Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who posthumously became one of the most famous and influential figures in Western art history. In a decade, he created more than 2,000 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of which date from the last two years of his life.
They include landscapes, still lifes, portraits and self-portraits, and are characterised by bold colours and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art. Not commercially successful in his career, he struggled with severe depression and poverty, which eventually led to his suicide at age thirty-seven.
Sunflowers Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Wheatfield with Crows, 1890. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Born into an upper-middle class family, Van Gogh drew as a child and was serious, quiet, and thoughtful. As a young man, he worked as an art dealer, often traveling, but became depressed after he was transferred to London. He turned to religion and spent time as a Protestant missionary in predominantly Roman Catholic southern Belgium.
He drifted in ill health and solitude before taking up painting in 1881, having moved back home with his parents. His younger brother Theo supported him financially; the two kept a long correspondence by letter. . In 1886, he moved to Paris, where he met members of the avant-garde, including Émile Bernard and Paul Gauguin, who were reacting against the Impressionist sensibility. As his work developed he created a new approach to still lifes and local landscapes. His paintings grew brighter as he developed a style that became fully realised during his stay in Arles in the South of France in 1888. During this period he broadened his subject matter to include series of olive trees, wheat fields and sunflowers.
Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions and though he worried about his mental stability, he often neglected his physical health, did not eat properly and drank heavily.
His friendship with Gauguin ended after a confrontation with a razor when, in a rage, he severed part of his own left ear. He spent time in psychiatric hospitals, including a period at Saint-Rémy. In July 1890, Van Gogh is believed to have shot himself in the chest with a revolver, dying from his injuries two days later.
Van Gogh was commercially unsuccessful during his lifetime, and he was considered a madman and a failure. As he became famous only after his suicide, he came to be seen as a misunderstood genius in the public imagination. His reputation grew in the early 20th century as elements of his style came to be incorporated by the Fauves and German Expressionists. He attained widespread critical and commercial success over the ensuing decades, and is remembered as an important but tragic painter whose troubled personality typifies the romantic ideal of the tortured artist.
Today, Van Gogh’s works are among the world’s most expensive paintings to have ever sold, and his legacy is honoured by a museum in his name, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which holds the world’s largest collection of his paintings and drawings.