Vincent van Gogh
Wheat Field with Cypresses
Vincent van Gogh
The Starry Night
Vincent van Gogh
The Night Café
Vincent van Gogh
Cafe Terrace at Night
Vincent van Gogh
Bedroom in Arles
VINCENT VAN GOGH
1853 Groot-Zundert, Netherlands
1890 Auvers-sur- Oise, France
Vincent van Gogh was born Vincent Willem
van Gogh on March 30, 1853, in Groot-Zundert,
Netherlands. His father, Theodorus van Gogh,
was an austere country minister, and his
mother, Anna Cornelia Carbentus, was a moody
artist whose love of nature, drawing and
watercolors was transferred to her son. Van
Gogh was born exactly one year after his
parents' first son, also named Vincent, was
stillborn. At a young age-his name and birthdate
already etched on his dead brother's headstone-van
Gogh was melancholy.
At age 15, van Gogh's family was struggling
financially, and he was forced to leave school
and go to work. He got a job at his Uncle
Cornelis' art dealership, Goupil & Cie.,
a firm of art dealers in The Hague. By this
time, van Gogh was fluent in French, German
and English, as well as his native Dutch.
In June of 1873, van Gogh was transferred
to the Groupil Gallery in London. There,
he fell in love with English culture. He
visited art galleries in his spare time,
and also became a fan of the writings of
Charles Dickens and George Eliot. He also
fell in love with his landlady's daughter,
Eugenie Loyer. When she rejected his marriage
proposal, van Gogh suffered a breakdown.
He threw away all his books except for the
Bible, and devoted his life to God. He became
angry with people at work, telling customers
not to buy the "worthless art,"
and was eventually fired.
Van Gogh then taught in a Methodist boys'
school, and also preached to the congregation.
Although raised in a religious family, it
wasn't until this time that he seriously
began to consider devoting his life to the
church. Hoping to become a minister, he prepared
to take the entrance exam to the School of
Theology in Amsterdam. After a year of studying
diligently, he refused to take the Latin
exams, calling Latin a "dead language"
of poor people, and was subsequently denied
The same thing happened at the Church of
Belgium: In the winter of 1878, van Gogh
volunteered to move to an impoverished coal
mine in the south of Belgium, a place where
preachers were usually sent as punishment.
He preached and ministered to the sick, and
also drew pictures of the miners and their
families, who called him "Christ of
the Coal Mines." The evangelical committees
were not as pleased. They disagreed with
van Gogh's lifestyle, which had begun to
take on a tone of martyrdom. They refused
to renew van Gogh's contract, and he was
forced to find another occupation.
In the fall of 1880, van Gogh decided to
move to Brussels and become an artist. Though
he had no formal art training, his younger
brother Theo, who worked as an art dealer,
offered to support van Gogh financially.
He began taking lessons on his own, studying
books like Travaux des champs by Jean-François
Millet and Cours de dessin by Charles Bargue.
Van Gogh had a catastrophic love life. He
was attracted to women in trouble, thinking
he could help them. His cousin, Kate, was
recently widowed, and when van Gogh fell
in love with her, she was repulsed and fled
to her home in Amsterdam. He then moved to
The Hague and fell in love with Clasina Maria
Hoornik, an alcoholic prostitute. She became
his companion, mistress and model.
When Hoornik went back to prostitution, van
Gogh became utterly depressed. In 1882, his
family threatened to cut off his money unless
he left Hoornik and The Hague. Van Gogh left
in mid-September of that year to travel to
Drenthe, a somewhat desolate district in
the Netherlands. For the next six weeks,
he lived a nomadic life, moving throughout
the region while drawing and painting the
landscape and its people.
Van Gogh's art helped him stay emotionally
balanced. In 1885, he began work on what
is considered to be his first masterpiece,
"Potato Eaters." His brother, Theo,
by this time living in Paris, believed the
painting would not be well-received in the
French capital, where impressionism had become
the trend. Nevertheless, van Gogh decided
to move to Paris, and showed up at Theo's
house uninvited. In March 1886, Theo welcomed
his brother into his small apartment.
In Paris, van Gogh first saw impressionist
art, and he was inspired by the color and
light. He began studying with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,
Pissarro and others. To save money, he and
his friends posed for each other instead
of hiring models. Van Gogh was passionate,
and he argued with other painters about their
works, alienating those who became tired
of his bickering.
Van Gogh became influenced by Japanese art
and began studying eastern philosophy to
enhance his art and life. He dreamed of traveling
there, but was told by Toulouse-Lautrec that
the light in the village of Arles was just
like the light in Japan. In February 1888,
van Gogh boarded a train to the south of
France. He moved into the "little yellow
house" and spent his money on paint
rather than food. He lived on coffee, bread
and absinthe, and found himself feeling sick
and strange. Before long, it became apparent
that in addition to suffering from physical
illness, his psychological health was declining;
around this time, he is known to have sipped
on turpentine and eaten paint.
Theo was worried, and offered Paul Gauguin
money to go watch over van Gogh in Arles.
Within a month, van Gogh and Gauguin were
arguing constantly, and one night, Gauguin
walked out. Van Gogh followed him, and when
Gauguin turned around, he saw van Gogh holding
a razor in his hand. Hours later, van Gogh
went to the local brothel and paid for a
prostitute named Rachel. With blood pouring
from his hand, he offered her his ear, asking
her to "keep this object carefully."
The police found him in his room the next
morning, and admitted him to the Hôtel-Dieu
hospital. Theo arrived on Christmas Day to
see van Gogh, who was weak from blood loss
and having violent seizures.
The doctors assured Theo that his brother
would live and would be taken good care of,
and on January 7, 1889, van Gogh was released
from the hospital. He was alone and depressed.
For hope, he turned to painting and nature,
but could not find peace and was hospitalized
again. He would paint at the yellow house
during the day and return to the hospital
After the people of Arles signed a petition
saying that van Gogh was dangerous, he decided
to move to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum
in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. On May 8, 1889,
he began painting in the hospital gardens.
In November 1889, he was invited to exhibit
his paintings in Brussels. He sent six paintings,
including "Irises" and "Starry
On January 31, 1890, Theo and his wife, Johanna,
gave birth to a boy and named him after van
Gogh. Around this time, Theo sold van Gogh's
"The Red Vineyards" painting for
Also around this time, Dr. Paul Gachet, who
lived in Auvers, about 20 miles north of
Paris, agreed to take van Gogh as his patient.
Van Gogh moved to Auvers and rented a room.
In May 1890, Theo and his family visited
van Gogh, and Theo spoke to his brother about
needing to be stricter with his finances.
Van Gogh became distraught about his future,
thinking that Theo meant he was no longer
interested in selling his art.
On July 27, 1890, van Gogh went out to paint
in the morning as usual, but he carried a
loaded pistol. He shot himself in the chest,
but the bullet did not kill him. He was found
bleeding in his room. Van Gogh was taken
to a nearby hospital and his doctors sent
for Theo, who arrived to find his brother
sitting up in bed and smoking a pipe. They
spent the next couple of days talking together,
and then van Gogh asked Theo to take him
home. On July 29, 1890, Vincent van Gogh
died in the arms of his brother. He was 37
With the turn of the century in Europe, shifts
in artistic styles and vision erupted as
a response to the major changes in the atmosphere
of society. New technologies and massive
urbanization efforts altered the individual's
worldview, and artists reflected the psychological
impact of these developments by moving away
from a realistic representation of what they
saw toward an emotional and psychological
rendering of how the world affected them.
The term "Expressionism" is thought
to have been coined in 1910 by Czech art
historian Antonin Matejcek, who intended
it to denote the opposite of Impressionism.
Whereas the Impressionists sought to express
the majesty of nature and the human form
through paint, the Expressionists, according
to Matejcek, sought only to express inner
life, often via the painting of harsh and
realistic subject matter. It should be noted,
however, that neither Die Brücke, nor similar
sub-movements, ever referred to themselves
as Expressionist, and, in the early years
of the century, the term was widely used
to apply to a variety of styles, including
Influenced by artists such as Munch, van
Gogh, and Ensor, the members of the Dresden-based
Die Brücke group sought to convey raw emotion
through provocative images of modern society.
They depicted scenes of city dwellers, prostitutes,
and dancers in the city's streets and nightclubs,
presenting the decadent underbelly of German
society. In works such as Kirchner's Street,
Berlin (1913), they emphasized the alienation
inherent to modern society and the loss of
spiritual communion between individuals in
urban culture; fellow city dwellers are distanced
from one another, acting as mere commodities,
as in the prostitutes at the forefront of
The group published a woodcut broadsheet
in 1906, called Programme, to accompany their
first exhibition. It summarized their break
with prevailing academic traditions calling
for a freer, youth-oriented aesthetic. Although
mostly written by Kirchner, this poster served
as manifesto stating the ideals of Die Brücke.
The members of Die Brücke drew largely from
the writings of German philosopher Friedrich
Nietzsche in terms of both their artistic
project and their philosophical grounding.
Their name came from a quote from Thus Spoke
Zarathustra (1883-85) that states, "What
is great in man is that he is a bridge and
not an end." The group exhibited and
collaborated through 1913, when Kirchner
penned Chronik der Brücke (Brücke Chronicle)
and the collective effectively dissolved.
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