Biography (1853 - 1890)

Header Photo: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (Detail) by Vincent van Gogh, October, 1888

Oil on canvas, 40.5 cm × 32.5 cm
The Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, California
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© Estate of Vincent van Gogh

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Vincent van Gogh ~ Biography

Painter (1853 - 1890)

Born: March 30, 1853
Birth place: Zundert, North Brabant, Netherlands
Birth name: Vincent Willem van Gogh
Date of death: July 29, 1890 (suicide)
Place of death: Auvers-sur-Oise, France

'The world only concerns me in that I have a certain obligation and duty, because I have walked this earth for 30 years and from gratitude I want to leave a souvenir in the shape of drawings and paintings - not made to please a certain taste in art, but to express a genuine emotion. (...) And you may also be able to understand that I do not consider my study to be for its own sake, but also thinking of my work as a whole'
The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh (Penguin Classics)

Exactly one year before Vincent van Gogh was born, his mother had given birth to an already dead baby (stillborn). That baby had also been named Vincent.

He quit school when he was only 15 and headed off to England in 1869. There he began a career not as a painter but as an art dealer with the firm Goupil & Cie. Van Gogh spent seven years with the firm, but became unhappy and decided to try his hand teaching at a Catholic school for boys. In the following years, Vincent went from job to job, living in various cities in Europe. Finally in 1880, van Gogh decided to head to Brussels to begin studies in art. During the next ten years, he painted 872 paintings.

Van Gogh did not get much recognition during his lifetime. He only sold one painting while he was alive, which was Red Vineyard at Arles. For most of his life he was very poor, often spending his money on art supplies instead of food.

Vincent van Gogh ~ Biography II

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on 30 March 1853 in Zundert as the eldest son of the protestant minister Theodorus van Gogh (1822-1885) and Anna Cornelia Carbentus (1819-1907)

Vincent also suffered from severe depression and was admitted to an asylum in December 1888, after chopping off part of his own ear (and not all of it as the myth suggests). He would be in and out of asylums for the next year. It is thought that he was actually epileptic (a condition of the brain that causes seizures) and that is why people thought he had fits of insanity throughout his life. While in the asylum Vincent painted one of his best-known paintings, Starry Night. In mid-May 1890, Vincent left the asylum and spent the last few months of his life in Auvers, France.

On July 27, 1890 Vincent van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver. Two days later he died with his younger brother, Theo, by his side.

For the last few months of van Gogh's life, he was seeing Dr. Gachet about his mental instability. Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet remains one of the most expensive paintings in the world. In 1990, Japanese businessman Ryoei Saito, paid $82.5 million for the painting. But since his death in 1996, the painting has not been seen.

Vincent van Gogh ~ Biography III

Vincent van Gogh was the son of a Dutch pastor. He was first employed in The Hague, London and Paris by the picture dealers for whom his brother Theo worked.

He then taught in two English schools, worked in a book shop in Holland, began studying fo the Church, and became a missionary in the coalmining district of the Borinage in Belgium, where he shared the poverty and hardships of the miners.

He did not begin to become an artist until he was living in great poverty after his dismissal from the mission in 1880, and from then until 1886 he lived variously at Brussels, Etten, The Hague, Drenthe, Huenen and Antwerp, teaching himself to draw and paint, with occasional lessons in Brussels, from his relation Anton Mauve, a member of the Hague School, in The Hague, and at the Academy in Antwerp, which appear to have contributed little to his development.

In 1886 he joined Theo in Paris and immediately came into contact with the works of the Impressionists, which Theo endeavoured to sell in the gallery devoted to modern art that he directed. He met Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, Degas, Seurat and Gauguin, and in 1888 went to Arles where he was later joined by Gauguin.

In December 1888 he became insane, which resulted in the famous incident with his ear, and from then until his death he suffered intermittent attacks of mental trouble. During the intervals between them he continued to paint, both in the asylums at Arles and St Remy and after his removal to Auvers, where, in July 1890, he shot himself. His brother Theo, to whom most of his long and revealing letters were addressed, and who was his constant support, moral and financial, died six months later.

Van Gogh's Dutch period is characterized by his use of dark colour, heavy forms, and subject matter chiefly drawn from peasants and their work. He ignored Theo's advice to lighten his palette as the Impressionists were doing, but during his short stay in Antwerp he became more interested in Japanese prints and the work of Rubens. After is arrival in Paris, a complete change took place in his palette and subject matter: he adopted the Impressionist technique, leaning briefly towards the pointillism of Seurat, and turned to flowers, views of Paris, and portraits and self-portraits which enabled him to experiment with these new ideas. After he went to Arles, he painted many landscapes and portraits in heightened colour and with a vivid, passionate expression of light and feeling, and after the arrival of Gauguin his work shows the influence of Synthetism in the greater simplification of his forms and his use of less modulated colour. His paintings done at St Remy and Auvers are vivid in colour and with writhing, flame-like forms in the drawing, completely expressive of his tormented sensibility. His greatest influence was on Munch and the German Expressionism.

He left a vast volume of work, all painted 1880-90, most of which is in a special van Gogh museum in Amsterdam (more than 200 paintings and 600 drawings), and in the Kroller-Moller Museum at Otterlo in Holland. There are also works in Amsterdam (Stedelijk Mus.), Baltimore, Boston (Mus.), Cambridge Mass. (Fogg), Chicago, Copenhagen, Edinburgh (NG), Essen, Glasgow, London (NG, tate, Courtauld Inst.), Minneapolis, Moscow, New York (Met. Mus., M of MA, Brooklyn), Paris (Mus. d'Orsay, Mus Rodin), Sao Paulo, Washington (NG, Philips), and too many other museums to list individually.

Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)

Vincent van Gogh ~ Trivia

Van Gogh greatly admired the work of the English painter Fredrick Walker. He said of Walker and George John Pinwell in a letter of 1885: 'They did in England exactly what Maris, Israels, mauve, have done in Holland, namely restored nature over convention; sentiment and impression over academic platitudes and dullness...'

He greatly admired Luke Fildes's illustration The Empty Chair.

His stay in Great Britain marked a crucual turning-point in his life.

He memorably copied Gustave Dore's The Exercise Yard at Newgate in February 1890.

During both his periods in England, Van Gogh became interested in the artists working for the Graphic, a periodical established in Britain in the 1860s, becoming one of the most important journals of the Victoria era. The artists he was interested in were those who illustrated the theme of manual labour. He also read with deep emotion and love the novels of Charles Dickens.

In 1882, when living at The Hague, he bought an almost complete run of the Graphic. He described his collection as 'as a kind of Bible to an artist'.

He particularly admired a series of illustrations in the Graphic entitled Heads of the People, to which less-remembered names such as William Small and Matthew Ridley as well as Herkomer contributed. The Heads of the People are powerfully assimilated into his first masterpiece, The Potato Eaters, which he finished in 1885.

Wrote of his deep love of Dickens to his friend Van Rappard in September 1882.

His admiration for both Dickens and Fildes became the inspiration for several of his major paintings at Arles. For example, look at Fildes's The Empty Chair engraving from the Graphic of Christmas 1870 with van Gogh's Gauuguin's Chair of 1888.

Came to know the wealthy Australian artist, John Russell (1858-1930). Russell painted his portrait and carried on a fascinating correspondence.

Source: Victorian Painting [Book, 2003]


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