Van Gogh - The Person Van Gogh - The Artist

2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the death of the legendary Dutch painter Vincent Willem van Gogh. Van Gogh was a talented but largely self-taught artist who also suffered from debilitating bouts of mental illness; ultimately he channeled his psychological pain and professional uncertainty into paintings rife with emotion and vivid color. This exploration of painter’s life as he traveled through Europe, city to city, illustrates Van Gogh’s struggles with poverty and personal relationships as well as the discovery of his love of art and the development of his remarkable and truly individual artistic language.

Join Grove Art Online and the Benezit Dictionary of Artists on a journey through Van Gogh’s personal and professional life from his birth in Zundert to his untimely death in Auvers.

Brabant, The Netherlands

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born in Groot-Zundert in the northern province of Brabant on March 30, 1853.

Anonymous, Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, aged 13 years, photograph, 1866; Photo Credit: Jan Arkesteijn / Wikimedia Commons / PD-US / Public Domain
Brabant, The Netherlands

He was the eldest of six children.

Anonymous, Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, aged 13 years, photograph, 1866;

Photo Credit: Jan Arkesteijn / Wikimedia Commons / PD-US / Public Domain
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Borinage, Belgium

In Brussels in 1878, Van Gogh became a lay preacher in Borinage.

Vincent Van Gogh: Coalmine in the Boringe, watercolor, pencil, transparent watercolour on wove paper, 1879 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum); Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Borinage, Belgium

After a failed attempt at a career in the art trade abroad and a stint working in a bookshop back home in the Netherlands, the deeply religious Van Gogh enrolled in a short course in religion.

Vincent Van Gogh: Coalmine in the Boringe, watercolor, pencil, transparent watercolour on wove paper, 1879 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum);

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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Courrières, France

Van Gogh proved unsuited to the profession of an Evangelist and his failure as a preacher sent the young man, now twenty-seven, into a crisis.

Vincent Van Gogh: Two Women in the Moor, oil on canvas, 27.5 x 36.5 cm, 1883 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum); Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Courrières, France

During the winter of 1879-80, he undertook a pilgrimage to the village of Courrières in northern France, to visit the artist Jules Breton, known for his paintings of peasants.

The grim journey and exposure to the new, realist style of Breton and his contemporary, Jean-Francois Millet, had a profound effect upon Van Gogh and inspired him to become a peasant painter himself.

Vincent Van Gogh: Two Women in the Moor, oil on canvas, 27.5 x 36.5 cm, 1883 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum);

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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An artist needn't be a clergyman or a churchwarden, but he certainly must have a warm heart for his fellow men.

Van Gogh
Etten, Netherlands

In order to save money, Van Gogh moved back home to his parents’ house in Etten in 1881.

Albert Greiner, Kee Vos Stricker with her son, photograph, 1879-80 (Amsterdam, Geheugen van Nederland Archive); courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum
Etten, Netherlands

The stay was fraught with conflict between Van Gogh and the artist’s father, who disapproved of Vincent’s relationship with his widowed cousin, Kee Vos.

Albert Greiner, Kee Vos Stricker with her son, photograph, 1879-80 (Amsterdam, Geheugen van Nederland Archive); courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum
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The Hague, The Netherlands

In the fall of 1881, Van Gogh moved to The Hague, the center of Dutch painting.

It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to.... The feeling for the things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures.

Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh: View of the Hague with the New Church, watercolour, pen, and ink, 1882 (The Hague, Collection of Kunsthandel Ivo Bouwman); Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
The Hague, The Netherlands

He hoped to escape the tension of his parents’ house and to immerse himself in the artistic community there.

Vincent Van Gogh: View of the Hague with the New Church, watercolour, pen, and ink, 1882 (The Hague, Collection of Kunsthandel Ivo Bouwman);

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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Vincent Van Gogh: Sien Sewing, Half-Figure, pencil, black mountain chalk, 1883 (Rotterdam, Museum Boymans van Beuningen); Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
The Hague, The Netherlands

He lived briefly with Sien (Clasina) Hoornik, a woman who worked as a laundress and occasionally as a prostitute.

She and her children became a surrogate family and served as Van Gogh’s models, but his plans to marry Sien were greeted with disapproval by his family and friends. Moved by these censures and motivated to return to the pastoral subjects he longed to paint, Van Gogh abandoned his matrimonial plans and traveled to rural Hoogeveen in the autumn of 1883.

Penniless, Van Gogh was forced to return home again in December to live with his parents in Nuenen.

Vincent Van Gogh: Sien Sewing, Half-Figure, pencil, black mountain chalk, 1883 (Rotterdam, Museum Boymans van Beuningen);

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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Paris, France

In Paris, Van Gogh shared an apartment with his brother Theo at 54 Rue Lepic, in the 18th Arrondissement.

Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of Theo Van Gogh, oil on paperboard, 19 x 14 cm, 1887 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum); Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Paris, France

Theo, an art dealer, was attempting to sell Impressionist paintings and it was through him that Vincent became acquainted with artists Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, among others.

In Paris, Van Gogh came into contact with two young artists of his own generation with whom he would develop intensely personal relationships: Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin.

Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of Theo Van Gogh, oil on paperboard, 19 x 14 cm, 1887 (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum);

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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