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Vincent van Gogh

1853-1890

Self-Portrait
Self Portrait
During his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh was hardly recognized. He was seen as a failure to his contemporaries because he never started a family, financially supported himself, or kept his friends. However, with the hostile world around him, he was able to find order through his paintings.

Born on March 30, 1853 to Theodorus and Anna Cornelia van Gogh in the Netherlands, Vincent Willem van Gogh was named after the stillborn child who was born exactly one year before him. From that day on, his life was filled with doubts and his personal happiness was denied. His failure in bourgeois professions and his rejection of theological and social ambitions made him financially dependent upon his brother Theo, and most importantly, led him toward art to portray the reality of the times, especially that of the laboring peasants.

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Van Gogh began with drawings of detail sketches and quickly moved to painting, always transmitting his emotional feelings to the mood of the paintings. After one year of training, his handling of color was considered the best of his time. He then turned to oils and painted ordinary people, landscapes, and still lifes. Unfortunately, he continued to live as an outcast in a lonely life.

When his art was rejected in galleries and academies, his brother introduced him to Monet, Renoir, and other contemporaries who influenced him to paint considerably brighter. His new friendships, especially with Gauguin, led him to discover other styles of art. The most influential seemed to be the styles of the Japanese woodcuts which displayed simplicity, bright lights with warm colors, and beautiful blooming trees and flowers. However, his relationship with Gauguin deteriorated, disputes arose between them, and van Gogh attacked him with a razor blade which he used to cut off his own ear after Gauguin left. He was then presumed to have epilepsy, dipsomania, and schizophrenia - the causes of his mad states of illness.

The Starry Night
The Starry Night
While he was seeking help in hospitals, he created two boxes full of masterpieces and sent them to his brother Theo. One of his most famous masterpieces was Starry Night , the piece which depicted true movement in his work by the use of a clearly marked style of continuous winding and wavy curves along with short, sharp dashes to represent his excitement and tensions. It is said that he was "trying to free himself from overpowering emotions by pictorially expressing his desire for the infinite in nature" (Walther; 74).

However, as time passed, his illness did not. He suffered from hallucinations, memory impairments, and madness attacks which made him attempt to swallow paint and match another artist in a duel. Although his sickness prolonged, he continued to paint and successfully sell his works of art. Unfortunately, his depression grew, and on October 23, 1890, he retired to his room and shot himself in the chest. Theo never recovered from the loss and was buried next to his beloved brother a year later.

Sources:

Edwards, Cliff, Van Gogh and God (Chicago; Loyola University Press, 1989)

Uhde, W., Van Gogh (Greenwich, Conneticut; Phaidon Publishers INC, 1967)

Walther, Ingo F., Vincent Van Gogh (Germany; Benedikt Taschen, 1987)

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