Sunday, March 2, 2014

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in North Brabant.  Following a failed career in the church, he decided to become a full-time artist rather late in his life, at the age of 27, his career lasting from 1880 to 1890. During this time he produced over 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings.

The Potato Eaters, 1885
Considered to be van Gogh's first major painting
Over the course of these 10 years, van Gogh’s painting style changed dramatically. At the beginning of his career, van Gogh’s primary focus was the social problems surrounding him – namely those of the peasant laborers. As a result, his artwork during this time period was quite dark, nearly monochromatic (mostly browns and blacks), and often the figures were deliberately painted to be ugly.  However, in 1886 van Gogh visited Paris and came into contact with impressionism. As a result, he began to experiment with color and a variety of brushstrokes, transferring his emotions into his work.  The importance of emotion to his work was such that, as he wrote in a letter to his brother:  "instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily, in order to express myself forcibly" (letter to Theo 520, August 11, 1888).   

Starry Night 1889
Painted while van Gogh was in the mental hospital at Saint-Remy 
Beginning in 1888, van Gogh began to have brief episodes, the symptoms of which were similar to those described by schizophrenics and those with bi-polar disorder. He lived in fear of the return of this illness. In May 1889, van Gogh voluntarily entered an asylum at Saint-Remy. Throughout all this time, van Gogh continued to produce artwork of incredible quality and quantity. 

 Van Gogh shot himself on July 27, 1890, while painting in a field; he passed away two days later.  While he had been relatively unknown during his life, his brother Theo (who died less than six months after Vincent’s death) began to organize an exhibition of his brother’s works; others continued the work and Vincent’s paintings were shown at the Salon des Independants in 1891, marking the beginning of Vincent’s fame.  

Wheat Field with Crows, 1890
Van Gogh's last painting,
 completed several days before his death
While van Gogh came into contact with a number of different artistic movements (impressionism, pointillism, symbolism), he arguably had a style uniquely his own. True of all his work was what van Gogh wrote to his brother in 1879: “I can find no better definition of the word art than this, ‘L’art c’est l’homme ajoute a la nature’ (art is man added to nature) – nature, reality, truth, but with a significance, a conception, a character, which the artist brings out in it, and to which he gives expression, ‘qu’il degage,’ which he disentangles, sets free and interprets.”  I chose van Gogh because he was able to find a way in his paintings to elicit great joy in spite of his great pain.


 Romano, Eileen. Translated by Timothy Stroud. Van Gogh Foto Archivio Scala, Firenze, 2003.

Skea, Ralph. Vincent’s Trees :Paintings and Drawings by Vincent Van Gogh. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2013.

Thomson, Belinda. Van Gogh. The Art Institute of Chicago, 2001.

No comments:

Post a Comment