Vincent Van Gough today is one of the world’s best loved artists and his paintings are highly praised and exhibited in galleries around the world. But when he was alive, he was rarely able to sell many of his works. In fact he was broke for much of the time and he had a short and troubled life.
He was born on the 30th March 1853 in Groot-Zundert in southern Holland. His childhood was clouded by a series of illnesses. During his youth, his only artistic output was a few sketches. In fact he didn’t begin to paint until his thirties. Add to this, the fact that he died young, the large number of paintings he left behind were all completed during the last years of his life.
When he was in his twenties, he worked for a firm of art dealers and found himself working between The Hague, Paris and London. He lived in London between 1873 and 1874 in a house at 85 Hackford Road, London SW9.
Vincent Van Gough’s London home
His first painting was “The Potato Eaters” and was a dark, earthy work which was very different to the style he became best known for. This later style began when he moved to Paris and became influenced by the French Impressionist School. This was further enhanced when he moved to Arles in the south of France. But already, his health was beginning to deteriorate. This was mainly self-inflicted due to his excessive smoking and drinking.
He made his home in the famous “Yellow House” and Van Gough encouraged other artists to come and stay with him. One of these was Paul Gauguin. Unfortunately the two of them did not get along. Gauguin had a domineering personality and Van Gough continually tried and failed to be recognised as his equal as an artist. This situation is said to have led to the infamous self-inflicted ear severing.
It is believed that Van Gough was suffering from a form of psychosis at the time when he took a razor to his left ear. After the act, he is alleged to have put the ear in a paper package and sent it to a contact at the local brothel; a place he and Gauguin often frequented. The next day, the police found him unconscious due to blood loss. He was taken to the local hospital and from there he agreed to be detained at an asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence. He stayed there for about a year and left in 1890.
However, he was still unwell. On the 27th July that year, he was painting in a wheat field. There was a shot from a revolver and Van Gough received a serious chest would. It was recorded as an attempted suicide but the gun was never found and there were no witnesses. He managed to get back to his village where two doctors patched him up. However, they were not able to remove the bullet. But when they left their patient in his own bed, smoking a pipe, all seemed well.
The next morning Van Gough’s brother visited him and found him to be quite well considering. However, later that day he began to decline. The doctors believed no major organ had been injured so it was thought he had acquired an infection from the wound. He died that evening aged just thirty seven. His brother reported his last words were, “The sadness will last forever.”
It is a sad reflection that the joys his paintings give us today were created by such a tortured soul. But perhaps, it took a troubled mind to be the artistic genius he was.