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Artists Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh Photo

Vincent van Gogh

Dutch Draftsman and Painter

Movements and Styles: Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism

Quotes

"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

Synopsis

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.

Biography

Vincent van Gogh Photo

Childhood

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.

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Vincent van Gogh Biography Continues

Important Art by Vincent van Gogh

The below artworks are the most important by Vincent van Gogh - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Potato Eaters (1885)

The Potato Eaters (1885)

Artwork description & Analysis: This early canvas is considered Van Gogh's first masterpiece. Painted while living among the peasants and laborers in Nuenen in the Netherlands, Van Gogh strove to depict the people and their lives truthfully. Rendering the scene in a dull palette, he echoed the drab living conditions of the peasants and used ugly models to further iterate the effects manual labor had upon these workers. This effect is heightened by his use of loose brushstrokes to describe the faces and hands of the peasants as they huddle around the singular, small lantern, eating their meager meal of potatoes. Despite the evocative nature of the scene, the painting was not considered successful until after Van Gogh's death. At the time this work was painted, the Impressionists had dominated the Parisian avant-garde for over a decade with their light palettes. It is not surprising that Van Gogh's brother, Theo, found it impossible to sell paintings from this period in his brother's career. However, this work not only demonstrates Van Gogh's commitment to rendering emotionally and spiritually laden scenes in his art, but also established ideas that Van Gogh followed throughout his career.

Oil on canvas - The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The Courtesan (after Eisen) (1887)

The Courtesan (after Eisen) (1887)

Artwork description & Analysis: While in Paris, Van Gogh was exposed to a myriad of artistic styles, including the Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. These prints were only made available in the West in the mid-19th century. Van Gogh collected works by Japanese ukiyo-e masters like Hiroshige and Hokusai and claimed these works were as important as works by European artists, like Rubens and Rembrandt. Van Gogh was inspired to create this particular painting by a reproduction of a print by Keisai Eisen that appeared on the May 1886 cover of the magazine Paris Illustré. Van Gogh enlarges Eisen's image of the courtesan, placing her in a contrasting, golden background bordered by a lush water garden based on the landscapes of other prints he owned. This particular garden is populated by frogs and cranes, both of which were illusions to prostitutes in French slang. While the stylistic features exhibited in this painting, in particular the strong, dark outlines and bright swaths of color, came to define Van Gogh's mature style, he also made the work his own. By working in paint rather than a woodblock print, Van Gogh was able to soften the work, relying on visible brushstrokes to lend dimension to the figure and her surroundings as well as creating a dynamic tension across the surface not present in the original prints.

Oil on canvas - Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Café Terrace At Night (1888)

Café Terrace At Night (1888)

Artwork description & Analysis: This was one of the first scenes Van Gogh painted during his stay in Arles and the first painting where he used a nocturnal background. Using contrasting colors and tones, Van Gogh achieved a luminous surface that pulses with an interior light, almost in defiance of the darkening sky. The lines of composition all point to the center of the work drawing the eye along the pavement as if the viewer is strolling the cobblestone streets. The café still exists today and is a "mecca" for van Gogh fans visiting the south of France. Describing this painting in a letter to his sister he wrote, "Here you have a night painting without black, with nothing but beautiful blue and violet and green and in this surrounding the illuminated area colors itself sulfur pale yellow and citron green. It amuses me enormously to paint the night right on the spot..." Painted on the street at night, Van Gogh recreated the setting directly from his observations, a practice inherited from the Impressionists. However, unlike the Impressionists, he did not record the scene merely as his eye observed it, but imbued the image with a spiritual and psychological tone that echoed his individual and personal reaction. The brushstrokes vibrate with the sense of excitement and pleasure Van Gogh experienced while painting this work.

Oil on canvas - Kröller-Muller Museum, Otterlo

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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

Artists

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

Movements

ImpressionismImpressionism
PointillismPointillism
JaponismJaponism

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

Artists

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

Movements

FauvismFauvism
SymbolismSymbolism
ExpressionismExpressionism

Useful Resources on Vincent van Gogh

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

More

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


57k views

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

Geographical reconstruction of his life in this biographical video
1.0M views

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

By Goodbye-Art Academy
17k views

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.

biography

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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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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