after his death, for the most part. He sold only one painting while alive, but in his short ten year career, he had painted about a thousand.