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Vincent van Gogh

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Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh - Self-portrait with grey felt hat - Google Art Project.jpg
Self-Portrait with Grey Felt Hat, Winter, 1887/88, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Born 30 March 1853
Zundert, Netherlands
Died 29 July 1890(1890-07-29) (aged 37)
Auvers-sur-Oise, France
Nationality Dutch
Education Anton Mauve
Known for Painting, drawing
Notable work Starry Night, Sunflowers, Bedroom in Arles, Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Sorrow
Movement Post-Impressionism

Vincent Willem van Gogh Dutch: [ˈvɪnsɛnt ˈʋɪləm vɑn ˈɣɔx];[note 1][1] (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work had far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. His work includes portraits, self portraits, landscapes, still lifes, olive trees and cypresses, wheat fields and sunflowers. Critics largely ignored his work until after his presumed suicide in 1890. His short life, expressive and spontaneous use of vivid colours, broad oil brushstrokes and emotive subject matter, have led to his position in the public imagination as the quintessential misunderstood genius.

Van Gogh was born to upper middle class parents. He was thoughtful and intellectual as a child; as an adult aware of modernist currents in art, music and literature. He was well travelled and spent several years in his 20s working for a firm of art dealers in The Hague, London and Paris, after which he taught in England at Isleworth and Ramsgate. He drew as a child, but spent years drifting in ill health and solitude, and did not paint until his late twenties. Most of his best-known works were completed during the last two years of his life. Deeply religious as a younger man, he worked from 1879 as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium where he sketched people from the local community. His first major work was 1885's The Potato Eaters, from a time when his palette mainly consisted of sombre earth tones and showed no sign of the vivid colouration that distinguished his later paintings. In March 1886, he moved to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists. Later, he moved to the south of France and was inspired by the region's strong sunlight. His paintings grew brighter in colour, and he developed the unique and highly recognisable style that became fully realised during his stay in Arles in 1888. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings. After years of anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness he died aged 37 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The extent to which his mental health affected his painting has been widely debated.

The widespread and popular realisation of his significance in the history of modern art began after his adoption by the early 20th-century German Expressionists and Fauves. Despite a widespread tendency to romanticise his ill health, art historians see an artist deeply frustrated by the inactivity and incoherence caused by frequent mental sickness. His posthumous reputation grew steadily; a romanticised version developed in the 20 years after his death when seen as an important but overlooked artist compared to other members of his generation. His reputation advanced with the emergence of the Fauvist movement in Europe and post WWII American respect for symbols of "heroic individualism" that was attractive to early US modernists and especially to the highly successful abstract expressionists of the 1950s; New York's MOMA launched major retrospectives early in the rehabilitation of his reputation, and made large acquisitions. By this stage his standing as a great artist and the romanticism of his life were firmly established.


Early years

Black and white formal head shot photo of the artist as a boy in jacket and tie. He has thick curly hair and very pale-coloured eyes with a wary, uneasy expression.
Vincent c. 1866, approx. age 13

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on 30 March 1853 in Groot-Zundert, close to Breda, in the predominantly Catholic province of North Brabant in the southern Netherlands.[2] He was the oldest surviving child of Theodorus van Gogh, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. Vincent was given the name of his grandfather, and of a brother stillborn exactly a year before his birth.[note 2] Vincent was a common name in the family: his grandfather, Vincent (1789–1874), received a degree in theology at the University of Leiden in 1811, and had six sons, three of whom became art dealers. His grandfather may have been named after his own father's uncle, a sculptor (1729–1802).[3]

His brother Theo was born on 1 May 1857. He had another brother, Cor, and three sisters: Elisabeth, Anna, and Willemina "Wil".[4] Vincent was a serious and thoughtful child. He attended the village school at Zundert from 1860, where a single Catholic teacher taught around 200 pupils. He and Anna were taught at home by a governess, until 1864, when he was placed in a boarding school at Zevenbergen. He was distressed to leave his family home. From September 1866, he attended the middle school in Tilburg. Constantijn C. Huysmans, a successful artist in Paris, taught him to draw at the school and advocated a systematic approach to the subject. Vincent's interest in art began at a young age. His early drawings are well-done and expressive,[5] but do not approach the intensity he developed in his later work.[6] In March 1868, Van Gogh abruptly returned home. Later he wrote that "My youth was gloomy and cold and sterile."[7]

Van Gogh's drawing of 87 Hackford Road

In July 1869, his uncle Cent helped him obtain a position with the art dealer Goupil & Cie in The Hague. After his training, in June 1873, Goupil transferred him to London, where he lodged at 87 Hackford Road, Stockwell, and worked at Messrs. Goupil & Co., 17 Southampton Street.[8] This was a happy time for Vincent; he was successful at work and at 20 he earned more than his father. Theo's wife later remarked that this was the best year of his life. He fell in love with his landlady's daughter, Eugénie Loyer, but was rejected when he confessed his feelings; she said she was secretly engaged to a former lodger. Vincent grew more isolated and fervent about religion. His father and uncle arranged for his transfer to Paris where he grew resentful at how art was treated as a commodity. On 1 April 1876, Goupil terminated his employment.[9]

"Holme Court" in Isleworth, where Van Gogh stayed in 1876

Van Gogh returned to England, taking unpaid work as a supply teacher in a small boarding school in Ramsgate. When the proprietor relocated to Isleworth, Middlesex, Van Gogh moved with him.[10] The arrangement did not work out and he left to become a Methodist minister's assistant.[11] That Christmas he returned home and for six months took work at a bookshop in Dordrecht. He was unhappy in the position and spent his time either doodling or translating passages from the Bible into English, French and German.[12] According to his room-mate of the time, Van Gogh ate frugally and preferred not to eat meat.[note 3]

To support his new-found religious conviction and efforts to become a pastor, in 1877 his family sent him to Amsterdam to study theology. He stayed with his uncle Jan van Gogh, a naval Vice Admiral.[13] Vincent prepared for the entrance examination with his uncle Johannes Stricker, a respected theologian. He failed the exam and left his uncle Jan's house in July 1878. He undertook but failed a three-month course at the Vlaamsche Opleidingsschool, a Protestant missionary school in Laeken, near Brussels.[14]

photo of a two-storey brick house on the left partially obscured by trees with a front lawn and with a row of trees on the right
Van Gogh's home in Cuesmes in 1880; while there he decided to become an artist

In January 1879, he took a post as a missionary at Petit Wasmes[note 4] in the coal-mining district of Borinage in Belgium. As a show of support for his impoverished congregation, he gave up his comfortable lodgings at a bakery to a homeless person, and moved to a small hut where he slept on straw.[15] The baker's wife said she heard him sob at night. His squalid living conditions did not endear him to church authorities who dismissed him for "undermining the dignity of the priesthood". He then walked the 75 kilometres (47 mi) to Brussels,[16] returned briefly to Cuesmes in the Borinage, but gave in to pressure from his parents to return home to Etten. He stayed there until around March 1880,[note 5] which caused concern and frustration for his parents. There was particular conflict between Vincent and his father, who inquired about having him committed to the lunatic asylum at Geel.[17][note 6]

He returned to Cuesmes, where he lodged with a miner, Charles Decrucq, until October.[18] He was interested in the people and scenes around him and recorded his time there in his drawings, following Theo's suggestion that he take up art in earnest. He travelled to Brussels later in the year, to follow Theo's recommendation to study with the prominent Dutch artist Willem Roelofs, who persuaded him—in spite of his aversion to formal schools of art—to attend the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. He registered at the Académie on 15 November 1880; he studied anatomy and the standard rules of modelling and perspective.[19]

Etten, Drenthe and The Hague

Kee Vos Stricker with her son Jan c. 1879/1880

Van Gogh's parents moved to the Etten countryside in April 1881. He continued to draw, often using his neighbours as subjects. He went on long walks with his recently widowed cousin, Kee Vos-Stricker, daughter of his mother's older sister and Johannes Stricker.[20] Kee was seven years older and had an eight-year-old son. He proposed marriage but was refused with the words "No, nay, never" ("nooit, neen, nimmer").[21] Late that November, Van Gogh wrote a strongly worded letter to Johannes,[22] and left for Amsterdam but through letters maintained close contact.[23] Kee would not meet him, her parents wrote that his "persistence is disgusting." In desperation, he held his left hand in the flame of a lamp, with the words: "Let me see her for as long as I can keep my hand in the flame."[24] He did not recall the event well, but later assumed that his uncle blew out the flame. Kee's father made it clear to him that Kee's refusal should be heeded and that the two would not be married because of Van Gogh's inability to support himself.[25]

Van Gogh's perception of his uncle and former tutor's hypocrisy affected him deeply and put an end to his religious faith.[26] That Christmas he refused to attend church, quarrelling violently with his father as a result, and left home the same day for The Hague.[27]

He relocated to The Hague in January 1882, where he visited his cousin, Anton Mauve. Mauve introduced him to painting in oil and watercolour and lent money to set up a studio,[28] but they fell out, possibly over the viability of drawing from plaster casts.[29] Van Gogh's uncle Cornelis, an art dealer, commissioned ink drawings of views of the city.[30] In June he suffered a bout of gonorrhoea and spent three weeks in hospital.[31] Soon after, he first began to paint in oil.[32]

A view from a window of pale red rooftops. A bird flying in the blue sky and in the near distance fields and to the right, the town and other buildings can be seen. In the distant horizon are chimneys.
Rooftops, View from the Atelier The Hague, 1882, watercolour, private collection

Mauve seems to have suddenly gone cold towards Van Gogh and stopped replying to his letters.[33] Van Gogh supposed that Mauve had learned of his new domestic arrangement with an alcoholic prostitute, Clasina Maria "Sien" Hoornik (1850–1904), and her young daughter.[34] He had met Sien towards the end of January 1883, when she had a five-year-old daughter and was pregnant. She had previously borne two children who died, but Van Gogh was unaware of this;[35] on 2 July, she gave birth to a baby boy, Willem.[36] When Van Gogh's father discovered the details of their relationship, he put pressure on his son to abandon Sien and her children; Vincent at first defied him.[37] Vincent considered moving the family out of the city, but in late 1883 left Sien and the two children.[38] Perhaps lack of money pushed Sien back into prostitution; the home became less happy and Van Gogh may have felt family life was irreconcilable with his artistic development. When he left, Sien gave her daughter to her mother and baby Willem to her brother. She then moved to Delft, and later to Antwerp.[39]

Willem remembered a visit his mother in Rotterdam around aged 12, when his uncle tried to persuade Sien to marry in order to legitimise the child. Willem recalled his mother saying, "But I know who the father is. He was an artist I lived with nearly 20 years ago in The Hague. His name was Van Gogh." She then turned to Willem and said "You are called after him."[40] He believed Van Gogh was his father, but the timing of his birth makes this unlikely.[41] In 1904, Sien drowned herself in the River Scheldt.[42] Van Gogh moved to the Dutch province of Drenthe, in the northern Netherlands. That December, driven by loneliness, he went to stay with his parents, who had been posted to Nuenen, North Brabant.[42]

Emerging artist

Nuenen and Antwerp (1883–86)

In Nuenen, Van Gogh focused on painting and drawing, giving money to boys to gather birds' nests for subject matter.[note 7] He completed several sketches and paintings of weavers and their cottages.[note 8] In late 1884, Margot Begemann, a neighbour's daughter and ten years his senior, often joined him on his painting forays. She fell in love, and he reciprocated – though less enthusiastically. They decided to marry, but the idea was opposed by both families. As a result, Margot took an overdose of strychnine. She was saved when Van Gogh rushed her to a nearby hospital.[36] On 26 March 1885, his father died of a heart attack.[43]

A human skull, bare bones of a neck and shoulders. The skull has a lit cigarette between its teeth.
Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette, 1885–86, oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum

There was interest from collectors in Paris. In May he completed his first major work, The Potato Eaters, and his series of "peasant character studies"; the culmination of several years of work.[44] In August his work was first exhibited in the windows of the paint dealer Leurs in The Hague. After one of his young peasant sitters became pregnant that September, Van Gogh was accused of forcing himself upon her[note 9] and the village priest forbade parishioners to model for him.[45]

Van Gogh painted several groups of still-lifes in 1885.[46] During his two-year stay in Nuenen, he completed numerous drawings and watercolours and nearly 200 oil paintings. His palette consisted mainly of sombre earth tones, particularly dark brown, and showed no sign of the vivid colouration that distinguishes his later work. When he complained that Theo was not making enough effort to sell his paintings in Paris, his brother responded that the paintings were too dark and not in line with the current style of bright Impressionist paintings.[47] Van Gogh moved to Antwerp in November 1885, where he rented a small room above a paint dealer's shop in the Rue des Images (Lange Beeldekensstraat).[48] He lived in poverty and ate poorly, preferring to spend the money Theo sent on painting materials and models. Bread, coffee and tobacco were his staple intake. In February 1886, he wrote to Theo saying that he could only remember eating six hot meals since May 1885. His teeth became loose and painful.[49] In Antwerp he applied himself to the study of colour theory and spent time in museums—particularly studying the work of Peter Paul Rubens—and broadened his palette to carmine, cobalt blue and emerald green. Van Gogh bought Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts in the docklands, and incorporated their style into the background of some of his paintings.[50]

Van Gogh began again to drink heavily, especially absinthe.[51] He was treated by Dr. Amadeus Cavenaile, whose practice was near the docklands,[note 10] possibly for syphilis;[note 11] the treatment of alum irrigation and sitz baths was jotted down by Van Gogh in one of his notebooks.[52] Despite his rejection of academic teaching, he took the higher-level admission exams at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, and in January 1886 matriculated in painting and drawing. For most of February, he was ill and run down by overwork, a poor diet, and excessive smoking.[53]

Paris (1886–88)

blue-hued pastel drawing of a man facing right, seated at a table with his hands and a glass on it while wearing a coat and with windows in the background
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, 1887, pastel drawing, Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh relocated to Paris in March 1886, beginning a series of moves that the art hisorian Melissa McQuillan believes also reflects later changes "in style, his reorienation of his enterprise [which] might be linked". She believes that "moving on became a way of avoiding conflict," and a coping mechanism for when the highly idealistic artist was faced with the realities of his then current situation.[54]

In Paris he shared Theo's Rue Laval apartment in Montmartre, to study at Fernand Cormon's studio. In June, they took a larger flat at 54 Rue Lepic. Because they had no need to write letters to communicate with each other, little is known about this stay in Paris.[55] In Paris, he painted portraits of friends and acquaintances, still-life paintings, views of Le Moulin de la Galette, scenes in Montmartre, Asnières, and along the Seine. During his stay, he collected more Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints; he became interested in Japonaiserie when, in 1885 in Antwerp, he used them to decorate the walls of his studio. He collected hundreds of prints. In The Courtesan or Oiran (after Kesai Eisen) (1887), Van Gogh traced the figure from a reproduction on the cover of the magazine Paris Illustre, which he then graphically enlarged in the painting.[56]

After seeing the portrait of Adolphe Joseph Thomas Monticelli at the Galerie Delareybarette, Van Gogh adopted a brighter palette and a bolder attack, particularly in paintings such as his Seascape at Saintes-Maries (1888).[57][58] Two years later, Vincent and Theo paid for the publication of a book on Monticelli paintings, and Vincent bought some of his works to add to his collection.[59]

Multi-coloured portrait of a far eastern courtesan with elaborate hair ornamentation, colourful robe like garment, and a border depicting marshland waters and reeds.
Courtesan (after Eisen), 1887, Van Gogh Museum

For months, Van Gogh worked at Cormon's studio, where he frequented the circle of the Australian artist John Peter Russell,[60] and met fellow students like Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – who painted a portrait of Van Gogh with pastel. The group congregated at Julien "Père" Tanguy's paint store (which was, at that time, the only place where Paul Cézanne's paintings were displayed). He had easy access to Impressionist works in Paris at the time. In 1886, two large exhibitions were staged, in which Neo-Impressionism was first exhibited, bringing attention to Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. Though Theo kept a stock of Impressionist paintings in his gallery on Boulevard Montmartre, Van Gogh seemingly had problems acknowledging the new developments in art.[61]

Conflicts arose between the brothers. At the end of 1886, Theo found that living with Vincent was "almost unbearable". By early 1887, they were again at peace, and Vincent had moved to Asnières, a northwestern suburb of Paris, where he became acquainted with Signac. With Émile Bernard, he adopted elements of Pointillism, a technique in which a multitude of small coloured dots are applied to the canvas such that—when seen from a distance—they create an optical blend of hues. The style stresses the value of complementary colours—including blue and orange—to form vibrant contrasts that are enhanced when juxtaposed.[62]

While in Asnières, Van Gogh painted parks and restaurants and the Seine, including Bridges across the Seine at Asnieres. In November 1887, Theo and Vincent befriended Paul Gauguin who had just arrived in Paris.[63] Towards the end of the year, Vincent arranged an exhibition alongside Bernard, Anquetin, and probably Toulouse-Lautrec, at the Grand-Bouillon Restaurant du Chalet, 43 Avenue de Clichy, Montmartre. In a contemporary account, Bernard wrote that the exhibition was ahead of anything else in Paris at the time.[64] There Bernard and Anquetin sold their first paintings, and Van Gogh exchanged work with Gauguin, who soon departed to Pont-Aven. Discussions on art, artists, and their social situations started during this exhibition, and continued and expanded to include visitors to the show, like Pissarro and his son Lucien, Signac, and Seurat. In February 1888, feeling worn out from life in Paris, he left, having painted over 200 paintings during his two years there. Only hours before his departure, accompanied by Theo, he paid his first and only visit to Seurat in his studio.[65]

Artistic breakthrough and final years

Move to Arles (1888–89)

A narrow bedroom with wooden floor, green walls, a large bed to the right, a two straw chairs to the left, and a small table, a mirror and a shuttered window on the back wall. Hanging over the bed are several small pictures.
Bedroom in Arles, 1888, Van Gogh Museum

Ill from drink and suffering from smoker's cough Van Gogh moved to take refuge in Arles.[66] He arrived on 21 February 1888, and took a room at the Hôtel-Restaurant Carrel.[66] He seems to have moved there with thoughts of founding a utopian art colony. The Danish artist Christian Mourier-Petersen became his companion for two months, and at first Arles appeared exotic and filthy. In a letter, he described it as a foreign country: "The Zouaves, the brothels, the adorable little Arlésienne going to their First Communion, the priest in his surplice, who looks like a dangerous rhinoceros, the people drinking absinthe, all seem to me creatures from another world."[67]

Van Gogh was enchanted by the local landscape and light and his works from this period are richly draped in yellow, ultramarine, and mauve. He made several excursions into nature during his time there. His paintings include harvests, wheat fields, and general rural landmarks from the area, including The Old Mill (1888), a picturesque structure bordering the wheat fields.[68] This was one of seven canvases sent to Pont-Aven on 4 October 1888 in an exchange for works with Paul Gauguin, Émile Bernard, Charles Laval and others.[68]

Van Gogh's portrayals of the Arles landscape are informed by his Dutch upbringing; the patchwork of fields and avenues appear flat and lacking perspective, but excel in their colourisation.[69] His newfound appreciation is seen in the range and scope of his work. That March he painted landscapes using a gridded "perspective frame"; three of these paintings were shown at the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants. In April, he was visited by the American artist Dodge MacKnight, who was living nearby at Fontvieille.[70] On 1 May, he signed a lease for 15 francs per month in the eastern wing of the Yellow House at No. 2 Place Lamartine. The rooms were unfurnished and uninhabited for some time.[71]

A wooden rocking chair with a couple of opened books set on the green and yellow seat cushion with a lit candle in a holder also on the seat of the chair. On the wall is a burning candle in a holder casting a glowing light.
Paul Gauguin's Armchair, 1888, Van Gogh Museum

He moved from the Hôtel Carrel to the Café de la Gare on 7 May,[72] having befriended the proprietors, Joseph and Marie Ginoux. The Yellow House had to be furnished before he could fully move in, but Van Gogh was able to use it as a studio.[73] He wanted a gallery to display his work, a series of paintings including Van Gogh's Chair (1888), Bedroom in Arles (1888), The Night Café (1888), Cafe Terrace at Night (September 1888), Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888), and Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888), all intended to form the décoration for the Yellow House.[74] Van Gogh wrote that with The Night Café he tried "to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime."[75] Moreover, he also wanted to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green.[76] When he visited Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer that June, he gave lessons to a Zouave second lieutenant—Paul-Eugène Milliet[77] —and painted boats on the sea and the village.[78] MacKnight introduced Van Gogh to Eugène Boch, a Belgian painter who stayed at times in Fontvieille, and the two exchanged visits in July.[79]

Gauguin's visit

When Gauguin agreed to visit Arles, Van Gogh hoped for friendship, and the realisation of his utopian idea of an artists' collective. That August he painted sunflowers. When Boch visited again, Van Gogh painted a portrait of him, as well as the study The Poet Against a Starry Sky. Boch's sister Anna (1848–1936), also an artist, purchased The Red Vineyard in 1890.[80]

In preparation for Gauguin's visit, Van Gogh bought two beds on advice from his friend, the station's postal supervisor Joseph Roulin, whose portrait he painted. On 17 September he spent the first night in the still sparsely furnished Yellow House.[81] When Gauguin consented to work and live in Arles with him, Van Gogh started to work on The Décoration for the Yellow House, probably the most ambitious effort he ever undertook.[82] Van Gogh completed two chair paintings: Van Gogh's Chair and Gauguin's Chair.[83]

A seated red bearded man wearing a brown coat; facing to the left; with a paint brush in his right hand, is painting a picture of large sunflowers.
Paul Gauguin, The Painter of Sunflowers: Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Gauguin, after much pleading from Van Gogh, arrived in Arles on 23 October, and that November the two finally painted together. Gauguin depicted Van Gogh in his The Painter of Sunflowers: Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, while, uncharacteristically, Van Gogh painted pictures from memory (deferring to Gauguin's ideas) and his The Red Vineyard. Among these "imaginative" paintings is Memory of the Garden at Etten.[84][note 12] Their first joint outdoor venture was at the Alyscamps, when they produced Les Alyscamps pendants.[85]

They visited Montpellier that December, where they saw works by Courbet and Delacroix in the Musée Fabre.[86] Their relationship began to deteriorate; Van Gogh admired Gauguin and desperately wanted to be treated as his equal, but Gauguin was arrogant and domineering, traits that frustrated Van Gogh. They often quarrelled; Van Gogh increasingly feared that Gauguin was going to desert him and the situation, which Van Gogh described as one of "excessive tension," rapidly headed towards crisis point.[87]

December 1888

Local newspaper report dated 30 December 1888 recording Vincent's self-mutilation.[88]

The exact sequence of events that led to Van Gogh's removal of his ear is not known. Gauguin claimed, fifteen years later, that the night followed several instances of physically threatening behaviour.[89] Their relationship was complex, and there may have been a sum of money owed by Theo to Gauguin, while Gauguin was suspicious that the brothers might be exploiting him financially.[90] Van Gogh seems to have attacked Gauguin on the night of 23 December, possibly with a razor, but this is uncorroborated.[91] It seems likely that Van Gogh had realised that Gauguin was planning to leave[90] and that there had been some kind of contretemps between the two.[92] That evening, Van Gogh severed his left ear (either wholly or in part; accounts differ) with a razor, inducing a severe haemorrhage.[note 13] He bandaged his wound, wrapped the ear in paper, and delivered the package to a Rachel, a prostitute at a brothel[93] frequented by both him and Gauguin. Van Gogh was taken by Roulin to either his home or a hotel,[94] where he collapsed. He would have likely bled to death had he not been found unconscious the next morning by the police[note 14] and taken to the hospital.[95]

Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889, private collection
Self-portrait with bandaged ear, 1889, Courtauld Institute of Art

Gauguin's account implies that Van Gogh left his ear with the doorman as a memento for Gauguin. Van Gogh had no recollection of the events, and it is plain that he had suffered an acute psychotic episode.[96] Family letters of the time make it clear that the event had not been unexpected.[97] He had suffered a nervous collapse three years before in Antwerp, and as early as 1880 his father had proposed committing him to an asylum at Geel.[98] The hospital diagnosis was "generalised delirium", and within a few days the local police ordered that he be placed in hospital care,[99] against his will.[97]

During the first days of his treatment, Van Gogh repeatedly and unsuccessfully asked for Gauguin. The French artist asked a policeman attending the case to "be kind enough, Monsieur, to awaken this man with great care, and if he asks for me tell him I have left for Paris; the sight of me might prove fatal for him."[100] Gauguin wrote of Van Gogh, "His state is worse, he wants to sleep with the patients, chase the nurses, and washes himself in the coal bucket. That is to say, he continues the biblical mortifications."[100] Theo was notified by Gauguin and visited, as did Madame Ginoux and Roulin. Gauguin left Arles, never to see Van Gogh again.[note 15]

Despite the pessimistic diagnosis, Van Gogh recovered and returned to the Yellow House by the beginning of January, but spent the following month between hospital and home, suffering from hallucinations and delusions of poisoning. That March, the police closed his house after a petition by 30 townspeople (including the Ginoux family) who described him as "le fou roux" (the redheaded madman).[97] Paul Signac spent time with him in the hospital, and Van Gogh was allowed home in his company. In April, he moved into rooms owned by his physician Dr Rey after floods damaged paintings in his own home.[101] Around this time, he wrote, "Sometimes moods of indescribable anguish, sometimes moments when the veil of time and fatality of circumstances seemed to be torn apart for an instant." Two months later, he left Arles and voluntarily entered an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.[102]

Saint-Rémy (May 1889 – May 1890)

A man is scattering seeds in a ploughed field. The figure is represented as small, and is set in the upper right and walking out of the picture. He carries a bag of seed over one shoulder. The ploughed soil is grey, and behind it rises standing crop, and in the left distance, a farmhouse. In the center of the horizon is a giant yellow rising sun surrounded by emanating yellow rays. A path leads into the picture, and birds are swooping down.
The Sower, 1888, Kröller-Müller Museum

Van Gogh entered the hospital at Saint Paul-de-Mausole on 8 May 1889 accompanied by his carer, Frédéric Salles, a Protestant clergyman. The hospital was a former monastery in Saint-Rémy less than 30 kilometres (19 mi) from Arles, and at the time run by a former naval doctor, Dr. Théophile Peyron. He had two small rooms: adjoining cells with barred windows. The second was to be used as a studio.[103]

During his stay, the clinic and its garden became the main subjects of his paintings. He made several studies of the hospital interiors, such as Vestibule of the Asylum and Saint-Remy (September 1889). Some of the work from this time is characterised by swirls, including The Starry Night. He was allowed short supervised walks, which led to paintings of cypresses and olive trees, such as Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background 1889, Cypresses 1889, Cornfield with Cypresses (1889), Country road in Provence by Night (1890). That September, he produced a further two versions of Bedroom in Arles.

Limited access to the world outside the clinic resulted in a shortage of subject matter. He was left to work on interpretations of other artist's paintings, such as Millet's The Sower and Noon – Rest from Work (after Millet), as well as variations on his own earlier work. Van Gogh was an admirer of the Realism of Jules Breton, Gustave Courbet, and Millet,[104] and he compared his copies to a musician's interpreting Beethoven.[105] [106] Many of his most compelling works date from this period. His The Round of the Prisoners (1890) was painted after an engraving by Gustave Doré (1832–1883). It is suggested that the face of the prisoner in the centre of the painting and looking toward the viewer is Van Gogh himself, although the Van Gogh scholar Jan Hulsker discounts this.[107] Between February and April 1890 Van Gogh suffered a severe relapse. Nevertheless, he was able to paint and draw a little during this time, and he later wrote to Theo that he had made a few small canvases "from memory ... reminisces of the North."[108] Amongst these was Two Peasant Women Digging in a Snow-Covered Field at Sunset. Hulsker believes that this small group of paintings formed the nucleus of many drawings and study sheets depicting landscapes and figures that Van Gogh worked on during this time. He comments that—save for this short period—Van Gogh's illness had hardly any effect on his work, but sees a reflection of Van Gogh's mental health at the time.[109] Also belonging to this period is Sorrowing Old Man ("At Eternity's Gate"), a colour study that Hulsker describes as "another unmistakable remembrance of times long past."[110]

Van Gogh's room in Saint Paul de Maussole

In February 1890, he painted five versions of L'Arlésienne (Madame Ginoux), based on a charcoal sketch Gauguin had produced when Madame Ginoux sat for both artists in November 1888.[111] The version intended for Madame Ginoux is lost. It was attempting to deliver this painting to Madame Ginoux in Arles that precipitated his February relapse.[112] His work was praised by Albert Aurier in the Mercure de France in January 1890, when he was described as "a genius".[113] That February, he was invited by Les XX, a society of avant-garde painters in Brussels, to participate in their annual exhibition. At the opening dinner, Les XX member Henry de Groux insulted Van Gogh's work. Toulouse-Lautrec demanded satisfaction, while Signac declared he would continue to fight for Van Gogh's honour if Lautrec surrendered. Later, while Van Gogh's exhibit was on display with the Artistes Indépendants in Paris, Claude Monet said that his work was the best in the show.[114] In February 1890, following the birth of Van Gogh's nephew Vincent Willem, he wrote to his mother that, with the new addition to the family, he "started right away to make a picture for him, to hang in their bedroom, branches of white almond blossom against a blue sky."[115]

Auvers-sur-Oise (May–July 1890)

Portrait of Dr. Gachet, 1890, was sold for US$82.5 million in 1990.[116] Private collection

In May 1890, Van Gogh left the clinic in Saint-Rémy to move nearer Dr. Paul Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise, and also to Theo. Gachet was an amateur painter and had treated several other artists. Camille Pissarro had recommended him. Van Gogh's first impression was that Gachet was "iller than I am, it seemed to me, or let’s say just as much."[117] In June 1890, he painted several portraits of the doctor, including Portrait of Dr. Gachet, and his only etching; in each, the emphasis is on Gachet's melancholic disposition. Van Gogh stayed at the Auberge Ravoux, where he rented a small attic room.

During his last weeks at Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh's thoughts returned to his "memories of the North",[118] and several of the approximately 70 oils painted during as many days in Auvers-sur-Oise, are reminiscent of northern scenes.[119] Barbizon painter Charles Daubigny had moved to Auvers in 1861, and in turn drew other artists there, including Camille Corot and Honoré Daumier. In July 1890, Van Gogh completed two paintings of Daubigny's Garden; one of which is likely his final work. There are other paintings that show evidence of being unfinished, including Thatched Cottages by a Hill.[120]

Late work

Wheat Field Under Clouded Sky, July 1890, Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh's late paintings show an artist at the height of his abilities, according to art critic Robert Hughes, "longing for concision and grace".[67] Although many of these works are sombre, they are essentially optimistic and reflective of a desire to return to lucid mental health. Yet some reflect deepening concerns. Referring to his paintings of wheat fields under troubled skies, he mentioned in a letter to Theo: "I did not have to go out of my way very much in order to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness." He said that the "canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, that is, how healthy and invigorating I find the countryside."[121]

Writing in July 1890, Van Gogh said that he had become absorbed "in the immense plain against the hills, boundless as the sea, delicate yellow."[122] He had become captivated by the fields in May when the wheat was young and green. In July he described to Theo "vast fields of wheat under turbulent skies", and that he had made "a point of trying to express sadness, extreme loneliness."[123]


Two graves and two gravestones side by side; heading behind a bed of green leaves, bearing the remains of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh, where they lie in the cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise. The stone to the left bears the inscription: Ici Repose Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) and the stone to the right reads: Ici Repose Theodore van Gogh (1857–1891)
Vincent and Theo buried together in Auvers-sur-Oise. Vincent's stone bears the inscription: Ici Repose Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), Theo's Ici Repose Theodore van Gogh (1857–1891).
Le Régional report of Van Gogh's suicide and funeral 7 August 1890

On 22 February 1890, Van Gogh suffered a further crisis. From February until the end of April he was unable to bring himself to write, though he continued to draw and paint,[112] which follows a pattern begun the previous May. For a year he "had fits of despair and hallucination during which he could not work, between long clear months in which he could and did, punctuated by extreme visionary ecstasy."[124]

Article on Van Gogh's death from L'Echo Pontoisien, 7 August 1890

On 27 July 1890, aged 37, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver (the gun was never found).[125] There were no witnesses. The location of the shooting may have been in the wheat field he had been painting recently, or a local barn.[126] The bullet was deflected by a rib and passed through his chest without doing apparent damage to internal organs—probably stopped by his spine. He was able to walk back to the Auberge Ravoux, where he was attended by two doctors. Without a surgeon present the bullet could not be removed. The doctors tended to him as best they could, then left him alone in his room, smoking his pipe. The following morning, a Monday, Theo rushed to his brother as soon as notified, and found him in surprisingly good health. But within hours Vincent began to fail, suffering from an untreated infection resulting from the wound. He died that evening, 29 hours after the gunshot. According to Theo, Vincent's last words were: "The sadness will last forever".[127]

There has been much debate as to the source of Van Gogh's illness and its effect on his work. Over 150 psychiatrists have attempted to label its root, with 30 different diagnoses.[128] These have included schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, syphilis, poisoning from swallowed paints, temporal lobe epilepsy, and acute intermittent porphyria. Any of these could have been the culprit, and could have been aggravated by malnutrition, overwork, insomnia, and consumption of alcohol, especially absinthe.

He was buried on 30 July, in the municipal cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise. The funeral was attended by Theo van Gogh, Andries Bonger, Charles Laval, Lucien Pissarro, Émile Bernard, Julien Tanguy and Dr. Gachet among twenty family, friends and locals. The occasion was described by Émile Bernard in a letter to Albert Aurier.[129] Theo suffered from syphilis and his health declined rapidly after Vincent's death. Weak and unable to come to terms with Vincent's absence, he died six months later, on 25 January, at Den Dolder, and he was buried in Utrecht.[130] In 1914, the year she had Van Gogh's letters published, Jo Bonger had Theo's body exhumed, moved from Utrecht and re-buried with Vincent at Auvers-sur-Oise.[131][132]


Head shot photo of the artist as a clean-shaven young man. He has thick, ill-kempt, wavy hair, a high forehead, and deep-set eyes with a wary, watchful expression.
Vincent c. 1871–1872 aged 18. This photograph dates from when he worked at the Goupil & Cie's gallery in The Hague.[133]
Head shot photo of a young man, similar in appearance to his brother, but neat, well-groomed and calm.
Theo in 1872. Theo was a life-long supporter and friend to his brother.

The most comprehensive primary source for understanding Van Gogh is the collection of letters between him and his younger brother, the art dealer Theo van Gogh.[134] Theo provided his brother with financial and emotional support, and access to influential people on the contemporary art scene. The brothers' lifelong friendship, and most of what is known of Vincent's thoughts and theories of art, is recorded in the hundreds of letters they exchanged between 1872 and 1890.[135] There are more than 600 from Vincent to Theo, and 40 from Theo to Vincent.

Many are undated, but art historians have been mostly able to put them in chronological order. Problems remain, mainly in dating those from Arles. It is known that during that period Vincent wrote around 200 letters to friends in Dutch, French and English.[66] The period when he lived in Paris is the most difficult to analyse because the brothers lived together and had no need to correspond.[136] Along with the letters to and from Theo, there are other surviving documents including to Van Rappard, Émile Bernard, Van Gogh's sister Wil and her friend Line Kruysse.[137] The letters were annotated in 1913 by Theo's widow, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, who later said that she was reluctant to publish because she did not want the details of the artist's life to overshadow his work.[134]


Van Gogh drew and painted with watercolours while at school—only a few survive and authorship is challenged on some of those that do.[138] When he committed to art as an adult, he began at an elementary level, copying the Cours de dessin, a drawing course edited by Charles Bargue. Within two years he sought commissions. In early 1882, his uncle, Cornelis Marinus, owner of a well-known gallery of contemporary art in Amsterdam, asked him for drawings of The Hague. Van Gogh's work did not live up to his uncle's expectations. Marinus offered a second commission, this time specifying the subject matter in detail, but was once again disappointed with the result. Nevertheless, Van Gogh persevered. He improved the lighting of his studio by installing variable shutters and experimented with different drawing materials. For more than a year he worked on single figures – highly elaborated studies in "Black and White",[note 16] which at the time gained him only criticism. Today, they are recognised as his first masterpieces.[139]

In August 1882, Theo gave Vincent a donation, which he used to purchase materials conducive to working en plein air. Vincent wrote that he could now "go on painting with new vigour".[140] From early in 1883 he worked on multi-figure compositions, on which he based on his drawings. He had some of them photographed, but when his brother remarked that they lacked liveliness and freshness, he destroyed them and turned to oil painting. Van Gogh turned to renowned Hague School artists like Weissenbruch and Blommers, and received technical support from them, as well as from painters like De Bock and Van der Weele, both second generation Hague School artists.[141] When he moved to Nuenen after the intermezzo in Drenthe he began several large paintings but destroyed most of them. The Potato Eaters and its companion pieces are the only ones to have survived. Following a visit to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh was aware that many of his faults were due to lack of technical experience.[141] So in November 1885 he travelled to Antwerp and later to Paris to learn and develop his skill.[142]

Van Gogh had become familiar with Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist techniques and theories, and went to Arles to explore these new possibilities. Within a short time, older ideas on art and work reappeared: ideas such as working with serial imagery on related or contrasting subject matter, which would reflect on the purposes of art. As his work progressed, he painted many Self-portraits. In Nuenen in 1884 he had worked on a series to decorate the dining room of a friend in Eindhoven. In Arles, in early 1888 he arranged his Flowering Orchards into triptychs, began a series of figures that found its end in The Roulin Family series, and when Gauguin had consented to work and live in Arles with Van Gogh, he started to work on The Décorations for the Yellow House, which was by some accounts the most ambitious effort he ever undertook.[82] Most of his later work is involved with elaborating on or revising its fundamental settings. In early 1889, he painted another, smaller group of orchards. In an April letter to Theo, he said, "I have 6 studies of Spring, two of them large orchards. There is little time because these effects are so short-lived."[143]

Hoping to obtain a gallery for his work, his undertook a series of paintings including Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888), and Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888), all intended to form the decorations for the Yellow House.[144]

Self portraits

An intense man clean shaven man, with close cropped hair looks to the left.
Self-portrait without beard, late September 1889, private collection. Possibly Van Gogh's last self portrait, and a birthday gift to his mother[145]
A red-bearded man in a blue smock holding paintbrushes and artist palette in his hand; looks to the left.
Self-portrait, 1889, National Gallery of Art. His Saint-Rémy self-portraits show the artist's side with the unmutilated ear, as he saw himself in the mirror

Van Gogh produced many self-portraits during his lifetime; he drew or painted more than 43 between 1886 and 1889.[146][147] They vary in intensity and colour, and some portray the artist with beard, some without, and others with bandages – in the period after he had severed a portion of his ear. Self-portrait without beard, from late September 1889, was one of the most expensive paintings at the time of its 1998 sale, when it went for $71.5 million in New York. It was also Van Gogh's last self-portrait, intended as a birthday gift to his mother.[148]

The self-portraits painted in Saint-Rémy show the artist's head from the right, that is opposite his mutilated ear; he painted himself reflected in his mirror.[149][150][151] During the final weeks of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise, he produced many paintings, but no self-portraits, as he returned to painting the natural world.[152]


Van Gogh is best known for his landscapes, but he seemed to have believed that portraits were his greatest ambition.[153] He said of portrait studies, that they were "the only thing in painting that moves me deeply and that gives me a sense of the infinite."[154]

He wrote to his sister that he "should like to paint portraits which appear after a century to people living then as apparitions...I do not endeavour to achieve this through photographic resemblance, but my means of our impassioned emotions – that is to say using our knowledge and our modern taste for colour as a means of arriving at the expression and the intensification of the character."[155]

Those closest to him are mostly absent from his portraits; he rarely painted Theo, van Rappard or Bernard. The portraits of his mother were from photographs.[156]


The cypresses are one of Van Gogh's most popular and widely known series. In mid-1889, at his sister Wil's request, he made several smaller versions of Wheat Field with Cypresses.[157] These works are characterised by swirls and densely painted impasto, and produced one of his best-known paintings, The Starry Night. Other works from the series include Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background (1889) Cypresses (1889), Cypresses with Two Figures (1889–90), Road with Cypress and Star (1890), and Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888). They have become synonymous with Van Gogh's work through their stylistic uniqueness.

A pair of large trees to the left, one so tall it goes out of the top of the picture and mountains in the distance along the horizon. The afternoon sky is painted with bright blue and green swirls with white clouds and a visible daytime crescent moon also surrounded by swirls and halos. The dark green trees to the left are painted with thick impasto brush-strokes and swirls as well as the lighter yellow-green grasses in the foreground below.
Cypresses, 1889, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
A pair of women stand facing left in front of four massive cypress trees.
Cypresses with Two Figures, 1889–90, Kröller-Müller Museum

Road with Cypress and Star (1890) is as compositionally unreal and artificial as The Starry Night. It represents an exalted experience of reality, what both Van Gogh and Gauguin referred to as an "abstraction". Referring to Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background, on or around 18 June 1889, in a letter to his brother, Van Gogh wrote, "At last I have a landscape with olives and also a new study of a Starry Night."[158]

Flowering Orchards

The series of Flowering Orchards, sometimes referred to as the Orchards in Blossom paintings, were among the first groups of work that Van Gogh completed after his arrival in Arles, Provence in February 1888. The 14 paintings in this group are optimistic, joyous and visually expressive of the burgeoning Spring. They are delicately sensitive, silent, quiet and unpopulated. Vincent wrote to Theo on 21 April 1888 and said he had 10 orchards and: "one big [painting] of a cherry tree, which I've spoiled".[159] Early the following year he painted another smaller group of orchards, including View of Arles, Flowering Orchards.[143] Van Gogh was consumed by the landscape and vegetation of the south of France, and often visited the farm gardens near Arles. Because of the vivid light of the Mediterranean climate his palette significantly brightened.[160]


A field with flowers, various plants and trees in front of a several buildings (some of which are either tall or on a hill).
View of Arles with Irises, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
A field of flowers. The foreground includes long green stems with blue flowers, while the background includes prominent gold flowers on the left; white flowers in the center and a field to the right.
Irises, 1889, Getty Center, Los Angeles
closeup view of blossoms on tree branches against pale blue sky
Almond Blossom, 1890. Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh painted several landscapes with flowers, including the View of Arles with Irises, and Irises, Sunflowers,[161] and the lilacs and roses sequences. Some reflect his interests in the language of colour, and also in Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints.[162] He completed two series of sunflowers. The first dated from his 1887 stay in Paris, the second during his visit to Arles the following year. The Paris series shows living flowers in the ground, in the second, they are dying in vases. The 1888 paintings were created during a rare period of optimism for the artist. He intended them to decorate a bedroom where Gauguin was supposed to stay in Arles that August, when the two would create the community of artists Van Gogh had long hoped for. The flowers are rendered with thick brushstrokes and heavy layers of paint.[163]

He wrote to Theo in August 1888, "I’m painting with the gusto of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won’t surprise you when it’s a question of painting large sunflowers[...]If I carry out this plan there’ll be a dozen or so panels. The whole thing will therefore be a symphony in blue and yellow. I work on it all these mornings, from sunrise. Because the flowers wilt quickly and it’s a matter of doing the whole thing in one go."[164]

Wheat fields

Wheatfield with Crows, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh made several painting excursions during visits to the landscape around Arles. He made paintings featuring harvests, wheat fields and other rural landmarks of the area, including The Old Mill (1888); a good example of a picturesque structure bordering the wheat fields beyond.[68] It was one of seven canvases sent to Pont-Aven on 4 October 1888 as exchange of work with Paul Gauguin, Émile Bernard, Charles Laval, and others.[68] At various times in his life, Van Gogh painted the view from his window – at The Hague, Antwerp, Paris. These works culminated in The Wheat Field series, which depicted the view he could see from his adjoining cells in the asylum at Saint-Rémy.[165]

Many of Van Gogh's late paintings are sombre, but they are essentially optimistic and reflect his desire to return to lucid mental health right up to the time of his death. Yet some of his final works reflect his deepening concerns. Referring to his paintings of wheatfields under troubled skies, he commented in a letter to his brother Theo: "I did not have to go out of my way very much in order to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness." Nevertheless, he adds in the same paragraph: "these canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, that is, how healthy and invigorating I find the countryside."[167]

Writing in July 1890, after he had moved to Auvers, Van Gogh said that he had become absorbed "in the immense plain against the hills, boundless as the sea, delicate yellow."[122] He had become captivated by the fields in May when the wheat was young and green. The weather worsened in July, and he wrote to Theo of "vast fields of wheat under troubled skies", adding that he did not "need to go out of my way to try and express sadness and extreme loneliness."[168] In particular, the work Wheatfield with Crows serves as a compelling and poignant expression of the artist's state of mind in his final days, a painting Hulsker discusses as being associated with "melancholy and extreme loneliness," a "doom-filled painting with threatening skies and ill-omened crows."[169] Hulsker identifies seven oil paintings by Van Gogh as following the completion of the Wheatfield with Crows in July 1890 while in Auvers.[170]


Posthumous fame

man wearing a straw hat, carrying a canvas and paintbox, walking to the left, down a tree lined, leaf strewn country road
Painter on the Road to Tarascon, August 1888. Believed destroyed by fire during World War II

After his first exhibitions in the late 1880s, his reputation grew slowly but steadily among art critics, dealers, and collectors.[171] In 1887 André Antoine installed van Gogh's paintings alongside Seurat and Signac, some of which were acquired by Julien Tanguy.[172] In 1898 his work was described in "Le Moderniste" by the poet Albert Aurier as characterised by "fire, intensity, sunshine".[173]

His death contributed to his notoriety, but with Theo's own death in January 1891, he lost his most vocal and connected champion.[174] Memorial exhibitions were held in Brussels, Paris, The Hague, and Antwerp. He was shown at a number of high profile exhibitions in 1890, including six works and Les XX, in Brussels that January, and ten at the "Independants".[175] The following year the art critic Octave Mirbeau wrote that van Gogh's suicide was "infinitely sadder loss for art...even though the populace has not crowned to a magnificent funeral, and poor Vincent van Gogh, whose demise means the extinction of a beautiful flame of genius, has gone to his death as obscure and neglected as he lived."[172]

In the early 1900s, there were retrospectives in Paris (1901 and 1905) and the Stedelijk, Amsterdam (1905), and important group exhibitions with the Sonderbund westdeutscher Kunstfreunde und Künstler, Cologne (1912), Armory Show, New York (1913), and Berlin (1914).[176] These had a noticeable impact on later generations of artists.[177]

By the mid-20th century, Van Gogh was seen as one of the greatest and most recognisable painters in history.

Today van Gogh's works are among the world's most expensive paintings. Those sold for over US$100 million (today's equivalent) include Portrait of Dr. Gachet,[178] Portrait of Joseph Roulin, and Irises. A Wheatfield with Cypresses was sold in 1993 for US$57 million, a spectacularly high price at the time, and his Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear was sold privately in the late 1990s for an estimated US$80/$90 million.[179]


Van Gogh was childless, but wrote that he needed to create something greater than himself, and producing "thoughts instead of children" was one way he hoped to do so.[note 17] The historian Simon Schama said that Van Gogh "did have a child of course, Expressionism, and many, many heirs." Schama mentioned artists who have adapted elements of his style, including Willem de Kooning, Howard Hodgkin and Jackson Pollock.[180] The Abstract Expressionism of the 1940s and 1950s is seen as being partly inspired by Van Gogh's broad, gestural brush strokes. The art critic Sue Hubbard considered that Van Gogh created a new artistic language, tapped into the subconscious, and was a "trailblazer of modern art."[181]

In 1957, Francis Bacon based a series of paintings on reproductions of Van Gogh's The Painter on the Road to Tarascon, the original of which was destroyed during World War II. Bacon was inspired by both an image he described as "haunting", and by Van Gogh himself, whom he regarded as an alienated outsider, a position which resonated with him. Bacon identified with Van Gogh's theories of art and quoted lines written in a letter to Theo: "[R]eal painters do not paint things as they are ... [T]hey paint them as they themselves feel them to be."[182]


  1. ^ The pronunciation of "Van Gogh" varies in both English and Dutch. Especially in British English it is /ˌvæn ˈɡɒx/ or sometimes /ˌvæn ˈɡɒf/. US dictionaries list /ˌvæn ˈɡ/, with a silent gh, as the most common pronunciation. In the dialect of Holland, it is [ˈvɪnsɛnt fɑŋˈxɔx], with a voiceless V. He grew up in Brabant, and used Brabant dialect in his writing; if he pronounced his name with a Brabant accent it would be [vɑɲˈʝɔç], with a voiced V and palatalised G and gh. In France, where much of his work was produced, it is [vɑ̃ ɡɔɡə]
  2. ^ It has been suggested that being given the same name as his dead elder brother might have had a deep psychological impact on the young artist, and that elements of his art, such as the portrayal of pairs of male figures, can be traced back to this. See Lubin (1972), 82–84.
  3. ^ See the recollections gathered in Dordrecht by M. J. Brusse, Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, 26 May and 2 June 1914: "...he would not eat meat, only a little morsel on Sundays, then only after being urged by our landlady for a long time. Four potatoes with a suspicion of gravy and a mouthful of vegetables constituted his whole dinner" – from a letter to Frederik van Eeden, to help him with preparation for his article on Van Gogh in De Nieuwe Gids, Issue 1, December 1890. Quoted in Van Gogh: A Self-Portrait; Letters Revealing His Life as a Painter. W. H. Auden, New York Graphic Society, Greenwich, CT. (1961), 37–39
  4. ^ Letter 151 To Theo van Gogh. Petit-Wasmes, April 1879 and Letter 154 To Theo van Gogh. Cuesmes, between 11 and 14 August 1879. Van Gogh lodged in Wasmes at 22 rue de Wilson with Jean-Baptiste Denis, a breeder or grower (cultivateur, in the French original) according to Letter 693. In the recollections of his nephew Jean Richez, gathered by Wilkie (in the 1970s), 72–8. Denis and his wife Esther were running a bakery, and Richez admits that the only source of his knowledge is Aunt Esther.
  5. ^ There are different views on this period; Hulsker (1990) opts for a return to the Borinage and then back to Etten in this period; Dorn, in: Geskó (2006), 48& note 12 supports this view
  6. ^ See Jan Hulsker's speech The Borinage Episode and the Misrepresentation of Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh Symposium, 10–11 May 1990. In Erickson (1998), 67–68
  7. ^ Johannes de Looyer, Karel van Engeland, Hendricus Dekkers, and Piet van Hoorn all as old men recalled being paid 5, 10 or 50 cents per nest, depending on the type of bird. See Theo's son's letter of 1949
  8. ^ Vincent's nephew noted some reminiscences of local residents in 1949, including the description of the speed of his drawing.
  9. ^ The girl was Gordina de Groot, who died in 1927; she claimed the child's father was not Van Gogh, but a relative.
  10. ^ Vincent's doctor was Hubertus Amadeus Cavenaile. Wilkie (2004), 143–46
  11. ^ See Arnold (1992), 77 The direct evidence for syphilis is thin, coming solely from interviews with the grandson of the doctor; see Tralbaut (1981), 177–78, and for a review of the evidence overall see Naifeh; Smith 477 n. 199
  12. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 719 to Theo van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 11 or Monday, 12 November 1888:
    I've been working on two canvases... A reminiscence of our garden at Etten with cabbages, cypresses, dahlias and figures ...Gauguin gives me courage to imagine, and the things of the imagination do indeed take on a more mysterious character.
  13. ^ According to Doiteau & Leroy (1928) the diagonal cut removed the lobe and probably a little more.
  14. ^ Gauguin, who had spent the night in a nearby hotel, arrived independently around the same time
  15. ^ They continued to correspond and in 1890 Gauguin proposed they form an artist studio in Antwerp. See Pickvance (1986), 62
  16. ^ Artists working in black & white, i.e., for illustrated papers like The Graphic or The Illustrated London News were among Van Gogh's favourites. See Pickvance (1974/75)
  17. ^ "Letter 673: To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Monday, 3 September 1888". Van Gogh Museum. Ah, my dear brother, sometimes I know so clearly what I want. In life and in painting too, I can easily do without the dear Lord, but I can’t, suffering as I do, do without something greater than myself, which is my life, the power to create. And if frustrated in this power physically, we try to create thoughts instead of children; in that way, we’re part of humanity all the same. 


  1. ^ Veltkamp, Paul. "Pronunciation of the Name "Van Gogh"". Archived from the original on 22 September 2015. 
  2. ^ Veltkamp, Paul. "Pronunciation of the Name "Van Gogh"". Archived from the original on 22 September 2015. ; Vincent Van Gogh Biography, Quotes & Paintings, The Art History Archive; retrieved 12 July 2011.; Pomerans (1997), 1
  3. ^ Erickson (1998), 9.
  4. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 24.
  5. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 25–35.
  6. ^ Hulsker (1980), 8–9.
  7. ^ Letter 347, Vincent to Theo, 18 December 1883. Van Gogh's Letters at; retrieved 12 July 2011.
  8. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 7. Vincent to Theo, 5 May 1873.
  9. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 35–47.
  10. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 88. To Theo van Gogh. Isleworth, Friday, 18 August 1876.
  11. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 47–56.
  12. ^ Callow (1990), 54.
  13. ^ McQuillan (1989), 26; Erickson (1998), 23
  14. ^ Hulsker (1990), 60–62, 73.
  15. ^ Fell (2015), 17.
  16. ^ Callow (1990), 72.
  17. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 186. Vincent to Theo van Gogh. Etten, Friday, 18 November 1881.
  18. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 156. Vincent to Theo van Gogh. Cuesmes, Friday, 20 August 1880.
  19. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 67–71.
  20. ^ Erickson (1998), 5.
  21. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 179. Vincent to Theo van Gogh. Etten, Thursday, 3 November 1881.
  22. ^ Letter 189 Vincent to Theo, Etten, Wednesday, 23 November 1881
  23. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 193. Vincent to Theo, from Etten c. 23 December 1881, describing the visit in more detail.
  24. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 228. from Vincent to Theo, The Hague, c. 16 May 1882.
  25. ^ Gayford (2006), 130–1.
  26. ^ Pomerans (1997), 112.
  27. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 194. Vincent to Theo, The Hague, Thursday 29 December 1881 "At Christmas I had a rather violent argument with Pa, and feelings ran so high that Pa said it would be better if I left home. Well, it was said so decidedly that I actually left the same day.".
  28. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 196.
  29. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 219..
  30. ^ McQuillan (1989).
  31. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 237. Vincent to Theo van Gogh. The Hague, on or about Thursday, 8 June 1882.
  32. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 110.
  33. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 96–103.
  34. ^ Callow (1990), 116; cites the work of Hulsker; Callow (1990), 123–124; Van Gogh (2010), Letter 224.
  35. ^ Callow (1990), 116-117, citing the research of Jan Hulsker; the two dead children were born in 1874 and 1879.
  36. ^ a b Tralbaut (1981), 107.
  37. ^ Callow (1990), 132; Tralbaut (1981), 102–104, 112
  38. ^ Arnold (1992), 38.
  39. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 113.
  40. ^ Wilkie (2004), 185.
  41. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 101–107.
  42. ^ a b Tralbaut (1981), 111–122.
  43. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 154.
  44. ^ McQuillan (1989), 127.
  45. ^ Vincent Van Gogh and Gordina de Groot,; accessed 20 November 2014.
  46. ^ Hulsker (1980), 196–205.
  47. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 123–160.
  48. ^ Callow (1990), 181.
  49. ^ Callow (1990), 184.
  50. ^ Hammacher (1985), 84.
  51. ^ Callow (1990), 253.
  52. ^ Van der Wolk (1987), 104–105.
  53. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 173.
  54. ^ McQuillan (1981), 193.
  55. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 187–192.
  56. ^ Pickvance (1984), 38–39.
  57. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 853. Vincent to Albert Aurier. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Sunday, 9 or Monday, 10 February 1890.
  58. ^ Van Gogh et Monticelli. Retrieved 24 August 2010.
  59. ^ Turner (2000), 314.
  60. ^ Pickvance (1986), 62–63.
  61. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 212–13.
  62. ^ "Glossary term: Complimentary colours", National Gallery, London. Retrieved 13 September 2007.
  63. ^ Druick & Zegers (2001), 81; Gayford (2006), 50
  64. ^ Hulsker (1990), 256.
  65. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 640. Vincent to Theo, 15 July 1888. Letter 695. Vincent to Paul Gauguin, 3 October 1888.
  66. ^ a b c Hughes (1990), 143.
  67. ^ a b Hughes (1990), 144.
  68. ^ a b c d Pickvance (1984), 177.
  69. ^ Hughes (1990), 143–44.
  70. ^ Pickvance (1986), 129; Pomerans (1997), 348
  71. ^ Nemeczek (1999), 59–61.
  72. ^ Gayford (2006), 16.
  73. ^ Callow (1990), 219.
  74. ^ Pickvance (1984), 175–76.
  75. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 266.
  76. ^ Maalaustaiteen mestareita 2004, p. 308–309 (Finnish)
  77. ^ Pomerans (1997), 356, 360.
  78. ^ "Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1888". Permanent Collection. Van Gogh Museum. 2005–11; retrieved 23 Feb 2016.
  79. ^ Pomerans (1997), 356, 360
  80. ^ Hulsker (1980), 356; Pickvance (1984), 168–169;206
  81. ^ Letter 677 to Theo van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 9 September 1888; Gayford (2006), 18; Letter 681 to Theo van Gogh. Arles, Sunday, 16 September 1888; Nemeczek (1999), 61
  82. ^ a b Dorn (1990).
  83. ^ Pickvance (1984), 234–35.
  84. ^ Hulsker (1980), 374–6.
  85. ^ Gayford (2006), 61.
  86. ^ Pickvance (1984), 195.
  87. ^ Gayford (2006), 274–77.
  88. ^ Hulsker (1980), 380-2.
  89. ^ McQuillan (1989), 66.
  90. ^ a b Druick & Zegers (2001), 266.
  91. ^ Sweetman (1990), 1; Tralbaut (1981), 258
  92. ^ Naifeh & Smith (2011), 702.
  93. ^ Sund (2002), 235.
  94. ^ McQuillan (1989), 68.
  95. ^ Gayford (2006), 277; Sund (2002), 235
  96. ^ Naifeh & Smith (2011), 707-8.
  97. ^ a b c Van Gogh (2010), Concordance, lists, bibliography: Documentation.
  98. ^ Naifeh & Smith (2011), 488–89/209–10.
  99. ^ Sund (2002), 237.
  100. ^ a b Gayford (2006), 284.
  101. ^ Pickvance (1986), 239–42; Tralbaut (1981), 265–273
  102. ^ Hughes (1990), 145.
  103. ^ Callow (1990), 246.
  104. ^ Jules Breton and Realism, Van Gogh Museum
  105. ^ Pickvance (1984), 102–103.
  106. ^ Pickvance (1986), 154–157.
  107. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 286; Hulsker (1990), 434
  108. ^ Van Gogh (2010), [1]. To Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Tuesday, 29 April 1890.
  109. ^ Hulsker (1990), 390, 404.
  110. ^ Hulsker (1990), 390, 404; Tralbaut (1981), 287
  111. ^ Pickvance (1986), 175–177.
  112. ^ a b Hulsker (1990), 440.
  113. ^ Pickvance (1986), .Appendix III, 310–15. Aurier's original 1890 review in French with parallel English translation
  114. ^ Rewald (1978), 346–347; 348–350.
  115. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 293.
  116. ^ Kleiner, Carolyn (24 July 2000). "Van Gogh's vanishing act". Mysteries of History (U.S. News & World Report). Archived from the original on 31 January 2011. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  117. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter RM20. Vincent to Theo and Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Auvers-sur-Oise, Saturday, 24 May 1890.
  118. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 863.
  119. ^ Rosenblum (1975), 98–100.
  120. ^ Pickvance (1986), 270–271.
  121. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 898. To Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Auvers-sur-Oise, on or about Thursday, 10 July 1890; Rosenblum (1975), 100
  122. ^ a b Edwards (1989), 115.
  123. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 898. To Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Auvers-sur-Oise, on or about Thursday, 10 July 1890.
  124. ^ Hughes (2002), 8.
  125. ^ Sweetman (1990), 342–343.
  126. ^ Walther & Metzger (1994), 669.
  127. ^ Sweetman (1990), 342–343; Hulsker (1980), 480–483
  128. ^ Blumer (2002).
  129. ^ Pomerans (1997), 509.
  130. ^ Hayden (2003), 152; van der Veen & Knapp (2010), 260–264
  131. ^ "La tombe de Vincent Van Gogh – Auvers-sur-Oise, France". Groundspeak. Retrieved 23 June 2009.
  132. ^ Sweetman (1990), 367.
  133. ^ Pickvance (1986), 129; Tralbaut (1981), 39
  134. ^ a b Pomerans (1997), ix.
  135. ^ Van Gogh (2010), "Van Gogh: The Letters"..
  136. ^ Pomerans (1997), i–xxvi.
  137. ^ Pomerans (1997), xiii.
  138. ^ Van Heugten (1996), 246–51.
  139. ^ Dorn, Keyes & alt. (2000).
  140. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 253. To Theo van Gogh. The Hague, Saturday, 5 August 1882.
  141. ^ a b Dorn, Schröder & Sillevis (1996).
  142. ^ Cachin & Welsh-Ovcharov (1988).
  143. ^ a b Hulsker (1980), 385.
  144. ^ Pickvance (1984), 175–176; Van Gogh (2010), Letter 782. Vincent to Theo van Gogh. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, on or about Tuesday, 18 June 1889.
  145. ^ Pickvance (1986), 131.
  146. ^ "Musée d'Orsay: Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait". Musée d'Orsay. 4 February 2009. 
  147. ^ Encyclopedia of Irish and World Art: "art of self-portrait"; retrieved 13 June 2010.
  148. ^ Pickvance (1984), 131.
  149. ^ Cohen (2003).
  150. ^ Van Gogh Myths; The ear in the mirror. Letter to the New York Times, 17 September 1989; retrieved 24 August 2010.
  151. ^ Self Portraits, Van Gogh Gallery; retrieved 24 August 2010.
  152. ^ Walther & Metzger (1994), 653.
  153. ^ Channing & Bradley (2007), 67.
  154. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 652. To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Tuesday, 31 July 1888.
  155. ^ Channing & Bradley (2007), 67; Van Gogh (2010), Letter 879. To Willemien van Gogh. Auvers-sur-Oise, Thursday, 5 June 1890.
  156. ^ McQuillan (1989), 198.
  157. ^ Pickvance (1986), 132–133.
  158. ^ Pickvance (1986), 101; 189–191.
  159. ^ Pickvance (1984), 45–53.
  160. ^ Fell (1997), 32.
  161. ^ "Letter 573" Vincent to Theo. 22 or 23 January 1889
  162. ^ Pickvance (1986), 80–81; 184–87.
  163. ^ Sunflowers 1888 National Gallery, London; retrieved 12 September 2009.
  164. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 666. To Theo van Gogh. Arles, Tuesday, 21 or Wednesday, 22 August 1888.
  165. ^ Hulsker (1980), 390–394.
  166. ^ Rosenblum (1975), 100.
  167. ^ Van Gogh (2010), Letter 898. To Theo van Gogh and Jo van Gogh-Bonger. Auvers-sur-Oise, on or about Thursday, 10 July 1890.; [166]
  168. ^ Letter 649
  169. ^ Hulsker (1990), 478–479.
  170. ^ Hulsker (1990).
  171. ^ Rewald (1986), 244–54.
  172. ^ a b Sund (2002), 305.
  173. ^ Sund (2002), 307.
  174. ^ Sund (2002), 310.
  175. ^ McQuillan (1989), 72.
  176. ^ Dorn & Leeman (1990).
  177. ^ Rewald (1986), 248.
  178. ^ Andrew Decker, "The Silent Boom", Retrieved 14 September 2011.
  179. ^ G. Fernández, "The Most Expensive Paintings ever sold",; retrieved 14 September 2011
  180. ^ Schama, Simon. "Wheatfield with Crows". Simon Schama's Power of Art (2006 documentary), from 59:20
  181. ^ Hubbard, Sue. Vincent Van Gogh and Expressionism,; retrieved 3 July 2010. Archived 6 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  182. ^ Farr, Peppiatt & Yard (1999), 112.


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  • Wilkie, Kenneth (2004). The Van Gogh File: The Myth and the Man. London: Souvenir Press. ISBN 978-0-2856-3691-0. 

External links