Sunday, 1 April 2012


“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.” - Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh was born near Brabant in Southern Holland on March 30, 1853. He was the oldest son of a Dutch minister, and his father had high hopes for him, which were disappointed when his son finally found his life’s work in art. Van Gogh grew to become one of the most well-known and influential artists of the 19th century, but unfortunately not in his lifetime. Van Gogh tried his hand at several different vocations including working for Goupil & Co., an art dealer, at the age of 16 with his younger brother Theo, teaching as an assistant in Ramsgate, and acting as a layman preacher in a poor coal mining district in Belgium, before finally deciding to become an artist at the age of twenty-seven. His early works are dark portraying poor city dwellers as well as Dutch peasants hard at work.

Van Gogh’s good relationship with his four-year younger brother, Theo, is well documented in the vast number of letters they sent each other. Van Gogh’s letters to his brother and to other artists provide a rare insight into the life and thoughts of this painter and make for fascinating reding. In 1886, Van Gogh moved to Paris where he lived with his brother, now the manager of Goupil’s. Theo financially supported Vincent for nearly all of his life, necessary as Van Gogh hardly sold any paintings during his life. In Paris Van Gogh became familiar with the work of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists.  He befriended Pissarro, Monet and Gauguin. Van Gogh began to lighten his color palette and experimented with different shorter brushstrokes.  His works changed from peasant workers to images of Paris, portraits, self-portraits, and images of flowers.

In 1888, at the age of 35, Van Gogh moved from Paris to Arles where he had dreams of starting a community of artists.  Theo continued to support him financially and tried to sell his artwork, albeit unsuccessfully. Fellow artist Paul Gauguin joined him for a short time in Arles, however, the two soon fell out. Van Gogh threatened Gauguin with a razor and ended up cutting off a portion of his own ear, forcing Gauguin to flee Alrles. Struggling with fits of madness Van Gogh spent time in an asylum in Arles and then in Saint Remy.

Van Gogh spent much time in the asylum at Saint Remy though it was later believed that he suffered from epilepsy. In Saint Remy he painted some 150 paintings. Upon his release in 1890 he went to Auvers-sur-Oise where he was under the care of physician and painter, Dr. Paul Gachet (an excellent portrait of whom by Vincent exists). In two months Van Gogh was averaging a painting a day. At the age of 37, Van Gogh attempted suicide, while in a wheat field he shot himself in the chest.  He died two days later with his brother at his side.  Six months later Theo died as well and was buried next to his brother in the small church at Auvers-sur-Oise.

The painting above is The Red Vineyard, painted in 1888, and which is believed to be the only painting van Gogh sold during his lifetime. The painting was exhibited for the first time at the annual exhibition of Les XX, 1890 in Brussels, and sold for 400 Francs (equal to about $1,000-1,050 today) to Anna Boch, an impressionist painter, member of Les XX and art collector from Belgium; Anna was the sister of Eugène Boch, another impressionist painter and a friend of Van Gogh, too, who had painted Boch’s portrait (Le Peintre aux Étoiles) in Arles, in autumn 1888. Like The Night Café, it was subsequently acquired by the famous Russian collector Sergei Shchukin, was then nationalised by the Bolsheviks with the rest of his collection and eventually passed to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, where it is currently exhibited.

The painting is a fine scene of the travails of the rural worker during the vintage months of Autumn. Van Gogh has chosen sunset to give the russet leaves of the vines a stunning colour. The workers are busy gathering the grapes, while the sun beams down as it goes towards the West, peripheral in the canvas but central to the composition and a magnet for the eyes. The sun’s reflection in the water leads the eyes into the vineyard where figures provide pivotal points for the exploration of this wonderful canvas. The yellows and reds are balanced by the blacks, greys, violets and browns, providing for a visual feast.

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