I love the Don McLean song, “Vincent” about my favorite artist, Vincent van Gogh. It is well known by its opening line, “Starry, Starry, night”. It was created on the 100th Anniversary of the midpoint of van Gogh’s life. Today, I have the distinct honor of going to his museum, near my hotel. When I was last here, the museum was being renovated. And prior to that, the collection was in a temporary venue. I have also seen two of his traveling exhibits back home in the U.S.
“Colour expresses something in itself. One can’t do without it; one must make use of it. What looks beautiful, really beautiful — is also right.”
Vincent van Gogh is considered the greatest Dutch painter, after Rembrandt, despite being poor and mostly unknown through his life. He was born on March 30, 1853 in Groot-Zundert, Netherlands. He struggled with mental illness, despite beauty, emotion, and colors of his work. He died in France at the age of 37, on July 29, 1890, of a self inflicted gunshot wound.
His father was a country minister, his mother Anna a moody artist. At the young age of 15, van Gogh was forced to leave school, and go to work for his Uncle’s art dealership in The Hague. He was already fluent in English, German, French, and his native Dutch.
In 1873, he was transferred to London, where he fell in love with English culture. He loved to visit art galleries, and became a big fan of Charles Dickens and George Eliot. He fell in love with his landlady’s daughter, who rejected his wedding proposal. He suffered a nervous breakdown as a result. He became angry at work, told people not to buy worthless art, and was fired.
After another series of missteps, he moved to Belgium in 1880. And though he had no training as an artist, his younger brother Theo offered to support him financially. But he began taking lessons and studying various art books. During this time, he also had a troubled love life, attracted to women in trouble, and suffering rejections.
But his art kept him somewhat emotionally balanced. In 1885, he began working on his first masterpiece, “The Potato Eaters.” His brother Theo thought it would not be well received in Paris, where Impressionism became the rage. Undaunted, he moved to Paris, unannounced, into his brother’s apartment.
In Paris, he began studying with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissaro and others. He was passionate about his art, but made enemies with his bickering. This was followed by becoming strongly influenced by Japanese art and eastern philosophy. He moved into a little yellow house in Arles, on the recommendation of Toulouse-Lautrec. He became physically ill as well, and began to drink turpentine, and eat paint.
Shortly after, Theo hired Paul Gauguin to look after him. After many arguments, van Gogh left with a razor, went to a brothel, and offered a prostitute, Rachel his bleeding ear. After his release from the hospital, though lonely and depressed, he began painting, but was re-hospitalized. He painted during the day in the yellow house, and returned to the hospital at night.
He moved to an asylum after the citizens of Arles signed a petition saying he was dangerous. He began painting in the asylum garden around 1889. He was invited to exhibit his paintings in Brussels. He sent six paintings including “Irises” and “Starry Night”.
In 1890, Theo and his wife had a baby boy, and named him after Vincent. Theo sold Vincent’s “Red Vineyards” for 400 Francs. A doctor (Gachet) in Auvers agreed to take Vincent as a patient. So, he moved there, rented a room, and became even more distraught. He thought Theo was no longer interested in selling his paintings.
Shortly after, in July, of 1890, he shot himself in the chest, though not fatally. He asked Theo to take him home. He died on July 29 in his brother’s arms. Sadly, Theo died six months later in an asylum. He was buried in Auvers next to his brother. His wife, Johanna collected 71 of his works, and showed them in Paris to great acclaim. Vincent’s nephew, Vincent, was the reason most of his art lives on today.
His total works include 2100 paintings, including 860 oils, and more than 1300 watercolors, drawings, and sketches. His “Irises” sold for $53.9 million, and “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” sold for $82.5 million. After more than 100 years after his death, more of his work is being released.
This will be a day I remember for a long time. It is a traveler’s and art lover’s dream come true. I am still on an artistic high. I did not realize he was so impressed by Japanese art. It influenced him greatly.