Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was a prominent Dutch painter of the 19th cent., representative of Post-impressionism, whose personality greatly influenced the whole art of the 20th cent.

Early years

Vincent van Gogh was born on March 30 1853, in Zundert on the South of Netherlands. He was the eldest among three children of a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church Theodore van Gogh and his wife Anna Cornelia Carbentus. All men in his family were or priests or art-dealers, so it was absolutely natural, when in 1869 he was accepted (even without finishing school) to the art dealer “Goupil & Cie” in The Hague, co-owned by his uncle Cent.

The young van Gogh didn’t reveal much talent in commerce, but he had some features, which compensated that: he was a great painting-lover, intelligent and charismatic one. As the result, Vincent managed to succeed in his job. Besides, he had aptitude to languages and was sent to London branch of the company in 1873 (when he was 20 years-old). There he spent next two years that occurred to be a turning point in his life.

In London future artist fell in love with a daughter of his apartment’s owner. But soon he was stricken with the news that she was engaged. The pain van Gogh felt changed him greatly, turning him into taciturn and reserved person. In 1875 he was sent for a short time to Parisian department of “Goupil & Cie”. But Vincent became indifferent to his work. His employers couldn’t but noticed it and fired him.

During the time, spent in Paris, Vincent van Gogh found solace in religion. He was occupied with fervent desire to help miserable and poor ones, as life in big cities showed him an awful destiny of paupers. In 1876 he returned to London and started teaching in Ramesgate on the South-Eastern coast, then in Isleworth, Middlesex. In the beginning of 1877 van Gogh came back to Netherlands, where tried to work in a bookshop in Dordrecht. Unsatisfied, he quitted and moved to Amsterdam to study theology. After several attempts to pass the entrance exam, preparing in his uncle Stricker’s house, he took a temporary post as a missionary in Borinage in southern Belgium.

Dutch period

In the age of 27, van Gogh discovered his own bent and decided to become an artist. Although he trained under the guidance of professional painters, be a self-taught person. Vincent learnt from copying paintings, studying books and making dozens of sketches. He first fully concentrated on drawing, hoping to become an illustrator. Penetrating into work didn’t save Vincent from emotional problems. He had to go through another romance that ended with one-way passion. This time he fell in love his widowed cousin, Kee Vos-Stricker, and again he had to suffer from being rejected.

The artist quarreled with his father on Christmas, 1881. As the result, he left for Hague, where met Clasina Maria “Sien” Hoornik – a poor seamstress, who earned for living with prostitution. Vincent lived with her for year. He was obsessed with the idea of saving that fallen woman and was even about to marry her, but van Gogh’s family was against it and interfered into the situation. Gradually this idea came to naught. During that hard period Theo supported his brother both morally (in his letters) and financially.

That year in Hague his cousin-in-law Anton Mauve gave him some lessons of oil painting – that was the time, when Van Gogh made his first canvases.

In the end of 1883 Vincent had returned to his parents, who had moved to Nuenen by that time. The main heroes of his paintings of Dutch period were peasant busy with their every-day routine (“Peasant Woman, Half Figure, Seated with White Cap”, 1885). His “Potato eaters” (1885) is especially important canvas, in which the artist paid tribute to the master, he admired a lot – Jean Francois Millet. It was done in dark hues that remind of color of the soil those peasants farmed. However, the author himself confessed that he was interested not in color, but in form for first of all. Anyway, behind subdued grey and brown tints one can see a true drama played by colors, high emotional tension, which the painter would further develop in later years.

In Paris. Impressionistic period

Since November 1885 Vincent van Gogh lived in Antwerp, where he attended classes at the Academy of Fine Arts. Later, in March 1886, he settled together with Theo in Paris. There he got acquainted with impressionists, learn Delacroix’s coloring theory, took a great interest in Japanese printing and textured painting of Adolphe Monticelli. He visited Fernand Cormon’s studio, where met Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Apart from the latter, he made friends with some other painters, among whom the most famous were Paul Gaugin and Camille Pissarro.

Van Gogh progressed quickly in Paris, casting aside gloomy mood and subjects of the Dutch period and shifting to a brighter palette. He created full of light impressionistic compositions with bouquets of flowers, views of Montmartre, Parisian countryside and some portraits. “Vegetable Gardens in Montmartre: La Butte Montmartre” (1887) is one of samples of Van Gogh’s impressionistic period.

In Arles. Post-impressionistic period

The master got tire from living in a big city quickly, and in February 1888 he left for Arles on South of France, to return to land and everyone, who worked it. Being there filled him with enthusiasm again, shaped up his recognizable individual manner and revealed all power or his artistic talent. Vincent painted a lot of works in a burst of inspiration, without consciously controlling all his exited and sensual perception of nature. He didn’t want to represent “impressions” from the seen anymore but rather its quintessence together with his own feelings. Nevertheless, van Gogh’s impressionistic experience allowed him to expand color’s potential, making it a symbolical and emotional medium. He depicted his own reality with resolute outlines that made forms more laconic, dynamic brushstrokes and pastose texture, which transmits the materiality of the world.

Vincent van Gogh expressed his live and admiration with nature of Provence in numerous landscapes. He found very accurate and original coloring and plastic rendering for each season (“Harvest at La Crau”, 1888, “Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries”, 1888, “Blossoming Almond Tree”, 1890).

“The Red Vineyards near Arles” (1888) painting is one of the most significant one: it’s composition is built on contrast of complementary colors, enriched with gamma of warm and cold tints. The main “personage” of van Gogh’s landscapes of Arles is sun that determined the dominating color – yellow: color of sun, ripe corn and sunflowers, which symbolized the Luminary for the artist (“Sunflower”, 1888). And peasants, depicted in rather resumptive way, became an embodiment of the creative powers of the Universe for him.

In his portraits the author concentrated on the inner life of the model, representing his or her highly unique traits on the abstract background without any entourage. Even the most dramatic images were deeply connected with feeling of happiness and beauty of life, transmitted through bright hues and whimsical ornamental forms we can see on Vincent’s self-portraits and paintings of his close friends: “L’Arlésienne” (“Madame Ginoux”, 1888), “The Postman” (“Joseph-Étienne Roulin”, 1888), “The Zouave” (1888), “Lullaby: Madame Augustine Roulin Rocking a Cradle” (1889) and others.

In animation of the surrounding world Van Gogh didn’t limit himself with capturing nature: many of the objects on his canvases seem to be an exponent of feelings and character of their owners, like in “The Night Café” (1888), which provokes melancholic emotion, or “The Bedroom” (1888) – a sort of objected self-portrait of the painter.

Last Years. Mental illness

In Arles Vincent van Gogh tried to realize his old dream of the artistic union, which would oppose the chaos of individualistic civilization and even prevailed Gaugin to join him. On December 23 or 24 1888, they had a tiff with Gaugin, so the master attacked Paul with a razor (as Gaugin himself claimed). Gaugin managed to escape and Vincent in a temper severed a part of his left ear. This was the first sign of the mental illness that would lead the artist to death. After the incident he spent two weeks in a psychiatric hospital. He returned there in February 1889, after he had started from hallucinations.

Physical and mental overstrain led to exacerbation of the illness, so in May 1889 van Gogh was sent to the hospital at Saint Paul-de-Mausole, where he kept on painting between the psychotic attacks. He used reproductions of famous masterpieces to elaborate them in his own manner. For instance, an engraving by Gustave Doré inspired him for “The Round of the Prisoners” (1890), which reflected his mood at that time – obedience and hopelessness. Despite the depressive state, there, in the hospital, Vincent created magnificent paintings, full of love to the Universe, like “The Starry night” (1889).

Last two months of his life he spent in a small village Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris. Paintings of that period were various by their character – refreshing and powerful “Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds” (1890), tragic “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” (1890) and “Wheatfield with Crows” (1890) with the presentiment of death. “Wheatfield with Crows” was his last piece. After completing it he shot himself and died in 29 hours on July 29 1890, because of the wound.