What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh has been one of the greatest post-impressionist painters in history. Especially now, his paintings are replicated by budding artists all over the globe and have conquered the so-called space of ‘popular culture’ in the world of the internet. Not only that, the well-known American brand – ‘Vans’ partnered with ‘The Van Gogh Museum’ in Amsterdam and crafted a collection of sneakers that are inspired by his paintings.
Van Gogh is considered to be a creative mastermind, although not many people are acquainted with his revolutionary life.
Life of Van Gogh
As a child, Van Gogh was quiet and thoughtful. His interest in art began at a very young age as three of his uncles were art dealers. At the courtesy of his uncle, he got an opportunity to work as an art dealer in Goupil & Cie but later got fired at the age of 23. His younger brother with whom he was the closest with, Theodore Van Gogh, also worked in the same art dealership and eventually worked his way to the position of a manager.
Vincent tried his hand in teaching, working in a bookstore and also followed his inclination towards religion , and even tried to become a pastor in the church. When all of this did not work out as planned, his father lost faith in him and accepted that Vincent was a rolling stone.
Then, began a journey when he chose to do something that he was extremely passionate about; his journey as a painter.
During his initial years as a painter, Van Gogh was showered with nothing but criticism. His initial artworks were Primary drawings and watercolour paintings before he started using oil paints. His younger brother, Theo, was aware of his talent and supported him financially by buying his art supplies for him. However, his paintings were not being sold, which at the time, made him feel inadequate as an artist. His mental health deteriorated after his downfall as an artist, and he suffered from short psychotic episodes from time to time. Since he had been living in smaller towns, most of the residents knew about him. A lot of them characterized him to be a ‘madman’ and often kept their distance. The situation worsened after another one of his psychotic episodes where he severed his left ear and handed it over to a Sex worker whom he was acquainted with. This incident left him no option but to admit himself in a mental asylum.
The Van Gogh revolution started from there. He developed his signature distinctive style of using smaller brush strokes and adding thicker layers to his paintings.
The Starry Night (1889), his first painting which included the swirling pattern with his short brush-strokes, is considered to be one of the most popular paintings of all times. He started using bright colours which many experts believe was an indication of him getting better. Some of his notable work birthed from a quaint place of recovery; he painted Irises (1889), Self Portrait with a Bandaged Ear (1889), Wheatfield and Cypresses (1889) and many more. He later suffered a severe relapse regarding his mental health in February 1890 but never gave up on painting.
Van Gogh moved out of the asylum and shifted to a hotel named ‘Auberge Ravoux’ which was near to his doctor’s house in the Paris suburb of Auvers-Sur-Oise and also to his younger brother, Theo’s house. He spent his last days in the hotel after shooting himself in the wheat field while doing what he loved doing the most – painting.
Soon after his death, his younger brother Theo, couldn’t bear the trauma of his brother’s death and his health started to deteriorate. Six months later, he died of ‘dementia paralytica’. Theo’s wife, Johanna, later published the letters written by Vincent to Theo and played a very crucial role in Van Gogh’s fame after his death.
Vincent Van Gogh created about 2,100 artworks in his entire lifetime, 860 of them are oil paintings and most of them were painted during the last two years of his life. Although, in his entire lifetime, he sold only one painting – The Red Vineyard (1888) for 400 Francs.
His work majorly influenced a variety of painting styles in modern painting history. His small brush strokes, thick layering of paints and usage of bright colours, enlightened the minds of upcoming artists.
Van Gogh’s artwork rose to fame from the early years of the 20th century. Since then, every generation is awestruck by his vividly imaginative and dreamy paintings.
His fame was largely derived from the narrative that he was a troubled genius. There was a significant amount of stigmatization about Mental Health when he was alive which might have caused a dent in his career; however, the same narrative was swung across and his supposedly disturbed state of mind was a place where his artistic inclination came from.
According to me, this shift in the narrative might have led him towards fame and recognition but he was as much as an artist when he was alive before he was recognized to be one. He was a simple man who was nursed in poverty, so much that he did not have any money to pay for human subjects which is why there were a series of his self-portraits. The same self-portraits are now worth in millions of dollars each.
He expressed pain, love and joy through his art. At the birth of Theo’s son, he was so excited to be an uncle that he wanted to celebrate his nephew’s life by giving him a painting (Almond blossoms– 1880) which indicated hope and new beginnings. Everything that he felt was fluently translated through his paintings.
The life that he lived for 37 years, did not align with the light of success, but it would painfully be wrong to say that he only witnessed failure, despair and criticism in his lifetime. I believe that he lived a life full of recoveries. For a man whose last words were – ‘the sadness will last forever’, it is quite ironic that his paintings have given all of us an absurd sense of bliss and hope.
‘If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now. For wheat is wheat, even if people think it is a grass in the beginning’.Vincent Van Gogh