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Artists Vincent van Gogh
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Vincent van Gogh

Dutch Draftsman and Painter

Movements and Styles: Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism


"Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before me, I make more arbitrary use of color to express myself more forcefully."
Vincent van Gogh
"It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to, the feeling for the things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures."
Vincent van Gogh
"Dying is hard, but living is harder still."
Vincent van Gogh
"I know for sure that I have an instinct for color, and that it will come to me more and more, that painting is in the very marrow of my bones."
Vincent van Gogh
"Vincent's passionate belief was that people wouldn't just see his pictures, but would feel the rush of life in them; that by the force of his brush and dazzling colour they'd experience those fields, faces and flowers in ways that nothing more polite or literal could ever convey."
Historian Simon Schama

"real painters do not paint things as they are... they paint them as they themselves feel them to be."

Vincent van Gogh Signature


The iconic tortured artist, Vincent Van Gogh strove to convey his emotional and spiritual state in each of his artworks. Although he sold only one painting during his lifetime, Van Gogh is now one of the most popular artists of all time. His canvases with densely laden, visible brushstrokes rendered in a bright, opulent palette emphasize Van Gogh's personal expression brought to life in paint. Each painting provides a direct sense of how the artist viewed each scene, interpreted through his eyes, mind, and heart. This radically idiosyncratic, emotionally evocative style has continued to affect artists and movements throughout the 20th century and up to the present day, guaranteeing Van Gogh's importance far into the future.

Key Ideas

Van Gogh's dedication to articulating the inner spirituality of man and nature led to a fusion of style and content that resulted in dramatic, imaginative, rhythmic, and emotional canvases that convey far more than the mere appearance of the subject.
Although the source of much upset during his life, Van Gogh's mental instability provided the frenzied source for the emotional renderings of his surroundings and imbued each image with a deeper psychological reflection and resonance.
Van Gogh's unstable personal temperament became synonymous with the romantic image of the tortured artist. His self-destructive talent was echoed in the lives of many artists in the 20th century.
Van Gogh used an impulsive, gestural application of paint and symbolic colors to express subjective emotions. These methods and practice came to define many subsequent modern movements from Fauvism to Abstract Expressionism.

Most Important Art

Vincent van Gogh Famous Art

Starry Night (1889)

Starry Night is often considered to be Van Gogh's pinnacle achievement. Unlike most of his works, Starry Night was painted from memory, and not out in the landscape. The emphasis on interior, emotional life is clear in his swirling, tumultuous depiction of the sky - a radical departure from his previous, more naturalistic landscapes. Here, Van Gogh followed a strict principal of structure and composition in which the forms are distributed across the surface of the canvas in an exact order to create balance and tension amidst the swirling torsion of the cypress trees and the night sky. The result is a landscape rendered through curves and lines, its seeming chaos subverted by a rigorous formal arrangement. Evocative of the spirituality Van Gogh found in nature, Starry Night is famous for advancing the act of painting beyond the representation of the physical world.
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Vincent van Gogh Artworks in Focus:



Vincent Van Gogh was born the second of six children into a religious Dutch Reformed Church family in the south of the Netherlands. His father, Theodorus Van Gogh, was a clergyman and his mother, Anna Cornelia Carbentus, was the daughter of a bookseller. Van Gogh exhibited unstable moods during his childhood, and showed no early inclination toward art-making, though he excelled at languages while attending two boarding schools. In 1868, he abandoned his studies and never successfully returned to formal schooling.

Early Training

Vincent van Gogh Biography

In 1869, Van Gogh apprenticed at the headquarters of the international art dealers Goupil & Cie in Paris and eventually worked at the Hague branch of the firm. He was relatively successful as an art dealer and stayed with the firm for almost a decade. In 1872, Van Gogh began exchanging letters with his younger brother Theo. This correspondence continued through the end of Vincent's life. The following year, Theo himself became an art dealer, and Vincent was transferred to the London office of Goupil & Cie. Around this time, Vincent became depressed and turned to God.

After several transfers between London and Paris, Van Gogh was let go from his position at Goupil's and decided to pursue a life in the clergy. While living in southern Belgium as a poor preacher, he gave away his possessions to the local coal-miners until the church dismissed him because of his overly enthusiastic commitment to his faith. In 1880, Van Gogh decided he could be an artist and still remain in God's service, writing, "To 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." Van Gogh was still a pauper, but Theo sent him some money for survival. Theo financially supported his elder brother his entire career, as Vincent made virtually no money from making art.

A year later, in 1881, dire poverty motivated Van Gogh to move back home with his parents, where he taught himself to draw. He became infatuated with his cousin, Kee Vos-Stricker. His continued pursuit of her affection, despite utter rejection, eventually split the family. With the support of Theo, Van Gogh moved to the Hague, rented a studio, and studied under Anton Mauve - a leading member of the Hague School. Mauve introduced Van Gogh to the work of the French painter Jean-François Millet, who was renowned for depicting common laborers and peasants.

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Vincent van Gogh Biography Continues

Mature Period

In 1884, after moving to Nuenen, Netherlands, Van Gogh began drawing the weathered hands, heads, and other anatomical features of workers and the poor, determined to become a painter of peasant life like Millet. Although he found a professional calling, his personal life was in shambles. Van Gogh accused Theo of not trying hard enough to sell his paintings, to which Theo replied that Vincent's dark palette was out of vogue compared to the bold and bright style of the Impressionist artists that was popular. Suddenly, on March 26, 1885, their father died from a stroke, putting pressure on Van Gogh to have a successful career. Shortly afterward, he completed the Potato Eaters (1885), his first large-scale composition and great work.

Leaving the Netherlands for the last time, in 1885 Van Gogh enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. There he discovered the art of Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, whose swirling forms and loose brushwork had a clear impact on the young artist's style. However, the rigidity of academicism of the school did not appeal to Van Gogh and he left for Paris the following year. He moved in with Theo in Montmartre - the artist's district in northern Paris - and studied with painter Fernand Cormon, who introduced the young artist to the Impressionists. The influence of artists such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, and Georges Seurat, as well as pressure from Theo to sell paintings, motivated Van Gogh to adopt a lighter palette.

Vincent van Gogh Self-portrait (1887) that he made during his experiments with Neo-Impressionism
Vincent van Gogh Self-portrait (1887) that he made during his experiments with Neo-Impressionism

From 1886 to 1888, Van Gogh became acutely interested in Japanese prints and began to avidly study and collect them, even curating an exhibition of them at a Parisian restaurant. In late 1887, Van Gogh organized an exhibition that included his work and that of his colleagues Emile Bernard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and in early 1888, he exhibited with the Neo-impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac at the Salle de Repetition of the Theatre Libre d'Antoine.

Late Years and Death

The majority of Van Gogh's best-known works were produced during the final two years of his life. During the fall and winter of 1888, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin lived and worked together in Arles in the south of France, where Van Gogh eventually rented four rooms at 2 Place Lamartine, which was dubbed the "Yellow House" for its citron hue. The move to Provence began as a plan for a new artist's community in Arles as alternative to Paris and came at a critical point in each of the artists' careers. While at the "Yellow House" Gauguin and Van Gogh worked closely together and developed a concept of color symbolic of inner emotion and not dependent upon nature. Despite enormous productivity, Van Gogh suffered from various bouts of mental instability, likely including epilepsy, psychotic episodes, delusions, and bipolar disorder. Gauguin left for Tahiti, partially as a means of escaping Van Gogh's increasingly erratic behavior. The artist slipped away after a particularly violent fight in which Van Gogh threatened Gauguin with a razor and then cut off part of his own right ear.

Advertisement for asylum in Saint-Remy
Advertisement for asylum in Saint-Remy

On May 8, 1889, reeling from his deteriorating mental condition, Van Gogh voluntarily committed himself into a psychiatric institution in Saint-Remy, near Arles. As the weeks passed, his mental well-being remained stable and he was allowed to resume painting. This period became one of his most productive. In the year spent at Saint-Remy, Van Gogh created over 100 works, including Starry Night (1889). The clinic and its garden became his main subjects, rendered in the dynamic brushstrokes and lush palettes typical of his mature period. On supervised walks, Van Gogh immersed himself in the experience of the natural surroundings, later recreating from memory the olive and cypress trees, irises, and other flora that populated the clinic's campus.

Shortly after leaving the clinic, Van Gogh moved north to Auvers-sur-Oise outside of Paris, to the care of a homeopathic doctor and amateur artist, Dr. Gachet. The doctor encouraged Van Gogh to paint as part of his recovery, and he happily obliged. He avidly documented his surroundings in Auvers, averaging roughly a painting a day over the last months of his life. However, after Theo disclosed his plan to go into business for himself and explained funds would be short for a while, Van Gogh's depression deepened sharply. On July 27, 1890, he wandered into a nearby wheat field and shot himself in the chest with a revolver. Although Van Gogh managed to struggle back to his room, his wounds were not treated properly and he died in bed two days later. Theo rushed to be at his brother's side during his last hours and reported that his final words were: "The sadness will last forever."


Self-portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin(1888)
Self-portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin(1888)

Clear examples of Van Gogh's wide influence can be seen throughout art history. The Fauves and the German Expressionists worked immediately after Van Gogh and adopted his subjective and spiritually inspired use of color. The Abstract Expressionists of the mid-20th century made use of Van Gogh's technique of sweeping, expressive brushstrokes to indicate the artist's psychological and emotional state. Even the Neo-Expressionists of the 1980s, like Julian Schnabel and Eric Fischl, owe a debt to Van Gogh's expressive palette and brushwork. In popular culture, his life has inspired music and numerous films, including Vincente Minelli's Lust for Life (1956), which explores Van Gogh and Gauguin's volatile relationship. In his lifetime, Van Gogh created 900 paintings and made 1,100 drawings and sketches, but only sold one painting during his career. With no children of his own, most of Van Gogh's works were left to brother Theo.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Vincent van Gogh
Interactive chart with Vincent van Gogh's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Jean-François MilletJean-François Millet
Anton MauveAnton Mauve
Claude MonetClaude Monet
Honoré DaumierHonoré Daumier
Eugène DelacroixEugène Delacroix

Personal Contacts

Henri de Toulouse-LautrecHenri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Paul SignacPaul Signac
Theo van GoghTheo van Gogh



Influences on Artist
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Years Worked: 1880 - 1890
Influenced by Artist


Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Paul KleePaul Klee
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning

Personal Contacts

Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin
Albert AurierAlbert Aurier
Camille PissarroCamille Pissarro



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Useful Resources on Vincent van Gogh






Simon Schama's Power of Art: Van Gogh ► 59:26 Simon Schama's Power of Art: Van Gogh


Vincent van Gogh Overview ► 59:06 Vincent van Gogh Overview

Geographical reconstruction of his life in this biographical video

Brief Overview of Van Gogh ► 3:36 Brief Overview of Van Gogh

By Goodbye-Art Academy

More Interesting Videos with Vincent van Gogh
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Vincent Van Gogh: A Biography

By Julius Meier-Graefe

Stranger On The Earth: A Psychological Biography Of Vincent Van Gogh

By Albert J. Lubin

Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of an Artist

By Jan Greenberg, Sandra Jordan

Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh

By Irving Stone, Jean Stone

More Interesting Books about Vincent van Gogh
The Vincent Van Gogh Museum

The Vincent Van Gogh Gallery

Comprehensive image gallery of the artist's works

Vincent Van Gogh: The Letters Recomended resource

Archives of Van Gogh's complete letters

Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night

Interactive website for the 2008 MoMA Exhibition

Van Gogh's Ear and Modern Painting Recomended resource

By Adam Gopnik
The New Yorker
January 4, 2010

Van Gogh's Night Visions

By Paul Trachtman
Smithsonian Magazine
January 2009

Nocturnal Van Gogh, Illuminating the Darkness Recomended resource

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
September 18, 2008

The Evolution of a Master Who Dreamed on Paper

By Michael Kimmelman
The New York Times
October 14, 2005

More Interesting Articles about Vincent van Gogh

in pop culture

Lust for Life Recomended resource

Book by Irving Stone

Vincent & Theo

Robert Altman's film about the brothers Van Gogh

Don McLean's song 'Vincent (Starry Starry Night)'

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