Vincent Van Gogh: A Troubled and Brilliant Painter

Published Mar. 20th 2007


Sunflowers by Vincent Van GoghVincent Van Gogh was a Dutch painter whose life was torn by emotion, passion, and distress.

We all know his name, and he might even be the most famous historical painter today—Van Gogh’s paintings are instantly recognized by people everywhere, but during his life he never knew fame at all. Supposedly, he only sold one painting out of the hundreds that he created.

So what was it that made the world eventually came to know Vincent Van Gogh?

He actually started painting later than most artists, originally working as an art dealer and a preacher. Vincent had little formal training in art, but decided (around the age of twenty-seven) that his true calling was to be a painter. From that point on he painted constantly, often spending most of his money on paints and supplies rather than food.

This next painting, The Potato Eaters, was created when he was thirty-two. It’s of a common working-class family in a southern region of the Netherlands; and, although he never painted extremely realistically, Van Gogh still wanted to truthfully show the nature of their existence—eating a meal of potatoes they had dug from the ground themselves.

The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh

Unlike his later paintings, Van Gogh’s early work used darker colors, lending a somber mood to his art.

His brother Theo (an art dealer in Paris) tried to help sell Vincent’s work, but unfortunately no one was ever interested in buying such gloomy depictions of rural life in the Netherlands.

Van Gogh was discouraged by his lack of success, but he didn’t quit painting. Eventually he moved to Paris where his brother introduced him to many of the Impressionist painters and their work. It was during that time that Van Gogh absorbed the ideas of the Impressionists, and his paintings became much more colorful.

The Night Cafe by Vincent Van Gogh

He was too obsessive about painting, however, to make many close friends, and his increasingly unstable personality caused problems with both Theo and the other artists in Paris.

So Vincent moved to Arles, France, just to get away from Paris for a time, and even convinced Paul Gauguin to join him in an effort to start a brotherhood of painters. However, their tenuous friendship (and Van Gogh’s plans for a community of artists) ended after he threatened Gauguin with a razor blade and then went on to cut off his own left earlobe with it.

You can see the bandages around his head in this self-portrait which he must have painted soon after that incident.

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear by Vincent Van Gogh

It was the first of many mental breakdowns, and eventually Van Gogh was committed to a mental asylum for insanity. And even at the asylum he still painted whenever possible.

Ironically, despite his emotional and psychological problems, it was while he lived in Arles, before being institutionalized, that Van Gogh created his most famous and memorable works of art.

Unfortunately, he left the asylum without fully recovering from his mental illnesses. Just a few months after returning to live with Theo outside of Paris, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest while walking in the fields near his home.

Village Street in Auvers by Vincent Van Gogh

When he died a few days later at the age of thirty-seven, he left behind over 900 paintings and the story of his very troubled life.

But it’s that story, more than anything, that really makes Van Gogh famous—and like his paintings, he’ll never be forgotten.

Did you like this article? Share it!
Then check out the related posts below.
For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together. -Vincent van Gogh Hugh Welchman is a man with a vision. . . oh, and he also runs an animation studio. And Welchman’s vision (you could also call it an incredibly audacious goal) . . . read more
Born at the beginning of the 17th century in Leiden, Netherlands; Rembrandt van Rijn was destined to become one of the world’s greatest painters, although his life was marked both by poverty and success. At the young age of 25, Rembrandt was already an accomplished master painter, with his ow. . . read more
Claude Monet was born in 1840 in Paris. He was especially influential in the Impressionist art movement, and is probably best known for his famous paintings of water lilies and Impressionist Parisian scenes. Monet first started drawing as a child, doing portraiture and caricatures for spending. . . read more
Born in 1869, Henri Matisse was a widely influential French painter who lived in the early 20th century. He was really more of an intellectual artist than an emotional artist, although you might not guess that from his work alone. You would guess it from his previous occupation, however. Befor. . . read more
Paul Gauguin was born in Paris, France in 1848. He was first a sailor, then a stockbroker and later a painter, and he worked at times alongside Cezanne and Van Gogh. Although starting out as an Impressionist painter, Gauguin gradually found his own style, influenced by primitive art which resu. . . read more
Stay current.
Subscribe to EmptyEasel's free weekly newsletter for artists. Sign up today!
CanvasFlyer
Art Contests
More art contests. . .
EE Writers
Alyice Edrich Cassie Rief Steff Metal Niki Hilsabeck Brandi Bowman Michelle Morris Lisa Orgler Adriana Guidi Carrie Lewis Aletta de Wal Erin SparlerLuke Montgomery

Want to be a writer for EmptyEasel? Paid positions are available, and the perks are great! Contact us to apply