Self-portrait with felt hat, 1887. Van Gogh museum Amsterdam
Vincent Van Gogh, son of a pastor, was born on March 30th 1853 in Zundert (Netherlands) An unstable child but gifted for drawing, Vincent has among his uncles the founder, in Paris, of the Goupil art gallery. In order to learn the art trade, Vincent was sent to the gallery’s branches in The Hague (1869) and then to those in Brussels and London (1873-1876). After a series of romantic setbacks, he takes refuge in mysticism and in writing letters to his brother Theo, which will be an outlet for the troubles of his soul. After several years of solitary wandering, painting takes precedence over preaching and he begins to paint at the age of 27!
In March 1886, Van Gogh arrived in Paris, he painted views of the capital, but also many still lifes. He settles with his brother Theo, who gives him an annuity of 850 to 900€ per month. He takes drawing lessons in a studio where he meets the painter Émile Bernard, but this teaching does not inspire him much and he decides to seek his own way, taking inspiration from artists such as Jean-François Millet.
Imperial Fritillaries in a copper vase, 1886-1887. Orsay museum, Paris.
To perfect his work, he wants to find other skies than those of Paris. It was then that he moved to Arles, in the south of France in February 1888. Dazzled by the light of the South, Van Gogh would make colour the very object of his work, and no longer a component of it.
Bedroom in Arles, 1889, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Living alone among Arlesians who are wary of this stranger, Van Gogh falls into depression. Yet he has not abandoned his dream of forming a community of painters. He finally convinced Gauguin to come and join him in 1888. But after a while he could not stand his lunatic nature and, on the evening of December 23, 1888, after a more violent argument than the previous ones with Gauguin, Van Gogh grabbed a knife and sliced off his left ear, which he then took to a prostitute.
Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe, 1889. Private collection.
Dr. Rey’s note and drawing of Van gogh’s wound
At his own request, Van Gogh was interned on May 8, 1889, at the Saint Paul de Mausole hospital, 2km from Saint Rémy. He remained locked up for almost a year without receiving any specific therapy. His attending physician, Doctor Peyron, only diagnosed epileptic seizures at frequent intervals. As soon as he was released, he left Arles under pressure from the inhabitants, whom he frightens.
Trees in the garden of Saint Paul’s Hospital in Saint Remy, 1889. Hammer Museum of Art, Los Angeles.
Terribly weakened, Van Gogh agrees to go to Auvers sur Oise, where Dr. Paul Gachet, a friend of Renoir, Manet and Cézanne, lives. As soon as he arrived in May 1890, Van Gogh was enchanted by this “seriously beautiful” and “very colourful” village and by the surrounding countryside, he stayed there for 70 days and painted 76 paintings. His meeting with the doctor cheered him up after his stay in the asylum, he received encouragement and comfort, exactly what Van Gogh needed.
Portrait of Dr Gachet, 1890. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Vincent Van Gogh lives a period of extreme happiness in Auvers, but everything changes at the beginning of July, when he learns that his nephew is seriously ill, and that his relationship with his brother is deteriorating… His torments begin again, he paints his last painting on July 10th: Wheat field with crows.
Wheat field with crows, 1890. Musée Van Gogh, Amsterdam
On July 27, 1890, during a walk in the fields of Auvers, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest. Despite Gachet’s care, he died two days later, on July 29, 1890. Thus disappears, almost anonymously, an artist who will have signed more than 800 paintings, but who, during his lifetime, will have sold only one, The Red Vineyard, bought in Brussels in 1890 for a value of 800€.
The red vineyard, 1888.Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscou.
Vincent Willem Van Gogh is buried in the cemetery of Auvers sur Oise, with his brother Theo, who died 6 months later in Utrecht, ravaged by syphilis, mad and paralysed. It was in 1914 that Theo’s body was moved to Auvers.
Tombs of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh at Auvers sur Oise
Has it ever been possible to diagnose Vincent Van Gogh’s health? Not so much, but there are many theories: he was bipolar, alcoholic, perhaps epileptic, he suffered from Ménières’ dizziness (which gave him tinnitus, perhaps the reason why he cut off his ear!) He also used a lot of turpentine to clean himself from the paint that may have intoxicated him, hence the hallucinations.
Wonder how it would be like if Van Gogh knew how famous his work was? Take a look at this emotional Doctor Who scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubTJI_UphPk