Vincent van Gogh,
for whom color was the chief symbol of expression, was born in
Groot-Zundert, Holland on March 30, 1853. The son of a pastor,
brought up in a religious and cultured atmosphere, Vincent was
highly emotional and lacked self-confidence. Between 1860 and 1880,
when he finally decided to become an artist, van Gogh had had two
unsuitable and unhappy romances and had worked unsuccessfully as a
clerk in a bookstore, an art salesman, and a preacher in the
Borinage (a dreary mining district in Belgium), where he was
dismissed for overzealousness.
He remained in
Belgium to study art, determined to give happiness by creating
beauty. The works of his early Dutch period are somber-toned,
sharply lit, genre paintings of which the most famous is “The
Potato Eaters” (1885). In that year van Gogh went to Antwerp
where he discovered the works of
and purchased many Japanese prints.
In 1886 he went to
Paris to join his brother Théo, the manager of Goupil's
gallery. In Paris, van Gogh studied with Cormon, inevitably met
and began to lighten
his very dark palette and to paint in the short brushstrokes of the
His nervous temperament made him a difficult
companion and night-long discussions combined with painting all day
undermined his health. He decided to go south to Arles where he
hoped his friends would join him and help found a school of art.
Gauguin did join him but with disastrous results. Near the end of
1888, an incident led Gauguin to ultimately leave Arles. Van Gogh
pursued him with an open razor, was stopped by Gauguin, but ended
up cutting a portion of his own ear lobe off. Van Gogh then began
to alternate between fits of madness and lucidity and was sent to
the asylum in Saint-Remy for treatment.
In May of 1890, he
seemed much better and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise under the
watchful eye of Dr. Gachet. Two months later he was dead, having
shot himself “for the good of all.” During his brief
career he had sold one painting. Van Gogh's finest works were
produced in less than three years in a technique that grew more and
more impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense color, in
surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and
line. Van Gogh's inimitable fusion of form and content is powerful;
dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional, for the
artist was completely absorbed in the effort to explain either his
struggle against madness or his comprehension of the spiritual
essence of man and nature.
The images accompanying
this article are van Gogh's self-portrait and an actual photograph of
Vincent van Gogh.