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Vincent van Gogh
Impressionist portrait painting of a man with a reddish beard wearing a dark coat and white shirt while looking forward with his body facing left
Self-portrait (1887), Art Institute of Chicago
Birth name Vincent Willem van Gogh
Born 30 March 1853 (1853-03-30)
Zundert, Netherlands
Died 29 July 1890 (1890-07-30) (aged 37)
Auvers-sur-Oise, France
Nationality Dutch
Field Painter
Movement Post-Impressionism
Works The Potato Eaters, Sunflowers, The Starry Night, Irises, Portrait of Dr. Gachet
Patrons Theo van Gogh

Vincent Willem van Gogh[a 1] (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th century art for its vivid colors and emotional impact. He suffered from anxiety and increasingly frequent bouts of mental illness throughout his life, and died largely unknown, at the age of 37, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Little appreciated during his lifetime, his fame grew in the years after his death. Today, he is widely regarded as one of history's greatest painters and an important contributor to the foundations of modern art. Van Gogh did not begin painting until his late twenties, and most of his best-known works were produced during his final two years. He produced more than 2,000 artworks, consisting of around 900 paintings and 1,100 drawings and sketches. Although he was little known during his lifetime, his work was a strong influence on the Modernist art that followed. Today many of his pieces—including his numerous self portraits, landscapes, portraits and sunflowers—are among the world's most recognizable and expensive works of art.

Van Gogh spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers and traveled between The Hague, London and Paris, after which he taught in England. An early vocational aspiration was to become a pastor and preach the gospel, and from 1879 he worked as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium. During this time he began to sketch people from the local community, and in 1885 painted his first major work The Potato Eaters. His palette at the time consisted mainly of sombre earth tones and showed no sign of the vivid coloration that distinguished his later work. In March 1886, he moved to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists. Later he moved to the south of France and was taken by the strong sunlight he found there. His work grew brighter in color and he developed the unique and highly recognizable style which became fully realized during his stay in Arles in 1888.

The extent to which his mental illness affected his painting has been a subject of speculation since his death. Despite a widespread tendency to romanticise his ill health, modern critics see an artist deeply frustrated by the inactivity and incoherence brought about by his bouts of sickness. According to art critic Robert Hughes, Van Gogh's late works show an artist at the height of his ability, completely in control and "longing for concision and grace".[1]



Headshot photo of the artist as a cleanshaven young man. He has thick, ill-kempt, wavy hair, a high forehead, and deep-set eyes with a wary, watchful expression.
Vincent van Gogh, age 18, c. 1871–1872. This photograph was taken at the time when he was working at the branch of Goupil & Cie's gallery at The Hague.[2][3]
Headshot photo of a young man, similar in appearance to his brother, but neat, well-groomed and calm.
Theo van Gogh in 1872 at age 16. Theo was a life-long supporter and friend to his brother. The two are buried together at Auvers-sur-Oise.

The most comprehensive primary source for the understanding of Van Gogh as an artist is the collection of letters which were passed between him and his younger brother, the art dealer Theo van Gogh.[4] They lay the foundation for most of what is known about the thoughts and beliefs of the artist.[5][6] Theo continually provided his brother with both financial and emotional support.

Their lifelong friendship, and most of what is known of Van Gogh's thoughts and theories of art, is recorded in the hundreds of letters they exchanged from August 1872 until 1890. Most were written by Vincent to Theo beginning in the summer of 1872. More than 600 letters from Vincent to Theo and 40 from Theo to Vincent survive today and although many are undated, art historians have been able to largely arrange the correspondences chronologically. Problems remain—mainly from dating those from the Arles period. Yet during that period alone, it is known that Van Gogh wrote 200 letters to friends in Dutch, French and English.[7] The period when Vincent lived in Paris is the most difficult for art historians to examine because he and Theo shared accommodation and thus had no need to correspond, leaving little or no historical record of the time.[8]

In addition to letters to and from Theo, other surviving documents include those to Van Rappard, Émile Bernard, Van Gogh's sister Wil and her friend Line Kruysse.[9] The letters were first annotated in 1913 by Theo's widow Johanna van Gogh-Bonger. In her preface, she stated that she published with 'trepidation' because she did not want the drama in the artist's life to overshadow his work. Van Gogh himself was an avid reader of other artists biographies and expected their lives to be in keeping with the character of their art.[4]



Early life

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on 30 March 1853 in Groot-Zundert, a village close to Breda in the province of North Brabant in the southern Netherlands.[10] He was the son of Anna Cornelia Carbentus and Theodorus van Gogh, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. Vincent was given the same name as his grandfather—and a first brother stillborn exactly one year before.[11] The practice of reusing a name in this way was not uncommon. Vincent was a common name in the Van Gogh family; his grandfather (1789–1874) had received his degree of theology at the University of Leiden in 1811. Grandfather Vincent had six sons, three of whom became art dealers, including another Vincent who was referred to in Van Gogh's letters as "Uncle Cent." Grandfather Vincent had perhaps been named in turn after his own father's uncle, the successful sculptor Vincent van Gogh (1729–1802).[12] Art and religion were the two occupations to which the Van Gogh family gravitated. His brother Theodorus (Theo) was born on 1 May 1857. He had another brother, Cor, and three sisters: Elisabeth, Anna and Willemina (Wil).[13]

black and white formal headshot photo of the artist as a boy in jacket and tie. He has thick curly hair and very pale-colored eyes with a wary, uneasy expression.
Vincent van Gogh c. 1866, approx. age 13

As a child, Vincent was serious, silent and thoughtful. He attended the Zundert village school from 1860, where the single Catholic teacher taught around 200 pupils. From 1861, he and his sister Anna were taught at home by a governess, until 1 October 1864, when he went away to the elementary boarding school of Jan Provily in Zevenbergen, the Netherlands, about 20 miles (32 km) away. He was distressed to leave his family home, and recalled this even in adulthood. On 15 September 1866, he went to the new middle school, Willem II College in Tilburg, the Netherlands. Constantijn C. Huysmans, a successful artist in Paris, taught Van Gogh to draw at the school and advocated a systematic approach to the subject. In March 1868, Van Gogh abruptly left school and returned home. A later comment on his early years was, "My youth was gloomy and cold and sterile..."[14] In July 1869, his uncle 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, Brixton,[15] and worked at Messrs. Goupil & Co., 17 Southampton Street.[16] This was a happy time for him; he was successful at work and was already, at 20, earning more than his father. Theo's wife later remarked that this was the happiest year of Van Gogh's life. He fell in love with his landlady's daughter, Eugénie Loyer, but when he finally confessed his feeling to her, she rejected him, saying that she was already secretly engaged to a former lodger. He was increasingly isolated and fervent about religion. His father and uncle sent him to Paris to work in a dealership. However, he became resentful at how art was treated as a commodity, a fact apparent to customers. On 1 April 1876, his employment was terminated.[17]

Van Gogh returned to England for unpaid work. He took a position as a supply teacher in a small boarding school overlooking the harbor in Ramsgate, where he made sketches of the view. The proprietor of the school relocated to Isleworth, Middlesex and Van Gogh decided to make the daily commute to the new location on foot. However the arrangement did not work out and Van Gogh left to became a Methodist minister's assistant, to follow his wish to "preach the gospel everywhere."[18] At Christmas, he returned home and worked in a bookshop in Dordrecht for six months. However, he was not happy in this new position and spent most of his time in the back of the shop either doodling or translating passages from the Bible into English, French and German.[19] His roommate at the time, a young teacher called Görlitz, later recalled that Van Gogh ate frugally, and preferred not to eat meat.[20][21]

Van Gogh's religious emotion grew until he felt he had found his true vocation. In an effort to support his effort to become a pastor, in May 1877, his family sent him to Amsterdam to study theology. He stayed with his uncle Jan van Gogh, a naval Vice Admiral.[22] Vincent prepared for the entrance exam with his uncle Johannes Stricker; a respected theologian who published the first "Life of Jesus" available in the Netherlands. Van Gogh failed, and left his uncle Jan's house in July 1878. He then undertook, but failed, a three-month course at the Vlaamsche Opleidingsschool Protestant missionary school in Laeken, near Brussels.

photo of a two-story brick house on the left partially obscured by trees with a front lawn and with a row of trees on the right
The house where Van Gogh stayed in Cuesmes in 1880; while living here he decided to become an artist

In January 1879, he took a temporary post as a missionary in the village of Petit Wasmes[23] in the coal-mining district of Borinage in Belgium. Taking Christianity to what he saw as its logical conclusion, Van Gogh opted to live like those he preached to—sharing their hardships to the extent of sleeping on straw in a small hut at the back of the baker's house where he was billeted. The baker's wife reported hearing Van Gogh sobbing all night in the hut. His choice of squalid living conditions did not endear him to the appalled church authorities, who dismissed him for "undermining the dignity of the priesthood." He then walked to Brussels,[24] returned briefly to the village of Cuesmes in the Borinage but gave in to pressure from his parents to return home to Etten. He stayed there until around March the following year,[a 2] a cause of increasing concern and frustration for his parents. There was particular conflict between Vincent and his father; Theodorus made inquiries about having his son committed to the lunatic asylum at Geel.[25][26]

He returned to Cuesmes where he lodged with a miner named Charles Decrucq until October.[27] He became increasingly interested in ordinary people and scenes around him. However, he recorded his time there in his drawings, and that year followed the suggestion of Theo and took up art in earnest. He traveled to Brussels that autumn; intending to follow Theo's recommendation to study with the prominent Dutch artist Willem Roelofs, who persuaded Van Gogh, in spite of his aversion to formal schools of art, to attend the Royal Academy of Art. While in attendance, he not only studied anatomy but also the standard rules of modeling and perspective, of which he said, " have to know just to be able to draw the least thing."[28] Van Gogh wished to become an artist while in God's service as he stated, " try to understand the real significance of what the great artists, the serious masters, tell us in their masterpieces, that leads to God; one man wrote or told it in a book; another in a picture."

Etten, Drenthe and The Hague

In April 1881, Van Gogh moved to the Etten countryside with his parents where he continued drawing, often using neighbors as subjects. Through the summer he spent much time walking and talking with his recently widowed cousin, Kee Vos-Stricker. She was the daughter of his mother's older sister and Johannes Stricker, who had shown warmth towards the artist.[29] Kee was seven years older than Van Gogh and had an eight-year-old son. He proposed marriage, but she refused with the words, "No, never, never" (niet, nooit, nimmer).[30] Late that November, he wrote a strongly worded letter to his uncle Stricker,[31] and then hurried to Amsterdam where he again spoke with Stricker on several occasions.[32] Kee refused to see him and her parents wrote, "Your persistence is disgusting".[33] 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."[33] He did not clearly recall what next happened, but later assumed that his uncle blew out the flame. Kee's father made it clear that there was no question of marriage[34] given Van Gogh's inability to support himself financially.[35] Van Gogh's perceived hypocrisy of his uncle and former tutor affected him deeply. That Christmas he quarreled violently with his father, to the point of refusing a gift of money, and left for The Hague.[36]

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 others buildings can be seen. In the distant horizon are smokestacks
Vincent van Gogh: Rooftops, View from the atelier The Hague, 1882, watercolour, Private collection.

In January 1882, he settled in The Hague where he called on his cousin-in-law, the painter Anton Mauve (1838–1888). Mauve encouraged him towards painting, however the two soon fell out, possibly over the issue of drawing from plaster casts. Mauve appears to have suddenly gone cold towards Van Gogh and did not return a number of his letters.[37] Van Gogh supposed that Mauve had learned of his new domestic arrangement with an alcoholic prostitute, Clasina Maria "Sien" Hoornik (1850-unknown)[38] and her young daughter.[39] He had met Sien towards the end of January,[40] when she had a five-year-old daughter and was pregnant. She had already borne two children who had died, although Van Gogh was unaware of this.[41] On 2 July, Sien gave birth to a baby boy, Willem.[42] When Van Gogh's father discovered the details of their relationship, he put considerable pressure on his son to abandon Sien and her children.[43] Vincent was at first defiant in the face of opposition.[44]

Van Gogh's uncle Cornelis, an art dealer, commissioned 20 ink drawings of the city, the artist completed by the end of May.[45] That June, he spent three weeks in a hospital suffering gonorrhea.[46] That summer he began to paint in oil.[47] In autumn 1883, after a year together, he left Sien and the two children. Van Gogh had thought of moving the family from the city, but in the end made the break.[48] It is possible that lack of money had pushed Sien back to prostitution—the home had become a less happy one, and likely Van Gogh 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.[49] Willem remembered being taken to visit his mother in Rotterdam at around the age of 12, where his uncle tried to persuade Sien to marry in order to legitimize the child. Willem remembered 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."[50] Willem believed himself to be Van Gogh's son, however the timing of his birth makes this unlikely.[51] In 1904, Sien drowned at her own hand in the river Scheldt. 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 were by then living in Nuenen, North Brabant.[52]

Emerging artist

Nuenen and Antwerp (1883-1886)

In Nuenen, he devoted himself to drawing and would pay boys to bring him birds' nests for subject matter,[53] and made many sketches of weavers in their cottages.[54] In autumn 1884, Margot Begemann, a neighbor's daughter ten years older than him, often accompanied the artist 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.[42] On 26 March 1885, his father died of a heart attack and the artist grieved deeply at the loss.[55]

For the first time, there was interest from Paris in his work. That spring, he completed what is generally considered his first major work, The Potato Eaters (Dutch: De Aardappeleters).[56] That August, his work was exhibited for the first time, in the windows of a paint dealer, Leurs, in The Hague. He was accused of forcing himself on one of his young peasant sitters who became pregnant that September.[a 3] As a result, the Catholic village priest forbade parishioners from modeling for him. During 1885, he painted several groups of Still-life paintings.

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, oil on canvas, 1885, Van Gogh Museum

From this period, Still-Life with Straw Hat and Pipe and Still-life with Earthen Pot and Clogs are regarded for their technical mastery. Both are characterized by smooth, meticulous brushwork and fine shading of colors.[57] During his two-year stay in Nuenen, he completed numerous drawings and watercolors and nearly 200 oil paintings. However, his palette consisted mainly of sombre earth tones, particularly dark brown, and he showed no sign of developing the vivid coloration that distinguishes his later, best known work. When he complained that Theo was not making enough effort to sell his paintings in Paris, Theo replied that they were too dark and not in line with the current style of bright Impressionist paintings.[58]

In November 1885, he moved to Antwerp and rented a small room above a paint dealer's shop in the Rue des Images (Lange Beeldekensstraat).[59] He had little money and ate poorly, preferring to spend what money his brother 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 of the previous year. His teeth became loose and caused him much pain.[60] While in Antwerp he applied himself to the study of color theory and spent time looking at work in museums, particularly the work of Peter Paul Rubens, gaining encouragement to broaden his palette to carmine, cobalt and emerald green. He bought a number of Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts in the docklands, and incorporated their style into the background of a number of his paintings.[61] While in Antwerp Van Gogh began to drink absinthe heavily.[62] He was treated by Dr Cavenaile, whose practice was near the docklands,[63] possibly for syphilis;[64] the treatment of alum irrigations and sitz baths was jotted down by Van Gogh in one of his notebooks.[65] 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.[66][67]

Paris (1886–1888)

Multi-colored portrait of a far eastern cortesan with elaborate hair ornamentation, colorful robelike garment, and a border depicting marshland waters and reeds.
Courtesan (after Eisen) (1887), Van Gogh Museum
Portrait of a tree with blossoms and with far eastern alphabet letters both in the portrait and along the left and right borders.
The Blooming Plumtree (after Hiroshige), (1887) Van Gogh Museum
Portrait of a man of a bearded man facing forward, holding his own hands in his lap; wearing a hat, blue coat, beige collared shirt and brown pants; sitting in front of a background with various tiles of far eastern and nature themed art.
Portrait of Père Tanguy, (1887), Musée Rodin

Van Gogh traveled to Paris in March 1886 to study at Fernand Cormon's studio, where he shared Theo's Rue Laval apartment on Montmartre. In June, they took a larger flat further uphill, at 54 Rue Lepic. Since there was no longer need to communicate by letters, less is known about Van Gogh's time in Paris than of earlier or later periods of his life.[68] He painted several Paris street scenes in Montmartre and elsewhere such as Bridges across the Seine at Asnieres (1887).

During his stay in Paris, he collected Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. His interest in such works date to his 1885 stay in Antwerp when he used them to decorate the walls of his studio. He collected hundreds of prints, and they can be seen in the backgrounds of several of his paintings. In his 1887 Portrait of Père Tanguy several are shown hanging on the wall behind the main figure. In The Courtesan or Oiran (after Kesai Eisen) 91887), Van Gogh traced the figure from a reproduction on the cover of the magazine Paris Illustre and then graphically enlarged it in his painting.[69] Plum Tree in Blossom (After Hiroshige) 1888 is another strong example of Van Gogh's admiration of the Japanese prints that he collected. His version is slightly bolder than the original.[70]

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
Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, pastel drawing by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1887), Van Gogh Museum

For months, Van Gogh worked at Cormon's studio where he frequented the circle of the British-Australian artist John Peter Russell,[71] and he met fellow students like Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who created a portrait of Van Gogh with pastel. The group used to meet at the paint store run by Julien "Père" Tanguy, which was at that time the only place to view works by Paul Cézanne. He would have had easy access to Impressionist works in Paris at the time. In 1886, two large vanguard exhibitions were staged. In these shows Neo-Impressionism made its first appearance—works of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac were the talk of the town. Though Theo, too, kept a stock of Impressionist paintings in his gallery on Boulevard Montmarte—by artists including Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro—Vincent seemingly had problems acknowledging developments in how artists view and paint their subject matter.[72] Conflicts arose, and at the end of 1886 Theo found shared life with Vincent "almost unbearable". By the spring of 1887 they had made peace.

He then moved to Asnières where he became acquainted with Signac. With his friend Emile Bernard, who lived with his parents in Asnières, he adopted elements of pointillism, whereby many small dots are applied to the canvas to give an optical blend of hues when seen from a distance. The theory behind this style stresses the value of complementary colors[73]—including blue and orange—which form vibrant contrasts and enhance each other when juxtaposed.[74]

In November 1887, Theo and Vincent met and befriended Paul Gauguin who had just arrived in Paris.[75] Towards the end of the year, Van Gogh arranged an exhibition of paintings by himself, Bernard, Anquetin, and probably Toulouse-Lautrec in the Restaurant du Chalet on Montmartre. 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 that started during this exhibition continued and expanded to include visitors to the show like Pissarro and his son Lucien, Signac and Seurat. Finally in February 1888, feeling worn out from life in Paris, he left, having painted over 200 paintings during his two years in the city. Only hours before his departure, accompanied by Theo, he paid his first and only visit to Seurat in his atelier.[76]

Artistic breakthrough and final years


Van Gogh moved to Arles hoping for refuge; at the time he was ill from drink and suffering from smoker's cough.[7] He arrived on 21 February 1888, and took a room at the Hôtel-Restaurant Carrel, which, idealistically, he had expected to look like one of Hokusai (1760-1849) or Utamaro's (1753-1806) prints.[7][77] He had moved to the town with thoughts of founding a utopian art colony, and the Danish artist Christian Mourier-Petersen became his companion for two months. However, Arles appeared exotic and filthy to Van Gogh. In a letter he described it as a foreign country; "The Zouaves, the brothels, the adorable little Arlesiennes going to their First Communion, the priest in his surplice, who looks like a dangerous rhinocerous, the people drinking absinthe, all seem to me creatures from another world".[78]

100 years after his stay there, he was remembered by 113-year-old Jeanne Calment—who as a 13 year old was serving in her uncle's fabric shop where Van Gogh wanted to buy some canvas—as "dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable" and "very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick".[79][80] She also recalled selling him colored pencils.[81]

Yet, he was taken by the local landscape and light. His works from the period are richly draped in yellow, ultramarine and mauve. His portrayals of the Arles landscape are informed by his Dutch upbringing; the patchwork of fields and avenues appear flat and lack perspective, but excel in their intensity of colour.[7][78] The vibrant light in Arles excited him, and his newfound appreciation is seen in the range and scope of his work. He painted local landscapes using a gridded "perspective frame" that March. 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.[77][82] On 1 May, he signed a lease for 15 francs month in the eastern wing of the Yellow House at No. 2 Place Lamartine. The rooms were unfurnished and uninhabited for some time. He had been staying at the Hôtel Restaurant arrel, but the rate charged by the hotel was 5 francs a week, which he found excessive. He disputed the price, took the case to a local arbitrator and was awarded a twelve franc reduction on his total bill.[83]

laborers toil in the field, with all but one on foot and the other manning a beast drawn cart; a river curves in and out of the scene from the upper right with one person in it and the sun is prominently displayed among yellow lighting; the foreground fields are multicolored and the background fields are yellowish.
The Red Vineyard (November 1888), Pushkin Museum, Moscow). Sold to Anna Boch, 1890
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,[84] where he became friends with the proprietors, Joseph and Marie Ginoux. Although the Yellow House had to be furnished before he could fully move in, Van Gogh was able to utilise it as a studio.[85] Hoping to have a gallery to display his work, his major project at this time was a series of paintings which included: Van Gogh's Chair (1888), Bedroom in Arles (1888), The Night Café (1888), The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night (September 1888), Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888), Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888), all intended to form the décoration for the Yellow House.[86] Van Gogh wrote about The Night Café: "I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad, or commit a crime."[87]

He visited Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer that June where he gave drawing lessons to a Zouave second lieutenant, Paul-Eugène Milliet. MacKnight introduced Van Gogh to Eugène Boch, a Belgian painter who stayed at times in Fontvieille, and the two exchanged visits in July.[88]

Gauguin agreed to join him in Arles, giving Van Gogh much hope for friendship and his collective of artists. Waiting, in August, he painted sunflowers. Boch visited again and Van Gogh painted his portrait 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.[89][90] Upon advice from his friend, the station's postal supervisor Joseph Roulin, whose portrait he painted, he bought two beds on 8 September,[91] and he finally spent the first night in the still sparsely furnished Yellow House on 17 September.[92] When Gauguin consented to work and live in Arles side-by-side with Van Gogh, he started to work on the The Décoration for the Yellow House, probably the most ambitious effort he ever undertook.[93] Van Gogh did two chair paintings: Van Gogh's Chair and Gauguin's Chair.[94]

After repeated requests, Gauguin finally arrived in Arles on 23 October. During November, the two painted together. Gauguin painted Van Gogh's portrait The Painter of Sunflowers: Portrait of Vincent van Gogh, and uncharacteristically, Van Gogh painted some pictures from memory—deferring to Gauguin's ideas in this—as well as his The Red Vineyard. Their first joint outdoor painting exercise was conducted at the picturesque Alyscamps.[95]

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

The two artists visited Montpellier that December and viewed works in the Alfred Bruyas collection by Courbet and Delacroix in the Musée Fabre.[96] However, their relationship was deteriorating. They quarreled fiercely about art; Van Gogh felt an increasing fear that Gauguin was going to desert him as a situation he described as one of "excessive tension" reached crisis point.

On 23 December 1888, frustrated and ill, Van Gogh confronted Gauguin with a razor blade. In panic, Van Gogh left their hotel and fled to a local brothel. While there, he cut off the lower part of his left ear lobe. He wrapped the severed tissue in newspaper and handed it to a prostitute named Rachel, asking her to "keep this object carefully."[97] Gauguin left Arles and never saw Van Gogh again.[a 4] Days later, Van Gogh was hospitalized and left in a critical state for several days. Immediately, Theo—notified by Gauguin—visited, as did both Madame Ginoux and Roulin. In January 1889, he returned to the Yellow House, but spent the following month between hospital and home suffering from hallucinations and delusions that he was being poisoned. In March, the police closed his house after a petition by 30 townspeople, who called him "fou roux" (the redheaded madman). Paul Signac visited him in hospital and Van Gogh was allowed home in his company. In April, he moved into rooms owned by Dr. Rey, after floods damaged paintings in his own home.[98][99] 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 had left Arles and entered an asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.[100]

Saint-Rémy (May 1889 – May 1890)

A man walking from left to right in the upper third of a vast field of crops. He is planting seeds with his right arm extended from a seed-bag that he carries over his shoulder. On the horizon to the left, in the distance, is a farmhouse and in the center of the horizon is a giant yellow rising sun surrounded by emanating rays of yellow sunlight.
The Sower, (1888), Kröller-Müller Museum

On 8 May 1889, accompanied by a carer, the Reverend Salles, he committed himself to the hospital at Saint-Paul-de-Mausole. A former monastery in Saint-Rémy less than 20 miles (32 km) from Arles, the monastery is located in an area of cornfields, vineyards and olive trees at the time run by a former naval doctor, Dr.Théophile Peyron. Theo arranged for two small rooms—adjoining cells with barred windows. The second was to be used as a studio.[101]

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 characterized by swirls—including one of his best-known paintings The Starry Night. He was allowed short supervised walks, which gave rise to images of cypresses and olive trees, like Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background 1889, Cypresses 1889, Cornfield with Cypresses (1889), Country road in Provence by Night (1890). 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 MilletThe Sower and Noon – Rest from Work (after Millet), as well as variations on his own earlier work. Van Gogh was an admirer of Millet and compared his copies to a musician's interpreting Beethoven.[102][103] 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), the face of the prisoner in the center of the painting and looking toward the viewer is Van Gogh.[104]

A frontal portrait of a seated woman with black hair looking slightly to the right, with her bent left elbow resting on the table before her and her hand is resting on her left cheek. There are two books on the table and she's wearing a black dress with an open neckline and a white frontal blouse underneath.
L'Arlésienne: (Madame Ginoux), (1890), Kröller-Müller Museum
A redheaded man wearing a cap, a black jacket with green buttons; with a red mustache and scraggly Van Dyke beard is leaning on his arm to the left looking slightly to the right. He is seated at a table with two yellow books and a red tablecloth. In the foreground on the table is a clear glass vase with flowers. In the background are hills and a dark blue starless night sky.
Portrait of Dr. Gachet was sold for US$ 82.5 million in 1990.[105] Private collection
A group of male prisoners (or inmates), walk around and around in a circle, in an indoor prison (or hospital) yard. The high walls and the floor are made of stone. In the right foreground the men are being watched by a small group of three, two men in civilian clothes with top hats and a policeman in uniform. One of the prisoners in the circle looks out towards the viewer, and he has the face of Vincent van Gogh.
The Round of the Prisoners, (1890).

That September, he produced a further two versions of Bedroom in Arles, and in February 1890 painted four portraits of L'Arlésienne (Madame Ginoux), based on a charcoal sketch Gauguin had produced when Madame Ginoux sat for both artists at the beginning of November 1888.[106] His work was praised by Albert Aurier in the Mercure de France in January 1890, when he was described as "a genius".[107] In February invited by Les XX, a society of avant-garde painters in Brussels, he participated in their annual exhibition. At the opening dinner, Les XX member Henry de Groux insulted Van Gogh's works. Toulouse-Lautrec demanded satisfaction, and Signac declared he would continue to fight for Van Gogh's honor if Lautrec should be surrendered. Later, when Van Gogh's exhibit was on display with the Artistes Indépendants in Paris, Monet said that his work was the best in the show.[108] In February 1890, following the birth of his nephew Vincent Willem, he wrote in a letter 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, big branches of white almond blossom against a blue sky."[109]

Auvers-sur-Oise (May–July 1890)

An enclosed garden surrounded by trees, with a large house in the background, and another house off to the right. On the green lawn foreground is a cat, in the center of the lawn is a bed of flowers and at the rear of the lawn is a bench, a table and a few chairs. Nearby is a lone figure
Daubigny's Garden (July 1890), Auvers, Kunstmuseum Basel Basel. Barbizon painter Charles Daubigny moved to Auvers in 1861. This attracted other artists, including Camille Corot, Honoré Daumier and Van Gogh. He completed two paintings of the garden, and they are among his final works[110]

In May 1890, Van Gogh left the clinic to move himself nearer the physician Dr. Paul Gachet (1828-1909), in Auvers-sur-Oise outside Paris, where he would also be closer to Theo. Dr. Gachet was recommended to Van Gogh by Camille Pissarro (1830-1903); Gachet had previously treated several artists and was an amateur artist himself. Van Gogh's first impression was that Gachet was "...sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much."[111] In June 1890, he painted Portrait of Dr. Gachet and completed two portraits of Gachet in oils, as well as a third—his only etching. In all three the emphasis is on Gachet's melancholic disposition.

In his last weeks at Saint-Rémy, Van Gogh's thoughts had been returning to his "memories of the North",[112] and several of the approximately 70 oils he painted during his 70 days in Auvers-sur-Oise, such as The Church at Auvers, are reminiscent of northern scenes.

Wheat Field with Crows (July 1890)[113] is an example of the unusual double square canvas which he developed in the last weeks of his life. In its turbulent intensity, it is among his most haunting and elemental works.[114] It is often mistakenly stated to be his last work, but Van Gogh scholar Jan Hulsker lists seven paintings which postdate it.[115] Barbizon painter Charles Daubigny moved to Auvers in 1861, and this in turn drew other artists there, including Camille Corot, Honoré Daumier, and in 1890, Vincent van Gogh. In July 1890, Van Gogh completed two paintings of Daubigny's Garden, and one of these is most likely to be his final work.[116] There are also paintings which show evidence of being unfinished, such as Thatched Cottages by a Hill.[114]


Portrait of a clean shaven man wearing a furry winter hat and smoking a pipe; facing to the right with a bandaged right ear
Self-portrait, 1889, private collection. Mirror-image self portrait with bandaged ear
A table in a cafe with a bottle half filled with a clear liquid and a filled drinking glass of clear liquid
Still Life with Absinthe, 1887, Van Gogh Museum

Recently acquitted from the hospital, Van Gogh suffered a severe setback in December 1889. Although he had been troubled by mental illness throughout his life, the episodes became more pronounced during his last few years. In some of these periods he was either unwilling or unable to paint, a factor which added to the mounting frustrations of an artist at the peak of his ability. His depression gradually deepened. On 27 July 1890, aged 37, he walked into a field and shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He survived the impact, but not realizing that his injuries were to be fatal, he walked back to the Ravoux Inn. He died there two days later. Theo rushed to be at his side. Theo reported his brother's last words as "La tristesse durera toujours" (the sadness will last forever).[117]

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 van Gogh's graves at the cemetery of Auvers-sur-Oise

Theo's health deteriorated in the months after the death of his brother. He contracted syphilis—though this was not admitted by the family for many years. He was admitted to the hospital, and weak and unable to come to terms with Vincent's absence, he died six months later, on 25 January, at Utrecht.[118] In 1914, Theo's body was exhumed and re-buried with his brother at Auvers-sur-Oise.[119]

While most of Vincent's late paintings are somber, they are essentially optimistic and reflect a desire to return to lucid mental health. However, the paintings completed in the days before his suicide are severely dark. His At Eternity's Gate, a portrayal of an old man holding his head in his hands, is particularly bleak. The work serves as a compelling and poignant expression of the artist's state of mind in his final days.[120] Yet, there has been much debate over the years as to the source of Van Gogh's illness and its effect on his work. Over 150 psychiatrists have attempted to label its root, and some 30 different diagnoses have been suggested.[121] Diagnoses that have been put forward include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, syphilis, poisoning from swallowed paints, temporal lobe epilepsy and acute intermittent porphyria. Any of these could have been the culprit and been aggravated by malnutrition, overwork, insomnia and a fondness for alcohol, especially absinthe.[122][123]


Under a bright cloudless blue/green sky is a large collection of connected buildings on the right side of the canvas. The buildings are all part of a mill, up a slight embankment from a stream in the foreground. On the left side of the painting near the steps leading up the embankment to the old mill are two small figures. Off in the distance to the left we see farmland and farmhouses. In the far distance are low purple hills
The Old Mill, (1888), Albright-Knox Art Gallery
A starless, moonless evening sky of middle blue with two large white clouds are above darker blue twisting hills in the distance. In the foreground is a grove of Olive trees, that extend horizontally across the whole painting, towards the bottom is a winding, twisting path that extends horizontally across the painting
Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background, (1889), Museum of Modern Art, New York

Van Gogh drew and painted with watercolors while at school; few of these works survive and authorship is challenged on some of those that do.[124] When he committed to art as an adult, he began at an elementary level by copying the Cours de dessin, edited by Charles Bargue and published by Goupil & Cie. Within his first two years he had began to seek commissions. In Spring 1882, his uncle, Cornelis Marinus (owner of a renowned gallery of contemporary art in Amsterdam) asked him for drawings of the Hague. Van Gogh's work did not prove equal 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 atelier (studio) by installing variable shutters and experimented with a variety of drawing materials. For more than a year he worked on single figures—highly elaborated studies in "Black and White",[125] which at the time gained him only criticism. Today, they are recognized as his first masterpieces.[126]

Early in 1883, he undertook work on multi-figure compositions, which he based on the drawings. He had some of them photographed, but when his brother remarked that they lacked liveliness and freshness, Van Gogh destroyed them and turned to oil painting. By Autumn 1882 his brother had enabled him financially to turn out his first paintings, but all the money Theo could supply was soon spent. Then, in spring 1883, 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 Hague School artists of the second generation.[127] When he moved to Nuenen after the intermezzo in Drenthe he began a number of large-sized paintings but destroyed most of them. The Potato Eaters and its companion pieces—The Old Tower on the Nuenen cemetery and The Cottage—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.[127] So he traveled to Antwerp and later to Paris to learn and develop his skill.[128]

A white two story house at twilight, with 2 cypress trees on one end, and smaller green trees all around the house, with a yellow fence surrounding it. Two women are entering through the gate in the fence; while a woman in black walks on by going towards the left. In the sky, there is a bright star with a large intense yellow halo around it
White House at Night, 1890, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, painted six weeks before the artist's death

More or less acquainted with Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist techniques and theories, Van Gogh went to Arles to develop these new possibilities. But within a short time, older ideas on art and work reappeared: ideas such as series on related or contrasting subject matter, which would reflect on the purposes of art. As his work progressed, he painted a great many Self-portraits. Already in 1884 in Nuenen he had worked on a series that was to decorate the dining room of a friend in Eindhoven. Similarly in Arles, in spring 1888 he arranged his Flowering Orchards into triptychs, began a series of figures that found its end in The Roulin Family, and finally, when Gauguin had consented to work and live in Arles side-by-side with Van Gogh, he started to work on the The Décoration for the Yellow House, which was by some accounts the most ambitious effort he ever undertook.[93] Most of his later work is involved with elaborating on or revising its fundamental settings. In the spring of 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."[129]

The art historian Albert Boime was the first to show that Van Gogh—even in seemingly fantastical compositions like Starry Night—relied on reality.[130] The White House at Night, shows a house at twilight with a prominent star surrounded by a yellow halo in the sky. Astronomers at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos calculated that the star is Venus, which was bright in the evening sky in June 1890 when Van Gogh is believed to have painted the picture.[131]

The paintings from the Saint-Rémy period are often characterized by swirls and spirals. The patterns of luminosity in these images have been shown to conform to Kolmogorov's statistical model of turbulence.[132]

Working procedures

Standing within the lobby of a hospital, looking towards an open double doorway to the garden and fountain outside in the distance.
Vestibule of the Asylum, Saint-Remy (September 1889), Van Gogh Museum, brush and oils, black chalk, on pink laid paper[133]

A self-taught artist with little training, Van Gogh was anything but academic in his painting and drawing techniques. Recent research has shown that works commonly known as "oil paintings" or "drawings" would better be described as "mixed-media". The Langlois Bridge at Arles shows highly elaborate under-drawing in pen and ink,[134] while several works from Saint-Rémy and Auvers, hitherto considered to be drawings or watercolors, such as Vestibule of the Asylum, Saint-Remy (September 1889), turned out to be painted in diluted oil and with a brush.[135]

Radiographical examination has shown that Van Gogh re-used older canvases more extensively than previously assumed—whether he really overpainted more than a third of his output, as presumed recently, must be verified by further investigations.[136] In 2008, a team from Delft University of Technology and the University of Antwerp used advanced X-ray techniques to create a clear image of a woman's face previously painted, underneath the work Patch of Grass.[137][138]


One of the most popular and widely known series of Van Gogh's paintings are his Cypresses. During the Summer of 1889, at sister Wil's request, he made several smaller versions of Wheat Field with Cypresses.[139] The 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 have similar stylistic elements including Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background (1889) Cypresses (1889), Wheat Field with Cypresses (1889), (Van Gogh made several versions of this painting that year), Road with Cypress and Star (1890) and Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888). These have become synonymous with Van Gogh's work through their stylistic uniqueness. According to art historian Ronald Pickvance,

An early night sky with an intense large yellow star surrounded by a white halo to the top left, an intense yellow and red-lined glowing crescent moon to the mid-right top. A large singular dark green Cypress tree painted with impasto and intense upright brushstrokes extends down the middle of the painting, from the top of the canvas to the burnt orange field below, where it grows beside a twisting stream. in the far distant horizon are low blue hills and to the far right is a farmhouse with smoke from the chimney and lights on within. Along the right side of the foreground are two figures walking along on the road and quite a way behind them is a horse drawn buggy also coming down the road.
Road with Cypress and Star, May 1890, Kröller-Müller Museum
An open field of yellow wheat, under swirling and bright white clouds in an afternoon sky. A large cypress tree to the extreme right painted in shades of dark greens with swirling and impastoed brushstrokes. There are several smaller trees to the left and around the cypress tree are more small trees and several haystacks. There are blue-gray hills on the horizon in the background.
Wheat Field with Cypresses, (1889), National Gallery, London
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 City

Road with Cypress and Star (1890), is a painting compositionally as unreal and artificial as the Starry Night. Pickvance goes on to say the painting Road with Cypress and Star represents an exalted experience of reality, a conflation of North and South, what both van Gogh and Gauguin referred to as an "abstraction". Referring to Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background, on or around June 18, 1889, in a letter to Theo, he wrote, "At last I have a landscape with olives and also a new study of a Starry Night."[140]

Hoping to also have a gallery for his work, his major project at this time was a series of paintings including Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (1888), and Starry Night Over the Rhone (1888) that all intended to form the décoration of the Yellow House.[141][142]

Flowering Orchards

A field on an early spring day with several lightly blooming trees in the left and in the distance contrasted against a pale sky. To the right middle ground is a large single tree with several growing branches in early bloom. A rake leans against the tree-trunk.
Cherry Tree, (1888), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

The series of Flowering Orchards, sometimes referred to as the Orchards in Blossom paintings, were among the first group 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 Springtime. They are delicately sensitive, silent, quiet and unpopulated. About The Cherry Tree 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.[143] The following spring he painted another smaller group of orchards, including View of Arles, Flowering Orchards.[129]

Van Gogh was taken by the landscape and vegetation of the South of France, and often visited the farm gardens near Arles. Because of the vivid light supplied by the Mediterranean climate his palette significantly brightened.[144] From his arrival, he was interested it capturing the effect of the Seasons on the surrounding landscape and plant life.


Van Gogh painted several versions of landscapes with flowers, as seen in View of Arles with Irises, and paintings of flowers, such as Irises, Sunflowers,[145] lilacs, roses, oleanders and other flowers. Some of the paintings of flowers reflect his interests in the language of color and also in Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints.[146]

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

He completed two series of sunflowers: the first while he was in Paris in 1887 and the later during his stay in Arles the following year. The first set show the flowers set in ground. In the second set, they are dying in vases. However, the 1888 paintings were created during a rare period of optimism for the artist. He intended them to decorate a bedroom where Paul 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 (impasto) and heavy layers of paint.[147]

In an August 1888 letter to Theo, he wrote,

"I am hard at it, painting with the enthusiasm of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won't surprise you when you know that what I'm at is the painting of some sunflowers. If I carry out this idea there will be a dozen panels. So the whole thing will be a symphony in blue and yellow. I am working at it every morning from sunrise on, for the flowers fade so quickly. I am now on the fourth picture of sunflowers. This fourth one is a bunch of 14 flowers ... it gives a singular effect."[147]

The series is perhaps his best known and most widely reproduced. In recent years, there has been debate regarding the authenticity of one of the paintings, and it has been suggested that this version may have been the work of Émile Schuffenecker or of Paul Gauguin.[148] Most experts, however, conclude that the work is genuine.[149]

Wheat fields

Van Gogh made several painting excursions during visits to the landscape around Arles. He made a number of 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.[150] It was one of seven canvases sent to Pont-Aven on 4 October 1888 as exchange of work with Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard, Charles Laval, and others.[150][151] 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.[152]

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".[153] 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".[154] By August, he had painted the crops both young and mature and during both dark and bright weather. A depiction of the golden wheat in bright sunlight was to be his final painting, along with his usual easel and paints he had carried a pistol with him that day.[153]


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: Vincent van Gogh on the road to Montmajour
August 1888 (F 448)
Oil on canvas, 48 × 44 cm
formerly Museum, Magdeburg, destroyed by fire in World War II

Posthumous fame

Since his first exhibitions in the late 1880s, Van Gogh's fame grew steadily among colleagues, art critics, dealers and collectors. After his death, memorial exhibitions were mounted in Brussels, Paris, The Hague and Antwerp. In the early 20th century, the exhibitions were followed by retrospectives in Paris (1901 and 1905), and Amsterdam (1905), and important group exhibitions in Cologne (1912), New York City (1913) and Berlin (1914).[155] These prompted a noticeable impact over later generations of artists.[156]


In his final letter to Theo, Vincent admitted that as he did not have any children, he viewed his paintings as his progeny. Reflecting on this, the historian Simon Schama concluded that he "did have a child of course, Expressionism, and many, many heirs." Schama mentioned a wide number of artists who have adapted elements of Van Gogh's style, including Willem de Kooning, Howard Hodgkin and Jackson Pollock.[157] The French Fauves, including Henri Matisse, extended both his use of color and freedom in applying it,[158] as did German Expressionists in the Die Brücke group. Abstract Expressionism of the 1940s and 1950s' is seen as in part inspired from Van Gogh's broad, gestural brush strokes.

In 1957, Francis Bacon (1909-1992) 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 not only an image he described as "haunting", but also Van Gogh himself, whom Bacon regarded as an alienated outsider, a position which resonated with Bacon. The Irish artist further 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...They paint them as they themselves feel them to be".[159] An exhibition devoted to Vincent van Gogh's letters took place in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from October 2009 to January 2010[160] and then moved to The Royal Academy in London from late January to April.[161]


  1. ^ The pronunciation of "Van Gogh" varies in both English and Dutch. In English it is pronounced /ˌvæn ˈɡɒx/ or sometimes /ˌvæn ˈɡɒf/, especially in the UK, or /ˌvæn ˈɡoʊ/ with a silent gh, especially in the US. In standard Dutch, based on the dialect of Holland, it is [ˈvɪntsɛnt faŋˈxɔx]  ( listen), with a voiceless V. However, though van Gogh's parents were from Holland, he grew up in Brabant and used Brabant dialect in his writing; it is therefore likely that he himself pronounced his name with a Brabant accent: [vɑɲˈʝɔç], with a voiced V and palatalized G and gh. In France, where much of his work was produced, it is [vɑ̃ ɡɔɡə]
  2. ^ There are different views as to this period; Jan Hulsker (1990) opts for a return to the Borinage and then back to Etten in this period; Dorn, in: Ges7kó (2006), 48 & note 12 supports the line taken in this article
  3. ^ the girl was Gordina de Groot, who died in 1927; she claimed the father was not Van Gogh, but a relative.
  4. ^ However, they continued to correspond and in 1890 Gauguin proposed they form an artist studio in Antwerp. See Pickvance (1986), 62


  1. ^ Hughes (1990), 144
  2. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 39
  3. ^ Pickvance (1986), 129
  4. ^ a b Pomerans, ix
  5. ^ Van Gogh Museum retrieved October 7, 2009
  6. ^ Van Gogh's letters, Unabridged and Annotated retrieved June 25, 2009
  7. ^ a b c d Hughes, 143
  8. ^ Pomerans, i–xxvi
  9. ^ Pomerans, vii
  10. ^ Vincent Van Gogh Biography, Quotes & Paintings. The Art History Archive. Retrieved 14 June 2007.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ Erickson (1998), 9
  13. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 24
  14. ^ Letter 347 Vincent to Theo, 18 December 1883
  15. ^ Hackford Road. Retrieved 27 June 2009.
  16. ^ Letter 7 Vincent to Theo, 5 May 1873.
  17. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 35–47
  18. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 47–56
  19. ^ Callow (1990), 54
  20. ^ See the recollections gathered in Dordrecht by M. J. Brusse, Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, May 26 and 2 June 1914.
  21. ^ "...he would not eat meat, only a little morsel on Sundays, and 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, selected by W. H. Auden, New York Graphic Society, Greenwich, CT. 1961. 37–39
  22. ^ Erickson (1998), 23
  23. ^ Letter 129, April 1879, and Letter 132. 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 553b. In the recollections of his nephew Jean Richez, gathered by Wilkie (in the 1970s!), 72–78. Denis and his wife Esther were running a bakery, and Richez admits that the only source of his knowledge is Aunt Esther.
  24. ^ Letter from mother to Theo, 7 August 1879 and Callow, work cited, 72
  25. ^ Letter 158 Vincent to Theo, 18 November 1881
  26. ^ 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
  27. ^ Letter 134, 20 August 1880 from Cuesmes
  28. ^ Tralbaut (1981) 67–71
  29. ^ Erickson (1998), 5
  30. ^ Letter 153 Vincent to Theo, 3 November 1881
  31. ^ Letter 161 Vincent to Theo, 23 November 1881
  32. ^ Letter 164 Vincent to Theo, from Etten c.21 December 1881, describing the visit in more detail
  33. ^ a b Letter 193 from Vincent to Theo, The Hague, 14 May 1882
  34. ^ "Uncle Stricker", as Van Gogh refers to him in letters to Theo
  35. ^ Gayford (2006), 130–131
  36. ^ Letter 166 Vincent to Theo, 29 December 1881
  37. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 96–103
  38. ^ Callow (1990), 116; cites the work of Hulsker
  39. ^ Callow (1990), 123–124
  40. ^ Callow (1990), 117
  41. ^ Callow (1990), 116; citing the research of Jan Hulsker; the two dead children were born in 1874 and 1879.
  42. ^ a b Tralbaut (1981), 107
  43. ^ Callow (1990), 132
  44. ^ Tralbaut (1981),102-104,112
  45. ^ Letter 203 Vincent to Theo, 30 May 1882 (postcard written in English)
  46. ^ Letter 206, Vincent to Theo, June 8 or 9, June 1882
  47. ^ Tralbaut (1981),110
  48. ^ Arnold, 38
  49. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 113
  50. ^ Wilkie, 185
  51. ^ Tralbaut (1981),101-107
  52. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 111–122
  53. ^ 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 Theos' son's
  54. ^ Vincent's nephew noted some reminiscences of local residents in 1949, including the description of the speed of his drawing
  55. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 154
  56. ^ The Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh Retrieved June 25, 2009
  57. ^ Hulsker (1980) 196–205
  58. ^ Tralbaut (1981),123–160
  59. ^ Callow (1990), 181
  60. ^ Callow (1990), 184
  61. ^ Hammacher (1985), 84
  62. ^ Callow (1990), 253
  63. ^ Vincent's doctor was Hubertus Amadeus Cavenaile. Wilkie, pages 143-146.
  64. ^ Arnold, 77. The evidence for syphilis is thin, coming solely from interviews with the grandson of the doctor; see Tralbaut (1981), 177–178
  65. ^ Van der Wolk (1987), 104–105
  66. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 173
  67. ^ His 1885 painting Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette, is an apt commentary on his smoking
  68. ^ Tralbaut (1981) 187–192
  69. ^ Pickvance (1984), 38–39
  70. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 216
  71. ^ Pickvance (1986), 62–63
  72. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 212–213
  73. ^ "Glossary term: Pointillism", National Gallery London. Retrieved 13 September 2007.
  74. ^ "Glossary term: Complimentary colours", National Gallery, London. Retrieved 13 September 2007.
  75. ^ D. Druick & P. Zegers, Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South, Thames & Hudson, 2001. 81; Gayford, (2006), 50
  76. ^ Letter 510 Vincent to Theo, 15 July 1888. Letter 544a. Vincent to Paul Gauguin, 3 October 1888
  77. ^ a b Pickvance (1984), 41–42: Chronology
  78. ^ a b Hughes, 144
  79. ^ Whitney, Craig R. "Jeanne Calment, World's Elder, Dies at 122", The New York Times, 5 August 1997. Retrieved on 4 August 2008.
  80. ^ "World's oldest person dies at 122", CNN, 4 August 1997. Retrieved on 4 August 2008.
  81. ^ Associated Press. "World's oldest person marks 120 beautiful, happy years", Deseret News, 21 February 1995. Retrieved on 4 March 2010.
  82. ^ "Letters of Vincent van Gogh". Penguin, 1998. 348. ISBN 0-1404-4674-5
  83. ^ Nemeczek, Alfred. Van Gogh in Arles. Prestel Verlag, 1999. 59–61. ISBN 3-7913-2230-3
  84. ^ Gayford (2006), 16
  85. ^ Callow (1990), 219
  86. ^ Pickvance (1984), 175–176 and Dorn (1990), passim
  87. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 266
  88. ^ Letters of Vincent van Gogh, Penguin edition, 1998 page 348
  89. ^ Hulsker (1980), 356
  90. ^ Pickvance (1984), 168–169;206
  91. ^ Letter 534; Gayford (2006), 18
  92. ^ Letter 537; Nemeczek, 61
  93. ^ a b See Dorn (1990)
  94. ^ Pickvance (1984), 234–235
  95. ^ Gayford (2006), 61
  96. ^ Pickvance (1984), 195
  97. ^ According to Doiteau & Leroy, the diagonal cut removed the lobe and probably a little more.
  98. ^ Pickvance (1986). Chronology, 239–242
  99. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 265–273
  100. ^ Hughes (1990), 145
  101. ^ Callow (1990), 246
  102. ^ Pickvance (1984), 102–103
  103. ^ Pickvance (1986), 154–157
  104. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 286
  105. ^ "Ebony, David. "Portrait of Dr. Gachet: The Story of a van Gogh Masterpiece". Art in America, April, 1999. Retrieved on 2 October 2009.
  106. ^ Pickvance (1986) 175–177
  107. ^ Aurier, G. Albert. "The Isolated Ones: Vincent van Gogh", January, 1890. Reproduced on Retrieved June 25, 2009
  108. ^ Rewald (1978), 346–347; 348–350
  109. ^ Tralbaut (1981), 293
  110. ^ Pickvance (1986), 272-273
  111. ^ Letter 648 Vincent to Theo, 10 July 1890
  112. ^ Letter 629 Vincent to Theo, 30 April 1890
  113. ^ Wheatfield with Crows, 1890. Van Gogh Museum. Retrieved on March 28, 2009.
  114. ^ a b Pickvance (1986), 270–271
  115. ^ Hulsker (1980), 480–483. Wheat Field with Crows is work number 2117 of 2125
  116. ^ Pickvance (1986), 272–273
  117. ^ Hulsker (1980), 480–483
  118. ^ Hayden, Deborah . POX, Genius, Madness and the Mysteries of Syphilis. Basic Books, 2003. 152. ISBN 0-4650-2881-0
  119. ^ "La tombe de Vincent Van Gogh - Auvers-sur-Oise, France". Groundspeak. Retrieved June 23, 2009
  120. ^ Hulsker (1980)
  121. ^ Blumer, Dietrich. ""The Illness of Vincent van Gogh". American Journal of Psychiatry, 2002
  122. ^ see Life with Absinthe, 1887
  123. ^ Famous Absinthe Drinkers. Retrieved on August 13, 2009
  124. ^ Van Heugten (1996), 246–251: Appendix 2—Rejected works
  125. ^ Artists working in Black & White, i. e. for illustrated papers like The Graphic or Illustrated London News were among Van Gogh's favorites. See Pickvance (1974/75)
  126. ^ See Dorn, Keyes & alt. (2000)
  127. ^ a b See Dorn, Schröder & Sillevis, ed. (1996)
  128. ^ See Welsh-Ovcharov & Cachin (1988)
  129. ^ a b Hulsker (1980), 385
  130. ^ Boime (1989)
  131. ^ At around 8:00 pm on 16 June 1890, as astronomers determined by Venus's position in the painting. Star dates Van Gogh canvas 8 March 2001
  132. ^ J. L. Aragón, Gerardo G. Naumis, M. Bai, M. Torres, P.K. Maini.'Kolmogorov scaling in impassioned van Gogh paintings'. 28 June 2006
  133. ^ Ives, Stein & alt. (2005), 326–327: cat. no. 115
  134. ^ Schaefer, von Saint-George & Lewerentz, 105–110
  135. ^ See Ives, Stein & alt. (2005)
  136. ^ See Van Heugten (1995)
  137. ^ Struik, Tineke van der, ed. Casciato Paul. "Hidden Van Gogh revealed in color by scientists". Reuters, 30 July 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  138. ^ "'Hidden' Van Gogh painting revealed". Delft University of Technology, 30 July 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2008. A photograph reproduced here shows the revealed older image under the new painting.
  139. ^ Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh In Saint-Remy and Auvers. Exhibition catalog. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986. 132–133. ISBN 0-87099-477-8
  140. ^ Pickvance (1986), 101; 189–191
  141. ^ Pickvance (1984), 175–176
  142. ^ Letter 595 Vincent to Theo, 17 or 18 June 1889
  143. ^ Pickvance (1984), 45–53
  144. ^ Fell, Derek. "The Impressionist Garden". London: Frances Lincoln, 1997. 32. ISBN 0-7112-1148-5
  145. ^ "Letter 573" Vincent to Theo. 22 or 23 January 1889
  146. ^ Pickvance (1986), 80–81; 184–187
  147. ^ a b "Sunflowers 1888". National Gallery, London. Retrieved September 12, 2009.
  148. ^ Johnston, Bruce. "Van Gogh's £25m Sunflowers is 'a copy by Gauguin'". The Daily Telegraph, 26 September 2001. Retrieved on 3 October 2009.
  149. ^ "Van Gogh 'fake' declared genuine". BBC, 27 March 2002. Retrieved on 3 October 2009.
  150. ^ a b Pickvance (1984), 177
  151. ^ Seeing Feelings. Buffalo Fine Arts Academy. Retrieved 26 June 2009
  152. ^ Hulsker (1980), 390–394
  153. ^ a b Edwards, Cliff. "Van Gogh and God: a creative spiritual quest". Loyola University Press, 1989. 115. ISBN 0-8294-0621-2
  154. ^ Letter 649
  155. ^ See Dorn, Leeman & alt. (1990)
  156. ^ Rewald, John. "The posthumous fate of Vincent van Gogh 1890–1970". Museumjournaal, August–September 1970. Republished in Rewald (1986), 248
  157. ^ Schama, Simon. "Wheatfield with Crows". Simon Schama's Power of Art, 2006. Documentary, from 59:20
  158. ^ "Glossary: Fauvism, Tate. Retrieved June 23, 2009
  159. ^ Farr, Dennis; Peppiatt, Michael; Yard, Sally. Francis Bacon: A Retrospective. Harry N Abrams, 1999. 112. ISBN 0-8109-2925-2
  160. ^ The Art Newspaper Retrieved October 7, 2009
  161. ^ [1]


General and biographical

  • Beaujean, Dieter. Vincent van Gogh: Life and Work. Könemann, 1999. ISBN 3-8290-2938-1.
  • Bernard, Bruce (ed.). Vincent by Himself. London: Time Warner, 2004.
  • Callow, Philip. Vincent van Gogh: A Life, Ivan R. Dee, 1990. ISBN 1-56663-134-3.
  • Erickson, Kathleen Powers. At Eternity's Gate: The Spiritual Vision of Vincent van Gogh, 1998. ISBN 0-8028-4978-4.
  • Gayford, Martin. "The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles". Penguin, 2006. ISBN 0-6709-1497-5.
  • Grossvogel, David I. Behind the Van Gogh Forgeries: A Memoir by David I. Grossvogel. Authors Choice Press, 2001. ISBN 0-5951-7717-4.
  • Hammacher, A.M. Vincent van Gogh: Genius and Disaster. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1985. ISBN 0-8109-8067-3.
  • Hughes, Robert Nothing If Not Critical. London: The Harvill Press, 1990. ISBN 014016524X
  • Hulsker, Jan. Vincent and Theo van Gogh; A dual biography. Ann Arbor: Fuller Publications, 1990. ISBN 0-940537-05-2
  • Hulsker, Jan. The Complete Van Gogh. Oxford: Phaidon, 1980. ISBN 0-7148-2028-8.
  • Lubin, Albert J. Stranger on the earth: A psychological biography of Vincent van Gogh. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1972. ISBN 0-03-091352-7.
  • Pomerans, Arnold. The letters of Vincent van Gogh. Penguin Classics, 2003. vii. ISBN 0-1404-4674-5
  • Rewald, John. Post-Impressionism: From van Gogh to Gauguin. Secker & Warburg, 1978. ISBN 0-436-41151-2.
  • Rewald, John. Studies in Post-Impressionism, Abrams, New York 1986. ISBN 0-8109-1632-0.
  • Tralbaut, Marc Edo. Vincent van Gogh, le mal aimé. Edita, Lausanne (French) & Macmillan, London 1969 (English); reissued by Macmillan, 1974 and by Alpine Fine Art Collections, 1981. ISBN 0-9335-1631-2.
  • van Heugten, Sjraar. Van Gogh The Master Draughtsman. Thames and Hudson, 2005. ISBN 978-0-500-23825-7.
  • Walther, Ingo F. & Metzger, Rainer. Van Gogh: the Complete Paintings. Benedikt Taschen 1997. ISBN 3-8228-8265-8.

Art historical

  • Boime, Albert. Vincent van Gogh: Die Sternennacht — Die Geschichte des Stoffes und der Stoff der Geschichte, Fischer, Frankfurt/Main 1989 ISBN 3-596-23953-2 (in German) ISBN 3-6342-3015-0 (CD-ROM 1995).
  • Cachin, Françoise & Welsh-Ovcharov, Bogomila. Van Gogh à Paris (exh. cat. Musée d'Orsay, Paris 1988), RMN, Paris 1988 ISBN 2-7118-2159-5.
  • Dorn, Roland: Décoration — Vincent van Goghs Werkreihe für das Gelbe Haus in Arles, Olms Verlag, Hildesheim, Zürich & New York 1990 ISBN 3-4870-9098-8.
  • Dorn, Roland, Leeman, Fred & alt. Vincent van Gogh and Early Modern Art, 1890–1914 (exh. cat. Essen & Amsterdam 1990) ISBN 3-923641-31-8 (in English) ISBN 3-923641-31-1 (in German) ISBN 90-6630-247-X (in Dutch)
  • Dorn, Roland, Keyes, George S. & alt. Van Gogh Face to Face — The Portraits (exh. cat. Detroit, Boston & Philadelphia 2000/01), Thames & Hudson, London & New York 2000. ISBN 0-89558-153-1
  • Druick, Douglas, Zegers, Pieter Kort & alt. Van Gogh and Gauguin — The Studio of the South (exh. cat. Chicago & Amsterdam 2001/02), Thames & Hudson, London & New York 2001. ISBN 0-5005-1054-7
  • Geskó, Judit, ed. Van Gogh in Budapest (exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest 2006/07), Vince Books, Budapest 2006 ISBN 9789637063343 (English edition).ISBN 9-6370-6333-1 (Hungarian edition).
  • Ives, Colta, Stein, Susan Alyson & alt. Vincent van Gogh — The Drawings (exh. cat. New York 2005), Yale University Press, New Haven & London 2005 ISBN 0-300-10720-X
  • Kōdera, Tsukasa. Vincent van Gogh — Christianity versus Nature, (European edition). John Benjamins, Amsterdam & Philadelphia, 1990. ISBN 9-0272-5333-1
  • Pickvance, Ronald. English Influences on Vincent van Gogh (exh. catalogue University of Nottingham & alt. 1974/75). London: Arts Council, 1974.
  • Pickvance, Ronald. Van Gogh in Arles (exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Abrams, New York 1984. ISBN 0-8709-9375-5
  • Pickvance, Ronald. Van Gogh In Saint-Rémy and Auvers (exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Abrams, New York 1986. ISBN 0-8709-9477-8
  • Orton, Fred and Pollock, Griselda. "Rooted in the Earth: A Van Gogh Primer", in: Avant-Gardes and Partisans Reviewed. London: Redwood Books, 1996. ISBN 0-7190-4398-0
  • Schaefer, Iris, von Saint-George, Caroline & Lewerentz, Katja: Painting Light. The hidden techniques of the Impressionists (exh. cat. Cologne & Florence, 2008), Skira, Milan 2008. ISBN 8861306098
  • Van der Wolk, Johannes: De schetsboeken van Vincent van Gogh, Meulenhoff/Landshoff, Amsterdam 1986 ISBN 9-0290-8154-6; translated to English: The Seven Sketchbooks of Vincent van Gogh: a facsimile edition, Harry Abrams Inc, New York, 1987.
  • Van Heugten, Sjraar. Radiographic images of Vincent van Gogh's paintings in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum, Van Gogh Museum Journal 1995. 63–85. ISBN 9-0400-9796-8
  • Van Heugten, Sjraar. Vincent van Gogh — Drawings, vol. 1, V+K Publishing / Inmerc, Bussum 1996. ISBN 9-0661-1501-7 (Dutch edition).
  • Van Uitert, Evert, & alt. Van Gogh in Brabant — Paintings and drawings from Etten and Nuenen. Exhibition. catalog 's-Hertogenbosch 1987/78, (English edition). Waanders, Zwolle 1987. ISBN 9-0-6630-104-X

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Vincent van Gogh article)

From Wikiquote

Being friends, being brothers, loving, that is what opens the prison, with supreme power, by some magic force. Without these one stays dead. But whenever affection is revived, there life revives.

Vincent van Gogh (30 March 185329 July 1890) was a Dutch painter, generally considered one of the greatest painters in European art history.



I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.
The work is an absolute necessity for me. I can't put it off...
I have often neglected my appearance. I admit it, and I also admit that it is "shocking."
I must continue to follow the path I take now. If I do nothing, if I study nothing, if I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost.
I am good for something! My existence is not without reason! I know that I could be a quite a different person! How can I be of use, how can I be of service?
It is possible that everything will get better after it has all seemed to go wrong. I am not counting on it, it may never happen, but if there should be a change for the better I should regard that as a gain, I should rejoice, I should say, at last! So there was something after all!
I think that everything that is really good and beautiful, the inner, moral, spiritual and sublime beauty in men and their works, comes from God, and everything that is bad and evil in the works of men and in men is not from God, and God does not approve of it.
I have grief enough and trouble enough, but as for regrets — neither of us have any. Look here — I believe without question, or have the certain knowledge, that she loves me. I believe without question, or have the certain knowledge, that I love her. It has been sincerely meant.
To some, woman is heresy and diabolical. To me she is just the opposite.
No matter how vacant and vain, how dead life may appear to be, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, who knows something, will not be put off so easily.
A good picture is equivalent to a good deed.
  • The thing has already taken form in my mind before I start it. The first attempts are absolutely unbearable. I say this because I want you to know that if you see something worthwhile in what I am doing, it is not by accident but because of real direction and purpose.
    • As quoted in The Path of Least Resistance : Principles for Creating What You Want to Create (1984) by Robert Fritz, p. 181
  • The more I think it over, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.
    • As quoted in Van Gogh : The Self-portraits (1969) by Fritz Erpel, p. 17
    • Variant translations: The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others.
      • As quoted in Mary Engelbreit's Words To Live By (1999) by Mary Engelbreit
    • I tell you the more I think, the more I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.
  • When I have a terrible need of — shall I say the word — religion. Then I go out and paint the stars.
    • As quoted in An Examined Faith : Social Context and Religious Commitment (1991) by James Luther Adams and George K. Beach, p. 259
  • The work is an absolute necessity for me. I can't put it off, I don't care for anything but the work; that is to say, the pleasure in something else ceases at once and I become melancholy when I can't go on with my work. Then I feel like a weaver who sees that his threads are tangled, and the pattern he had on the loom is gone to hell, and all his thought and exertion is lost.
    • As quoted in Stranger on the Earth : A Psychological Biography of Vincent Van Gogh (1996) by Albert J. Lubin, p. 22
    • Variant translation: For me, the work is an absolute necessity. I cannot put it off; I don't care for anything else; that is to say, the pleasure in something else ceases at once, and I become melancholy when I cannot go on with my work. I feel then as the weaver does when he sees that his threads have got tangled, the pattern he had on the loom has gone to the deuce, and his exertion and deliberation are lost.
    • As quoted in Dear Theo: the Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh (1995) edited by Irving Stone and Jean Stone, p. 204
  • I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream.
    • As quoted in Marry Your Muse: Making a Lasting Commitment to Your Creativity (1997) by Jan Phillips, p. 176
  • Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.
    • As quoted in Wisdom for the Soul : Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing (2006) by Larry Chang, p. 483

Letter to Theo (July 1880)

Letter to Theo van Gogh (July 1880) as translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger
  • I have often neglected my appearance. I admit it, and I also admit that it is "shocking." But look here, lack of money and poverty have something to do with it too, as well as a profound disillusionment, and besides, it is sometimes a good way of ensuring the solitude you need, of concentrating more or less on whatever study you are immersed in.
  • Now for the past five years or so, I don't know how long exactly, I have been more or less without permanent employment, wandering from pillar to post. You will say, ever since such and such a time you have been going downhill, you have been feeble, you have done nothing. Is that entirely true?
  • What is true is that I have at times earned my own crust of bread, and at other times a friend has given it to me out of the goodness of his heart. I have lived whatever way I could, for better or for worse, taking things just as they came. It is true that I have forfeited the trust of various people, it is true that my financial affairs are in a sorry state, it is true that the future looks rather bleak, it is true that I might have done better, it is true that I have wasted time when it comes to earning a living, it is true that my studies are in a fairly lamentable and appalling state, and that my needs are greater, infinitely greater than my resources. But does that mean going downhill and doing nothing?
  • I must continue to follow the path I take now. If I do nothing, if I study nothing, if I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it — keep going, keep going come what may.
    But what is your final goal, you may ask. That goal will become clearer, will emerge slowly but surely, much as the rough draught turns into a sketch, and the sketch into a painting through the serious work done on it, through the elaboration of the original vague idea and through the consolidation of the first fleeting and passing thought.
  • What has changed is that my life then was less difficult and my future seemingly less gloomy, but as far as my inner self, my way of looking at things and of thinking is concerned, that has not changed. But if there has indeed been a change, then it is that I think, believe and love more seriously now what I thought, believed and loved even then.
  • Let me stop there, but my God, how beautiful Shakespeare is, who else is as mysterious as he is; his language and method are like a brush trembling with excitement and ecstasy. But one must learn to read, just as one must learn to see and learn to live.
  • So please don't think that I am renouncing anything, I am reasonably faithful in my unfaithfulness and though I have changed, I am the same, and what preys on my mind is simply this one question: what am I good for, could I not be of service or use in some way, how can I become more knowledgeable and study some subject or other in depth? That is what keeps preying on my mind, you see, and then one feels imprisoned by poverty, barred from taking part in this or that project and all sorts of necessities are out of one's reach. As a result one cannot rid oneself of melancholy, one feels emptiness where there might have been friendship and sublime and genuine affection, and one feels dreadful disappointment gnawing at one's spiritual energy, fate seems to stand in the way of affection or one feels a wave of disgust welling up inside. And then one says “How long, my God!”
  • Well, right now it seems that things are going very badly for me, have been doing so for some considerable time, and may continue to do so well into the future. But it is possible that everything will get better after it has all seemed to go wrong. I am not counting on it, it may never happen, but if there should be a change for the better I should regard that as a gain, I should rejoice, I should say, at last! So there was something after all!
  • I think that everything that is really good and beautiful, the inner, moral, spiritual and sublime beauty in men and their works, comes from God, and everything that is bad and evil in the works of men and in men is not from God, and God does not approve of it.
    But I cannot help thinking that the best way of knowing God is to love many things. Love this friend, this person, this thing, whatever you like, and you will be on the right road to understanding Him better, that is what I keep telling myself.
    But you must love with a sublime, genuine, profound sympathy, with devotion, with intelligence, and you must try all the time to understand Him more, better and yet more. That will lead to God, that will lead to an unshakeable faith.
  • Try to grasp the essence of what the great artists, the serious masters, say in their masterpieces, and you will again find God in them. One man has written or said it in a book, another in a painting.
  • The dreamer sometimes falls into the doldrums, but is said to emerge from them again. And the absent-minded person also makes up for it with bouts of perspicacity. Sometimes he is a person whose right to exist has a justification that is not always immediately obvious to you, or more usually, you may absent-mindedly allow it to slip from your mind. Someone who has been wandering about for a long time, tossed to and fro on a stormy sea, will in the end reach his destination. Someone who has seemed to be good for nothing, unable to fill any job, any appointment, will find one in the end and, energetic and capable, will prove himself quite different from what he seemed at first.
  • There is a great difference between one idler and another idler. There is someone who is an idler out of laziness and lack of character, owing to the baseness of his nature. If you like, you may take me for one of those. Then there is the other kind of idler, the idler despite himself, who is inwardly consumed by a great longing for action who does nothing because his hands are tied, because he is, so to speak, imprisoned somewhere, because he lacks what he needs to be productive, because disastrous circumstances have brought him forcibly to this end. Such a one does not always know what he can do, but he nevertheless instinctively feels, I am good for something! My existence is not without reason! I know that I could be a quite a different person! How can I be of use, how can I be of service? There is something inside me, but what can it be? He is quite another idler. If you like you may take me for one of those.
  • People are often unable to do anything, imprisoned as they are in I don't know what kind of terrible, terrible, oh such terrible cage.
    I do know that there is a release, the belated release.
    A justly or unjustly ruined reputation, poverty, disastrous circumstances, misfortune, they all turn you into a prisoner. You cannot always tell what keeps you confined, what immures you, what seems to bury you, and yet you can feel those elusive bars, railings, walls. Is all this illusion, imagination? I don't think so. And then one asks: My God! will it be for long, will it be for ever, will it be for eternity?
  • Do you know what makes the prison disappear? Every deep, genuine affection. Being friends, being brothers, loving, that is what opens the prison, with supreme power, by some magic force. Without these one stays dead. But whenever affection is revived, there life revives.

Letter to Theo (July 1882)

Letter to Theo van Gogh from The Hague (21 July 1882)
  • What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.
    That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion.
    Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.

Letter to Theo (March 1883)

Letter to Theo van Gogh from The Hague (11 March 1883) as translated by Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, in The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh (1991)
  • It constantly remains a source of disappointment to me that my drawings are not yet what I want them to be. The difficulties are indeed numerous and great, and cannot be overcome at once. To make progress is a kind of miner’s work; it doesn’t advance as quickly as one would like, and as others also expect, but as one stands before such a task, the basic necessities are patience and faithfulness. In fact, I do not think much about the difficulties, because if one thought of them too much one would get stunned or disturbed.
    A weaver who has to direct and to interweave a great many little threads has no time to philosophize about it, but rather he is so absorbed in his work that he doesn’t think but acts, and he feels how things must go more than he can explain it. Even though neither you nor I, in talking together, would come to any definite plans, etc., perhaps we might mutually strengthen that feeling that something is ripening within us. And that is what I should like.

Letter to Theo (March 1884)

Letter to Theo van Gogh from Nuenen, (c. 9 March 1884)
  • Love always brings difficulties, that is true, but the good side of it is that it gives energy.
  • I have not yet had enough experience with women. What we were taught about them in our youth is quite wrong, that is sure, it was quite contrary to nature, and one must try to learn from experience. It would be very pleasant if everybody were good, and the world were good, etc. — yes — but it seems to me that we see more and more that we are not good, no more than the world in general, of which we are an atom — and the world no more good than we are. One may try one’s best, or act carelessly, the result is always different from what one really wanted. But whether the result be better or worse, fortunate or unfortunate, it is better to do something than to do nothing. If only one is wary of becoming a prim, self-righteous prig — as Uncle Vincent calls it — one may be even as good as one likes.

Letter to Theo (October 1884)

Letter to Theo van Gogh, from Nuenen (October 1884) as translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger
  • Now, there are people who say to me “Why did you have anything to do with her,” — that's one fact. And there are people who say to her, “Why did you have anything to do with him,” — that's another fact.
    Apart from that, both she and I have grief enough and trouble enough, but as for regrets — neither of us have any. Look here — I believe without question, or have the certain knowledge, that she loves me. I believe without question, or have the certain knowledge, that I love her. It has been sincerely meant. But has it also been foolish, etc?
    Perhaps, if you like — but aren't the wise ones, those who never do anything foolish, even more foolish in my eyes than I am in theirs?
  • You will say that I am not a success — vaincre or être vaincu, [to conquer or to be conquered], it doesn't matter to me, one has feeling and movement in any event, and they are more akin than they may seem to be or than can be put into words.
  • Oh, I am no friend of present-day Christianity, though its Founder was sublime — I have seen through present-day Christianity only too well. That icy coldness hypnotized even me, in my youth — but I have taken my revenge since then. How? By worshipping the love which they, the theologians, call sin, by respecting a whore, etc., and not too many would-be respectable, pious ladies. To some, woman is heresy and diabolical. To me she is just the opposite.
  • Oh, Theo, why should I change — I used to be very passive and very gentle and quiet — I'm that no longer, but then I'm no longer a child either now — sometimes I feel my own man.
  • I tell you, if one wants to be active, one must not be afraid of going wrong, one must not be afraid of making mistakes now and then. Many people think that they will become good just by doing no harm — but that's a lie, and you yourself used to call it that. That way lies stagnation, mediocrity.
    Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile. You don't know how paralyzing that is, that stare of a blank canvas is, which says to the painter, You can't do a thing. The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerises some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of 'you can't' once and for all.
    Life itself, too, is forever turning an infinitely vacant, dispiriting blank side towards man on which nothing appears, any more than it does on a blank canvas. But no matter how vacant and vain, how dead life may appear to be, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth, who knows something, will not be put off so easily. He wades in and does something and stays with it, in short, he violates, “defiles” — they say. Let them talk, those cold theologians.

Dear Theo (1995)

Dear Theo: the Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh (1995) edited by Irving Stone and Jean Stone ISBN 0452275040
Conscience is a man's compass.
What can we say if once the hidden forces of sympathy and love have been roused in us?
  • When we are working at a difficult task and strive after a good thing, we are fighting a righteous battle, the direct reward of which is that we are kept from much evil. As we advance in life it becomes more and more difficult, but in fighting the difficulties the inmost strength of the heart is developed.
    • p. 26
  • I feel a certain calm. There is safety in the midst of danger. What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? It will be a hard pull for me; the tide rises high, almost to the lips and perhaps higher still, how can I know? But I shall fight my battle, and sell my life dearly, and try to win and get the best of it.
    • p. 83
  • Some good must come by clinging to the right. Conscience is a man's compass, and though the needle sometimes deviates, though one often perceives irregularities in directing one's course by it, still one must try to follow its direction.
    • p. 181
  • There are things which we feel to be good and true, though in the cold light of reason and calculation many things remain incomprehensible and dark. And though the society in which we live considers such actions thoughtless, or reckless, or I don't know what else, what can we say if once the hidden forces of sympathy and love have been roused in us? And though it may be that we cannot argue against the reasoning sentiment and to act from impulse, one would almost conclude that some people have cauterized certain sensitive nerves within them, especially those which, combined, are called conscience. Well, I pity those people; they travel through life without compass, in my opinion.
    • p. 181

Quotes about van Gogh

Now I understand what you tried to say to me
How you suffered for you sanity How you tried to set them free
They would not listen they did not know how, perhaps they'll listen now...
  • In my yellow room, sunflowers with purple eyes stand out against a yellow background; the ends of their stalks bathe in a yellow pot on a yellow table. In one corner of the painting, the painter's signature: Vincent. And the yellow sun, coming through the yellow curtains of my room, floods all this flowering with gold, and in the morning, when I wake up in my bed, I have the impression that it all smells very good.
    Oh yes! he loved yellow, did good Vincent, the painter from Holland, gleams of sunlight warming his soul, which detested fog. A craving for warmth.
    When the two of us were together in Arles, both of us insane, and constantly at war over beautiful colors, I adored red; where could I find a perfect vermilion? He, taking his yellowest brush, wrote on the suddenly purple wall:
    I am of sound mind,
    I am the Holy Ghost.
    • Paul Gauguin, article published in Essais d'Art Libre, January 1894
    • The words written by van Gogh on the wall were: "Je suis sain d'Esprit, Je suis Saint-Esprit." This play on words was given an equivalent in English in the Robert Altman movie "Vincent and Theo" with: "I am whole in spirit. I am the Holy Spirit."

"Vincent" (1971)

Song tribute by Don McLean; Full lyrics at Don McLean's official site
  • Starry starry night, paint your palette blue and grey
    Look out on a summer's day with eyes that know the darkness in my soul

    Shadows on the hills, sketch the trees and the daffodils
    Catch the breeze and the winter chills, in colors on the snowy linen land.
  • Now I understand what you tried to say to me
    How you suffered for your sanity How you tried to set them free
    They would not listen they did not know how, perhaps they'll listen now.
  • Weathered faces lined in pain are soothed beneath the artist's loving hand.
  • For they could not love you, but still your love was true
    And when no hope was left in sight, on that starry starry night
    You took your life as lovers often do,
    But I could have told you, Vincent,
    This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.
  • Starry, starry night, portraits hung in empty halls
    Frameless heads on nameless walls with eyes that watch the world and can't forget.
    Like the stranger that you've met, the ragged man in ragged clothes
    The silver thorn of bloody rose, lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.
  • Now I think I know what you tried to say to me
    How you suffered for your sanity How you tried to set them free
    They would not listen they're not listening still...
    Perhaps they never will...

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Alternative spellings

  • van Gogh



Van Gogh

Van Goghs

Van Gogh (plural Van Goghs)

  1. A work by Vincent van Gogh.

Proper noun

Van Gogh


Van Gogh

  1. Vincent van Gogh, Dutch draughtsman and painter.



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