Vincent Van Gogh

Date/place of birth

March 30, 1853, Groot-Zundert, Netherlands

Day/place of death

July 29, 1890, Auvers-sur-Oise, France

Vincent Van Gogh - Femme semant/Peasant Woman Sowing with a Basket
Vincent Van Gogh - Femme semant/Peasant Woman Sowing with a Basket

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Vincent Van Gogh biography

Vincent van Gogh is the most famous painter in the world and the father of modern art; during his lifetime, however, he was altogether unsuccessful, suffered from profound loneliness and discovered his vocation late. Ten years of feverish creative frenzy alone were enough for him to change the course of art history forever with his unique work.

Vincent van Gogh – Erratic schooling, unhappy apprenticeship and a religious quest for meaning

Vincent van Gogh was born on 30 March 1853 in Groot-Zundert, the eldest son of the Pastor Theodorus van Gogh and his wife Anna Cornelia. With five younger siblings, van Gogh was not particularly interested in art during his childhood, but would later process the impressions he gathered in his rural home in numerous paintings. Van Gogh learnt to draw at an early age, initially from his mother and later in school, which he left early. An uncle helped mediate an apprenticeship at the Goupil & Cie art shop, where his unsuitability as a salesman became apparent but where his interest in art was awakened. To offset his undesirable daily life, Vincent van Gogh drew almost everything he found around him. Following the definitive break with his employer, van Gogh turned wholly to religion, reading the bible constantly, and to the chagrin of his family, aspired to a career in the priesthood.

The break with faith and family, his first successes as an independent painter

Vincent van Gogh made an attempt at studying theology, but failed in Greek and Latin – despite this, he worked for several months as a preacher, but repeatedly clashed with his superiors and eventually had to inform his family of yet another failure. At the age of 27 he eventually made the decision to become a painter. His younger brother Theo looked after the sale of his pictures, but Vincent was so quick to spend any money he made that he permanently lived in poverty. His inappropriate courtship of a widowed cousin caused tension with the family, which, after the refusal to attend Christmas Mass, resulted in the artist leaving home and moving to The Hague, where he had once been introduced to oil and watercolour painting by Anton Mauve. A scandalous affair with a pregnant prostitute led to the break with his teacher Mauve, so that Vincent van Gogh once more found himself abandoned and disoriented.

Excessive work phase, health problems

Vincent van Gogh experimented with colours and techniques, was impressed by the style of Impressionism, but increasingly found his own, original pictorial language. In 1885 he painted one of his most famous pictures, The Potato Eaters. The artist preferred to paint the ‘ordinary’ people and their simple living conditions; his models were farmers, miners and tradesmen. He was also drawn to the romantic landscapes and houses of Southern France which he frequently interpreted with a powerful symbolist touch. He painted spontaneously, at high speed and made hardly any corrections. Throughout his life, van Gogh longed for domestic security and human proximity, but at the same time, repeatedly snubbed those around him. In madness following a fierce quarrel with Paul Gaugin, he cut off a piece of his left ear. Suffering ever more from depression and obsessive thoughts, he started treatment under Dr. Gachet. His diagnosis and motives seem dubious from today’s perspective and may have exacerbated van Gogh’s illness.

An early death under unexplained circumstances, posthumous world fame

Vincent van Gogh died on 29 July 1890 as a result of a gunshot wound. For many years it was thought that the injury was self-inflicted from a suicidal attempt; more recent theory, however, assumes an accidental death caused by someone else. His life became the subject of numerous novels and films, including that from 1959 featuring Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn. Whilst van Gogh only sold a few pictures during his life, his work became world famous immediately after his death, selling for record prices. Whole generations of subsequent artists have felt inspired by van Gogh’s style. The last self portrait by the master was sold for 71 million dollars.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

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Vincent Van GoghFemme semant/Peasant Woman Sowing with a Basket€1.036.000

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