Sunday, 2 August 2015


“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.” - Vincent VanGogh

Vincent Willem van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Post-Impressionist painter. He was a Dutch artist whose work had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. His output includes portraits, self-portraits, landscapes and still lifes. His iconic renderings of cypresses, wheat fields, sunflowers and starry skies have made him a popular and well-known artist.

He drew as a child but did not paint until his late twenties; he completed many of his best-known works during the last two years of his life. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, including 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolours, drawings, sketches and prints.

Van Gogh was born to upper middle class parents and spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers. He travelled between The Hague, London and Paris, after which he taught in England at Isleworth and Ramsgate. He was deeply religious as a younger man and aspired to be a pastor. From 1879 he worked as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium, where he began to sketch people from the local community. In 1885 he painted “The Potato Eaters”, considered his first major work. His palette then consisted mainly of sombre earth tones and showed no sign of the vivid coloration that distinguished his later paintings.

In March 1886, he moved to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists. Later, he moved to the south of France and was influenced by the strong sunlight he found there. His paintings grew brighter in colour, and he developed the unique and highly recognisable style that became fully realised during his stay in Arles in 1888. After years of anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died aged 37 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The extent to which his mental health affected his painting has been widely debated by art historians. Despite a widespread tendency to romanticise his ill health, modern critics see an artist deeply frustrated by the inactivity and incoherence wrought through illness. His late paintings show an artist at the height of his abilities, completely in control, and according to art critic Robert Hughes, “longing for concision and grace”.

“The Starry Night”, above, painted in Saint Rémy, in June 1889 (oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92.1 cm and exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, New York) is one of Van Gogh’s most well-known paintings. The artist reveals this about the painting: “This morning I saw the country from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.” Van Gogh wrote this to his brother Theo, from France, and it is these many letters to his brother that tells us much about his art and the artist.

Rooted in imagination and memory, “The Starry Night” embodies an inner, subjective expression of van Gogh's response to nature. In thick, sweeping brushstrokes, a flame-like cypress unites the churning sky and the quiet village below. The village was partly invented, and the church spire evokes van Gogh’s native land, the Netherlands.

Here is Don McLean singing his beautiful “Vincent” – a fitting tribute, on the 125th anniversary of van Gogh’s death:


  1. The extent to which his mental health affected his painting HAS been widely debated by art historians, or indeed if it was mental ill health in the normal sense. My feeling was that he was socially very inept, couldn't look at people in the eyes and didn't know what to say to women. He would never marry, never have children, couldn't hold down a stable job or do all the things that he may have longed for. So of course the artist was deeply frustrated by the mess his life became.

    There was a story of van Gogh viewing a pretty young woman on a tram, following her home and asking her father for the daughter's hand in marriage. The father of course said "Sod off and never return. Otherwise I call the police immediately". van Gogh clearly had no idea what normal courting rituals involved :(

  2. It is a tragedy and ended tragic! But then those who led normal lives during his time respected and successful were not remembered like him. Not his woes but the beauty of his talents that outshone others. Those distressed apparently went the extra mile in most dealings. Very informative take Nicholas!


  3. My favourite artist... He lived such a tortured life and his art was not acknowledged as great until after his death.