“It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which
one should listen to, the feeling for the things themselves, for
reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures".
Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853, in Zundert, in the south of the Netherlands. He was the the oldest son of Theodorus van Gogh, a preacher and Anna Cornelia Carbentus. Vincent's favorite brother, Theodorus (Theo), is born four years later. A great deal of the information we have on van Gogh comes from the published correspondence of 800 letters, mainly to his brother Theo. They reveal how, having been unable to enter the ministry of the church, Vincent van Gogh gradually became taken over by his work, inextricably enslaved by its demands, in search of the ultimate `truth` and feeling "the positive consciousness of the fact that art is something greater and higher than our own adroitness or accomplishments or knowledge".
Vincent Van Gogh's early years are difficult and filled with disappointments. He 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. Vincent van Gogh 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 1886 Vincent van Gogh went to Paris to join his brother Théo, the manager of Goupil's gallery. In Paris, van Gogh studied with Cormon. Vincent van Gogh inevitably met Pissarro, Monet, and Gauguin, and began to lighten his very dark palette and to paint in the short brushstrokes of the Impressionists.
Vincent van Gogh's 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. Initially lodging at the Hotel Carrel, van Gogh then makes his home at the "Yellow House", 2 Place Lamartine and sets out to visit the now famous locations of Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer, Montmajour, La Crau and Langlois and producing the `Night Café` canvases.
Gauguin arrived in October and they proceeded to collaborate on a friendly basis. However this was not to last and, although much inter-influencing can be seen in their works of this period, they began moving in opposing directions. Gauguin was planning to leave, but Vincent had become dependent on him and was also turning increasingly to absinthe and tobacco. On December 23rd, Vincent van Gogh attacked Gauguin with an open razor in the Place Victor Hugo. Van Gogh stopped short of hurting Gauguin and instead ran home, and cut off his own ear! It was his way of breaking the tie with Gauguin whom he considered to be `deaf` to his arguments. Gauguin left the next day and Vincent van Gogh was taken to the hospital under the care of Dr. Rey. Vincent van Gogh was presumably suffering from the symptoms of an hereditary epileptic illness from which both Theo and his sister Wilhelmina also suffered.
"I am not strictly speaking mad, for my mind is absolutely normal in the intervals, and even more so than before. But during the attacks it is terrible - and then I lose consciousness of everything. But that spurs me on to work and to seriousness, as a miner who is always in danger makes haste in what he does." - Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh then began to alternate between fits of madness and lucidity. After his discharge from the hospital in Arles, he voluntarily admitted himself to the psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy, 15 miles from Arles. Vincent van Gogh attributes his breakdown to excessive alcohol and tobacco, but gives up neither. Fearful of a relapse, in May 1889 Vincent van Gogh writes: "I wish to remain shut up as much for my own peace of mind as for other people's."
The admitting physician notes that Vincent suffers from "acute mania with hallucinations of sight and hearing." Although subject to intermittent attacks, Vincent converts an adjacent cell into a studio, where he produces 150 paintings. Vincent paints the world he sees from his room, deleting the bars that obscure his view. In the hospital's walled garden he paints irises, lilacs, and ivy-covered trees. Later he is allowed to venture farther outside, and he paints the wheat fields, olive groves, and cypress trees of the surrounding countryside. In May of 1890, van Gogh seemed much better and went to live in Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Gachet. Two months later Vincent van Gogh was dead, having shot himself "for the good of all."
"Starry Night" (shown here) by Vincent van Gogh has risen to the peak of artistic achievements. Although van Gogh sold only one painting in his life, the aftermath of his work is enormous. Starry Night is one of the most well known images in modern culture as well as being one of the most replicated and sought after prints. From Don McLean's song 'Starry, Starry Night' (Based on the Painting), to the endless number of merchandise products sporting this image, it is nearly impossible to shy away from this amazing painting.
Vincent 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. Vincent van Gogh's inimitable fusion of form and content is powerful; dramatic, lyrically rhythmic, imaginative, and emotional. 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.