The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Though his life began rather calmly in the countryside of southern Netherlands, it ended in tragedy at the young age of 37 with a self-induced gunshot to the abdomen.
He produced some of the most revolutionary works of art the world has ever known, leaving in his wake his thoughts, desires, and anxieties in the forms of paintings, sketches, and letters.
While Vincent certainly wasn’t living a life of luxe, he wasn’t the poor struggling artist some might have perceived. Theo his brother, who worked as a successful art dealer at Goupil & Cie, paid Vincent a stipend three times per month, and it’s estimated (through the many letters exchanged between siblings) that the younger brother spent just under fifteen percent of his annual income on his brother. The funds went toward art supplies, books, rent, medical costs, food expenses and other things.
Of all of Van Gogh’s work, his paintings of sunflowers are perhaps the most famous. Indeed, his Sunflowers (1888) is among the most visited paintings at the National Gallery in London. Yet, over the span of a few years, Van Gogh would create dozens of paintings and sketches of sunflowers, the reason being that the plant was, to him, quite sacred.
Much like Van Gogh’s career as an artist, the sunflower is a late bloomer, commonly blossoming during the late summer and early fall months. What’s more, the sunflower plays an important role in Dutch Protestantism. In its text, the sunflower follows the arc of the sun throughout the day, much in the same way people should always follow the direction of God throughout their lifetime.
Though Van Gogh apparently had some mental illnesses (including bipolar disorder), this didn’t prevent him from mastering foreign languages. In fact, Van Gogh could speak three languages fluently, including French, English, and his native tongue, Dutch.
Try as he might, Vincent didn’t have much luck with women. His first serious relationship was with an older woman, a prostitute named Sien Hoornik. Together with Sien, Van Gogh lived in a small apartment in the Hague with her young child and aging mother. Of course, news of the relationship (and the women’s career) was met with much anger and grief in the pious Van Gogh household.
Van Gogh wasn’t the only family member with artistic talent. His older cousin (on his mother’s side) Anton Mauve was a big success throughout Europe. Mauve was revolutionary with his color selection, a trait later seen in his younger cousin. At one point the two were close; Mauve even allowed Van Gogh to come stay with him at his studio in Holland for several weeks in 1881. Yet, over time, their relationship completely fell apart, much of it due to the news that Van Gogh was living with a prostitute.
His First Exhibition
The first Van Gogh “exhibition” occurred at his funeral on July 30, 1890 (one day after his death), when his brother and friends (including the artist Émile Bernard) hung his recent paintings on the wall next to his coffin prior to the burial.
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