Van Gogh, Vincent

from The New Book of Knowledge®


The paintings of Vincent van Gogh are mirrors of his intense personality. He was born on March 30, 1853, in Groot-Zundert, the Netherlands. From 1869 to 1876 he worked for an art dealer. He then became a schoolmaster in England for a short time.

Van Gogh did not get along well with individuals, but he had a deep love for humanity. He decided to become a minister, like his father. But he gave up theological studies in 1878 to do missionary work among the miners in Belgium. When this venture failed, in 1880, van Gogh returned to the Netherlands. He had been drawing for several years, and he buried himself in his art. He painted pictures of the fields and peasants around his father's church. We can see the dark colors and heavy forms he used then in The Potato Eaters (1885). He was also attracted to Japanese prints. From his study of these came his later emphasis on bold patterns of color and lively linear rhythms.

Van Gogh's brother Theo lived in Paris and worked for an art dealer. In 1886, he went to live with Theo, who introduced him to the impressionists. The impressionists were artists who tried to reproduce in their paintings the effects of light striking solid objects. Under their influence, van Gogh learned to paint in lighter colors and freer forms. But he did not follow the impressionists exactly. He developed his own expressionistic style, making his paintbrush express his inner feelings.

In 1888, van Gogh moved to Arles, in southern France. With swirling brushstrokes and pure, bright colors, he painted countless self-portraits, objects from his own room, the countryside, and people of the town.

The artist Paul Gauguin joined him in the fall, but their personalities clashed. At Christmas time, van Gogh suffered a nervous breakdown and slashed off part of his own left ear. After a time in an asylum at Saint-Rémy, he moved to Auvers, near Paris in May, 1890.

All his life van Gogh thought himself a burden to the only person who encouraged him, his brother Theo. At last, in despair over this thought and further mental breakdowns, he shot himself and died on July 29, 1890.

Reviewed by Harold Spencer
University of Connecticut

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