Vincent van Gogh


Vincent Willem van Gogh († July 29, 1890 in Auvers-sur-Oise) was a Dutch painter and draftsman. He is considered one of the founders of modern painting. As a student, he received painting and drawing lessons from Constant Cornelis Huijsmans, and later from his cousin Anton Mauve. According to the knowledge of 2021, he left over 900 paintings and over 1000 drawings. The paintings were mostly done in the last ten years of his life. Vincent van Gogh kept an extensive correspondence, especially with his brother Theo van Gogh, the dealer of his paintings, which contains a wealth of references to his painterly work and is itself of literary rank. The teenager”s first drawings can be found there, and Vincent sketched out many of the paintings in his letters to Theo.

His main body of work, which stylistically draws on Realism, Naturalism and Impressionism and is classified as Post-Impressionism, exerted a strong influence on subsequent artists, especially the Fauves and the Expressionists. While he was able to sell only a few paintings during his lifetime, his works have been fetching record prices at auctions since the 1980s.


Vincent van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Groot-Zundert, a small country town in Noord-Brabant, the son of the priest Theodorus van Gogh and his older wife Anna Cornelia, the daughter of a bookbinder. Exactly one year earlier, a non-viable brother had been born, also named Vincent. Some authors are of the opinion that van Gogh felt himself to be an unloved substitute for the firstborn and suffered psychological damage as a result. His mother had a particularly close relationship with him and provided home schooling in the early school years, which she and a governess gave. This privilege ended as the children grew, so that he still had to go to the village school in Zundert for some time. These problems are impressively presented by Viviane Forrester in her biography Van Gogh or: The Burial in the Wheat.

He was never to forget the early impressions of his rural home; many of his paintings bear witness to his love of nature. After Vincent, five younger siblings were born: Anna (1855-1930), Theo (1857-1891), Elisabeth ”Lies” (1859-1936), Willemien ”Wil” (1862-1941), and Cor (1867-1900). His father held a minor Dutch Reformed Church pastorate in a town with a Catholic majority; Christian values played an important role in the family. At first Vincent admired his father, and for a few years he tried to equal him as a preacher. Before that, however, the family used its connections to the art trade, where three of Vincent”s uncles were active and Vincent was to succeed his uncle Cen (Vincent). His relatives had acquired wealth from dealing in paintings, and so he was to become a picture dealer. As the eldest, he was to wear the “crown”, which was transferred to the next younger brother Theo after his departure. The Van Gogh clan belonged to the upper middle class, the company Vincent Van Gogh of the ancestor of the same name was a supplier for the cabinets of His Highnesses the King and Queen in The Hague.

At the age of eleven and a half, van Gogh was sent to a boarding school in Zevenbergen. From 1866, at the age of 13, Vincent was sent to Tilburg as a boarder to attend the higher bourgeois school in the former palace of King William II. He lived privately with a family. There he learned French, English and German (later he read French and English books in the original language and corresponded with his siblings in French), also four hours of drawing were scheduled weekly. Despite good grades, he left this school as early as March 1868 for an unknown reason. In view of his father”s precarious financial circumstances and the birth of a sixth child, the means were probably no longer sufficient. He was old enough to make a financial contribution to the family income, as was natural for the eldest son at the time.

From September 1866 to March 1868 he received proper drawing and art lessons in Tilburg. At the place where he went to school, you can visit Vincent”s drawing class today. He was thus sent to the renowned “Wilhelm II” institute in Tilburg. It was the only secondary school in Brabant, a state institution of high repute founded by the king”s heirs. Only 36 boys were admitted, in Vincent”s class they were 10 pupils. The teachers were numerous and select, coming from universities. Vincent was a good student and was promoted to the next class. Painting was part of the curriculum, both theoretically and practically, and was given a high priority with four lessons a week. His teacher was a successful painter of landscapes and peasant life in France, Constant Cornelis Huijsmans. Vincent made his first drawing there as a teenager of two peasants leaning on a shovel. It remains to be noted that Vincent had as a teacher at the school the most important Dutch painter of the avant-garde, who taught him the way of seeing and painting that Vincent would later follow up, because in Paris he would join the successors of this “school”.

He spent the next 15 months with his parents; what he did there is not documented. In July 1869, following a decision by the family council, he began an apprenticeship at the Hague branch of the art dealer Goupil & Cie, of which his uncle Cent was a partner because he was no longer able to run the company alone for health reasons. The uncle held his protective hand over the nephew.

Job search: salesman, teacher, preacher, painter

Goupil was a major company with branches in several capitals. Vincent van Gogh got to know and judge the established art there. His main interest was contemporary art. In a letter to Theo, he recommended to him several dozen modern painters of his time whom he found particularly good.

Here, as in his later places of residence, he eagerly visited the local museums throughout his life. After completing his training, he was transferred to the London branch in the summer of 1873, which meant advancement. Vincent intensively studied the British painters there. The knowledge he acquired during his six years as a dealer made him superior and, in many confrontations with painters, arrogant. Long before he started painting, he knew which painting was leading away. His struggle was to get technically in a position to implement these ideas. Again and again he complained to the end about not being able to meet his own demands.

Far from his relatives, Vincent van Gogh felt lonely. In his free time, he took long walks through the city and its surroundings, during which he also made drawings. An unhappy love affair with his landlady”s daughter occurred during this time. Years later, he still had not gotten over the disappointment of being rejected by the young woman. During a vacation with his parents in the summer of 1874, they noticed his dejection. In order to free him from the London circumstances, it was decided to have him transferred to Paris to the other branch of Goupil. From January to April 1875, van Gogh lived in London again for a short time before moving to Paris for good.

There he increasingly isolated himself and also showed conspicuous behavior in the service. He increasingly turned to religion; he only read the Bible and devotional books. After he had gone home for Christmas 1875 – apparently without permission – his superior suggested that he resign in April 1876, which van Gogh was forced to do. The main reason for the dismissal seems to have been his problems in dealing with customers; Vincent van Gogh, who abhorred all hypocrisy, was thus unsuitable as a salesman for Goupil. He told customers what he thought. From the conflicts Theo had with his bosses a few years later at the same workplace, this explanation is compelling: they were making big money from the then-prevailing classicist painting and detested Impressionism or even more modern painting. Vincent certainly made no secret of his disapproval of the preferred pompous painting. But his going home for Christmas, the most important Christian feast, to the bosom of the family was a matter of course for him. It didn”t even occur to him to ask, because Goupil was his uncle”s company after all.

During the following three and a half years he tried unsuccessfully various occupations. After a short employment as an assistant teacher at a school in Ramsgate (Kent), he changed to another school in Isleworth (today London), which was led by a Methodist pastor. Here he had the opportunity to be an assistant pastor as well. Christmas 1876 he spent with his parents, who had meanwhile been transferred to Etten; at their insistence he did not return to England. This was followed by a short traineeship in a bookstore, which van Gogh abandoned because he had now decided to study theology. He moved in with an uncle in Amsterdam, where he took private lessons in Latin, Greek and mathematics in preparation for the university entrance examination. After barely a year, however, he gave up the lessons because ” I consider the whole university, the theological one at least, to be an indescribable sham, where nothing but Pharisaism is bred.” Instead, starting in August 1878, he attended a seminary for lay preachers in Brussels, but after the three-month probationary period he was deemed unsuitable, probably because he had not been able to assimilate and subordinate himself in class.

In the fall of 1880, at the age of 27, he decided to become a painter.

Vincent and Theo van Gogh

From the middle of 1880, his brother Theo, who was four years younger than Vincent van Gogh, provided for his livelihood in place of his father. Theo had also joined Goupil and now managed a Paris branch of the art dealer. Much to the chagrin of his bosses, Theo sponsored aspiring young avant-garde painters (for example, the Impressionist Claude Monet, but also Paul Gauguin) and bought paintings from them. This is how the pact between the brothers came about: The dealer Theo financed the livelihood of the painter Vincent, who in return gave him all his paintings. Although the support was by no means small, Vincent van Gogh continued to live in constant need of money. There was no fixed amount of money, but Vincent wrote when he needed money, so that the correspondence is full of money demands. With the lowest standard of living, the vast majority of money went into painting supplies, especially paints, with the paint dealer Père Tanguy having Vincent pay him several times with paintings. These were probably the first sales. Considering the volume of Vincent”s painterly work, who often painted like a man possessed, one understands where his money went. Theo, at least, believed that this investment would pay off one day. And so did Vincent. Theo”s financial support is estimated by the editors of the letters at 17,500 francs. This is plausible and makes clear how strong his commitment was to the success of the painter Vincent. On the other hand, Theo made at least as much money from the sale of two or three paintings by the painter Monet as he used to support his brother for a decade. His income was enough to support his mother and two sisters as well.

During his time in Paris as a recognized painter, the brothers lived together – not always without conflict: “There was a time when I loved Vincent so much, he was my best friend. That”s over at the moment. From his side, it”s worse. He never misses an opportunity to show me that he despises me and I disgust him. The situation at home is unbearable; no one wants to come to me anymore, he does nothing but pick fights, and he is so dirty and messy that the apartment is anything but attractive. All I hope is that he moves out to live alone, he”s been talking about that for a long time, but if I told him that I was moving out for my part, it would be a reason for him to stay. Because I am incapable of doing him good, I ask him only one thing, that he does me no harm. He does it by staying.”

A month later, Theo writes to Wil again: “We have made peace. It was not good for anyone to go on like this. I hope it will last. So there will be no change. I am happy about that; it would have seemed strange to live alone again. Nothing would be gained there, either. I asked him to stay.”

Theo was, moreover, his confidant, his most important reference person, and his – albeit not very successful – art dealer. On November 27, 1889, Theo wrote to his sister Wil about Vincent”s planned participation in an exhibition of the Vingtistes in Brussels: “Vincent has recently sent me a lot of his work, including many things that are good… Next year he will be invited to exhibit in Brussels in an association of young artists, two of whom have come here to see his work and found it very interesting. Fortunately, his health is good again, and if he does not suffer a new crisis, he will come a little closer to us in the spring.”

Vincent still had prospects, for recognition was increasing: “And I already foresee the day when I shall have some success and regret my loneliness as well as my despair here, when through the iron bars of the insane cell I saw the reaper down there in the field.”

On July 25, 1890, Theo wrote to Jo: “… In his letter there were also a few sketches of paintings he was working on. If only he could find someone to buy some of them, but I am afraid that may take a very long time. But you can”t drop him when he works so hard and so well. When will a happy time come for him? He”s so thoroughly good and has helped me so much to keep going.”

The extensive correspondence that the brothers carried on from 1872 is an important source of Van Gogh research with its nearly 1000 letters.

In a letter to his future wife in 1889, Theo van Gogh characterized the brother and rebuked his wife not to dub Vincent a “madman”: “As you know, a long time ago he turned away from everything they call conventions. By the way he dresses and behaves you can immediately see that he is different, for years everyone who saw him said . I don”t care about that at all, but at home it”s not acceptable. Then there is something in the way he talks that makes people either love him very dearly or can”t stand him. He is always surrounded by people who are attracted to him, but also by a bunch of enemies. He cannot be separated from his relationships with people. It”s either one thing or the other. Even those who are best friends of his find it difficult to get along with him because he leaves nothing out and spares no one. The year we spent together was extremely difficult, even though we often agreed, especially toward the end.”

Start as a painter

Vincent van Gogh decided to become a painter in August 1880.

He began drawing lessons as was customary at the time, also self-taught, drawing from textbooks and copying drawings and prints he admired. To come into contact with art and artists, he moved to Brussels in October 1880, where he enrolled in the Academy of Arts. In Brussels he met Anthon van Rappard, with whom he exchanged ideas on artistic matters, who gave him lessons, visited him several times in the following years, and with whom he kept in touch by letter for a long time. After Rappard left Brussels, van Gogh returned to his parents” house in Etten in April 1881. Vincent set up a studio in the rectory and got models without money because members of the parish were willing to pose. He hoped for the family that had a name in painting. He struggled with the fact that the two uncles Cor and Cent, “who enriched themselves in the trade of art objects,” did not help him financially, did not introduce him to other painters who could teach him a lot, and did not get him work in an illustrated newspaper. The family, to which he still counted himself, dropped him. Contributing to this distancing was the fact that he fell unhappily in love – with his cousin Kee (Caroline Vos Stricker). She brusquely rejected him, “Never!” He insisted; she fled. In Etten, Vincent registered as an “art painter” for the first time. It came to an open fight with the father.

Vincent described it this way in a letter to Theo: “It actually started with me not going to church and also saying that if going to church was a compulsion & I had to go to church, I certainly would never go again and not even out of politeness, as I had done pretty regularly all the time I was in Etten. (…) I can”t remember ever being so angry in my life, and I told Pa flatly that I found the whole system of this religion abominable, precisely because I had become too absorbed in these things at a miserable period of my life, and wanted nothing more to do with them, and I must beware of it as of something sinister.” Pa chased Vincent out of Etten, “You”re killing me!”

Vincent moved to The Hague.

Vincent received drawing and painting lessons from Anton Mauve from November 1881. The cousin was a good, recognized painter and took the fifteen years younger Vincent under his wing. He invited Vincent to his home, supported him (also financially) and helped him technically. He was convinced that Vincent was a painter. He tried to teach him watercolor, but his fellow painter Weissenbruch continued to recommend drawing. Anton Mauve played a central role in The Hague and facilitated his relative Vincent”s entry into painting. Then came the tragic falling out with Mauve in May 1882. When Vincent had developed so far in drawing that he sold the first drawings to Tersteeg (who had to correct his negative judgment of Vincent) and Uncle Cor, Mauve insisted that Vincent should continue drawing, from plaster casts, as the Bargue method prescribed. This Vincent indignantly refused, smashed the plaster casts and threw the fragments into the waste pit. “My old man, don”t talk to me about plaster casts anymore, because I dread them.” After many attempts to meet with Mauve to reconcile, Vincent happened to run into him. When Mauve refused to look at Vincent”s works, he berated him, “You have an insidious character!” That was the final break. Cf. Viviane Forrester.

Vincent became an enthusiastic painter. At the end of the year he wrote: “I feel in myself a force that I want to develop, a fire that I cannot let go out, that I must stoke without knowing what the result will be; I would not be surprised if the result were sad.”

The time of restriction to drawing was over in 1883, the painter could no longer be stopped. In vain the master Mauve tried to keep his pupil Vincent from becoming his equal. If you look at the self-portrait of Mauve, then an increased self-confidence of the painter towards arrogance is not to be misjudged.

1882 is the year in which Vincent met a woman whom he loved without infatuation or conceit and who returned his love. Clasina Maria Hornik, called Sien. He moved in with her. This caused quarrels with the family, because she was a prostitute. He had already loved several of these women, who “are slandered from the pulpit above by these pastors, condemned and loaded with shame. Me, on the other hand, I don”t slander them.” She knew how to give him love. “You find the world funnier when you wake up in the morning and no longer feel alone, when you discover another human being by your side in the half-light. It”s funnier than the pious books and the chalky white church walls our pastors are so enamored of.” Cf. Viviane Forrester.

He insisted on being almost thirty and a man with experience. Sien was a grown woman (three years older than Vincent), had a little daughter, now she was pregnant again. The son was named Wilhelm – like the first, but also like Vincent”s second name – Vincent had renovated the apartment and happily received mother and son after delivery. He accepted these children. The material basis was Theo”s money, which was enough for the small family without Sien having to go out on the street. Sien was the oldest of the eight living children of her Catholic mother, who had sent her into prostitution to help support the family. Her brothers, choirboys, refused to have contact with her. Vincent drew Sien and her mother modeling for him several times. The drawing Sorrow depicts Sien. Uncle Cor was initially dismissive when he visited Vincent in his studio. He thought one had to earn one”s bread to live a decent life, unlike the Belgian painter De Groux, whom Vincent admired so much. Charles De Groux was a representative of a socially critical realism that addressed the impoverishment and pauperization of the working class in particular. It is obvious that his bourgeois relative thought nothing of such subjects, but Vincent after his experiences in the Borinage all the more. De Groux had studied in Düsseldorf in 185152, where the school of painting around Wilhelm Ludwig Heine and Ludwig Knaus had taken up socio-political themes after the 48 Revolution. In literature at that time Georg Büchner stood for this new development. To this day, this school is defamed as “tendency painting” because it does not practice painting art for art”s sake. Knaus later also went to Paris and Barbizon. Vincent was due to his professional experience this important Düsseldorf school of painting with its important representatives of course known, and just as clearly he positioned himself in the disputes with his conservative relatives.

A year later, in the summer of 1883, Theo also fell in love with a prostitute, but renounced because of family pressure and also put pressure on his brother because his father threatened to have Vincent committed to a psychiatric ward, who was financially dependent on Theo. Vincent sent himself spinning: “You can”t get me a wife, you can”t get me a child. You can”t get me a job. But money, that yes. What good is that to me?”

In the fall of 1883, van Gogh separated from Sien, well aware that he was foregoing a family of his own for the future: “We are now faced with this fact – my firm resolution to be dead to everything except my work.” Vincent decided to devote himself entirely to painting without relationship, but wrote to Theo: “I tell you that it is too much for me alone. I need a companion … I have projects that are such that I dare not carry them out alone … Neither of us will be alone; our works will merge, a little like the waters that flow together.”

Antwerp and Paris

Vincent van Gogh was to stay in Antwerp for three months. The painter preferred to save on food rather than painting materials; in his letters he complained of health problems and weakness as a result of the inadequate diet. Mainly because models and heated rooms were available to him there free of charge, the now 32-year-old attended courses at the art academy. Reports from former fellow students have come down to us, which in turn describe him as an eccentric and an outsider. When the vacations began at the academy in March 1886, van Gogh went to his brother Theo in Paris, the center of the art world at the time.

It was not without misgivings that Theo took the brother into his home. In fact, the two years of living together were to be marked by ups and downs.

He lived in rue Laval and managed the branch at 19 boulevard Montmartre, where he had to exhibit on the first floor the painters of the (official, recognized) salon that promoted the wealth of Boussod and Valadon (successors of Goupil & Co), and on the mezzanine floor were tolerated his favorite impressionist painters, the (still) infamous avant-garde. He was a confident professional when it came to painting. He had the right eye to assess a painting, to judge a painter, and an enormous knowledge. He was awkward in his manner, but just as much on the cutting edge as Vincent when it came to modern painting. They were in constant exchange, complementing and correcting each other and cross-fertilizing each other. And he was an excellent merchant. He exhibited Monet and also sold paintings by Degas, Renoir, Sisley, Camille and Lucien Pissarro. He corresponded confidently with his painters. Vincent was always making contact with new painters, whom he discovered and referred to Theo. This gave Theo a direct line to the avant-garde. One could say Vincent was a knowledgeable representative who was the first to introduce him to new painters.

Boussod & Valadon wrote to Theo”s successor in 1890: “Our steward van Gogh, by the way a kind of madman like his brother the painter, is in a private clinic; you are to replace him, do what you will. He has accumulated ghastly things by modern painters that are a disgrace to our house. There must have been some Corot, Rousseau, Daubigny, but we have taken over this stock, which is unnecessary for your inexperience. You”ll also find a certain number of oil paintings by a landscape painter Claude Monet, who is starting to sell a little bit in America, but he”s doing too much of it. We have a contract that we have to buy all his production, and he is about to overwhelm us with his landscapes, which always have the same theme. As for the rest, they are abominations…” Viviane Forrester

Van Gogh took courses for several months in the studio of Fernand Cormon, a private art school. It was here in particular that he made the acquaintance of numerous other painters, including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Signac, Louis Anquetin and Paul Gauguin. He became friends with Émile Bernard. In the circle of young colleagues who, like him, were still waiting for their breakthrough, he was apparently quite well integrated. Van Gogh, who advocated a union of the competing and often quarreling artists, organized two joint exhibitions in restaurants, which, however, remained without sales success for him. Also unsuccessful was the exhibition of paintings in the shop window of the paint dealer and art lover Père Tanguy.

In Paris, van Gogh turned to the Impressionist style of art that was current there. Under this impression, his previously dark palette brightened, and he began to experiment with various painting techniques. He painted a lot outdoors, especially in the countryside around Paris, such as Montmartre and Asnières. At the same time, he became acquainted with ukiyo-e – Japanese woodblock prints, for example by Katsushika Hokusai – and began to collect them. In 1887, he organized an exhibition of ukiyo-e woodblock prints at the Cafe Le Tambourin, with whose owner Agostina Segatori he briefly had a love affair.

Later Bernard will write that in the studio Cormon he discovered a man “with red hair, the goatee of a goat, the look of an eagle and biting mouth; of medium build, stocky, but also not excessive, with lively gestures and jerky steps, so was van Gogh, always with his pipe, a canvas or etching or cardboard. In speech vehement, infinitely detailed and a developer of ideas, less ready for controversy and full of dreams, ah! dreams, dreams! Huge exhibitions, philanthropic artists” cooperatives, founding of artists” colonies in the south of France.”

The passionate discussions took place in the studios or in cafés, with Pissarro, Gauguin, Signac, Seurat, sometimes Degas. For the most part, the friends belonged to the “Little Boulevard,” but the separation from the Impressionists, who were counted as part of the “Great Boulevard,” was not so clear: Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley… They had together in the public an outsider position to the painters who exhibited in the official “Salon”. Vincent painted floral still lifes, landscapes, self-portraits. With Bernard he exchanged pictures, so that when the critic Albert Aurier visited Bernard”s studio, Vincent came to his attention.

In the winter of 1886, the brothers moved into a larger apartment in Montmartre (54 Rue Lépic). Theo was pleased with his brother; to Moe he wrote: “We like our new apartment very much. You would not recognize Vincent, he has changed so much; the others find it even more than I do. He has undergone an operation in his mouth, he had lost almost all his teeth, for he had a sick stomach. The doctor calls him cured. He is making fantastic progress in his work and is beginning to have success. He paints mostly flowers so that his paintings will be more colorful. He hasn”t sold anything yet, but he trades his paintings for others. Thanks to this, we have a nice collection of some value. He is much more cheerful than before, and people like him here. To prove it, almost not a day goes by that he is not invited to the studio of famous painters or that they come to see him. He has friends who send him a lot of flowers every week, which he takes as models. If this continues, his troubles will soon be over. He”ll be able to get by on his own.” Vincent managed to sell paintings by his friends.

Vincent nevertheless moved out in 1887. Viviane Forrester suspects that this move was related to Theo”s relationship with Johanna Bonger (1862-1925), the sister of their mutual friend Andries Bonger. Theo and Jo would not become engaged until January 1889 and would marry three months later, but Theo fell hopefully in love with her as early as 1887. Jo took on outstanding importance after the death of the two brothers van Gogh, because she ensured the publicity of the paintings and published the first collection of letters, because she managed the inheritance for Theo”s son.

A letter that Theo wrote to the sister Wil makes clear how difficult the separation from Vincent was for him:

“Paris February 24 and 26, 1888

Love Wil,

For a long time I wanted to write to you, and I do it now because I have to tell you that I am alone again. Vincent went south last Sunday, first to Arles to get his bearings, and then probably to Marseille. The new school of painters is mainly trying to get light and sun into paintings, and you can well understand that the gray days of late have provided little material for motifs. Moreover, the cold has made him ill. The years of so much worry and adversity have not made him a bit stronger, and he felt a definite need for rather milder air. A trip of a night and a day and you are there, so the temptation was great, and accordingly he quickly decided to go there. I think it will definitely do him good, both physically and for his work. When he came here two years ago, I never thought we would be so connected, because now there is clearly a void where I am alone again in my apartment. If I find someone, I want to live with him, but it”s not easy to replace someone like Vincent. It”s incredible how much he knows and what a clear view he has of the world. That”s why I”m sure he will make a name for himself when he has a certain number of years left to live. It happened through him that I came into contact with many painters who held him in very high esteem. He is one of the masters of new ideas, that is, there is nothing new in this world and therefore it would be more correct to speak of restoring old ideas that have been corrupted and made small by the daily grind. Moreover, he has such a big heart that he is constantly trying to do something for others, unfortunately for those who cannot or will not understand him.”

First plan

The move south to Marseille appealed to Vincent because of the light: “… this is the sun that has never penetrated us, us others from the north”. The light was his special theme since the Japan fashion, which is why Brittany was less considered as a destination, although he had friends there. But not only because of the light, nor only because of the friends, but especially because of his model Adolphe Monticelli (1824-1886).

Monticelli was a student of Felix Ziem (1821-1911), who was influenced by the Barbizon group and lived temporarily in Paris. From 1849 he had a residence in Montmartre in Paris (on Rue Lépic, as it was later called, and where Theo would live with Vincent) and from 1853 in Barbizon. Feliz Ziem became friends with Théodore Rousseau (1812 in Paris – 1867 in Barbizon) and Jean François Millet (1814 in Gréville-Hague – 1875 in Barbizon), the two models of Vincent since boarding school. The inspiring Orientalism had also seized Ziem. He is considered a precursor of Impressionism.

Second plan

In Vincent”s imagination, the “Atelier of the South” was to be more than a painter”s colony, namely a phalanstère (phalansterium) according to Fourier”s ideas, for that is a working and living community of like-minded people for common benefit. For the early socialist Charles Fourier, who was labeled a utopian by Karl Marx, it was both: a colony and a struggling community for a better society than the capitalist one whose “anarchic industry” and “commercialism of trade” he rejected. Vincent”s Atelier of the South was to be a project in which people worked and sold together on an equal footing, shared success equally, and lived according to their own needs. This was his understanding of socialism. Gauguin would come, the attempt started two at first, but it was pursued consistently. Bernard had agreed that he would also be there. A beginning was made, Vincent started alone, had contacts with painters in the area and was euphoric.

Third plan

Vincent knew that Theo wanted to quit his employers sooner rather than later and had a basic stock of paintings sufficient for his own company. He himself also considered himself competent and felt able to sell: “My dear brother, if I weren”t so mad and infatuated by this dirty painting, what a merchant I would make just with the Impressionists.” The plan started from three locations: Paris with Theo, Marseilles with Vincent, London with Hermanus Tersteeg, Theo”s successor at Goupil & Co. Hoping that Tersteeg would be persuaded by Theo, he suggested inviting him to Paris and showing him around the studios of the painter friends. Then Tersteeg would learn what a painter Vincent was. An old wound would be closed. It would be a rehabilitation also towards the uncles. He drafted a letter that Theo sent to Tersteeg.

On February 19, 1888, he traveled to Arles in southern France.


Originally, Arles had only been intended as a stopover on the way to Marseille. But he got stuck in this provincial nest because his “studio of the south” was taking shape there. The plan of a trade network with Tersteeg failed, but until shortly before Vincent”s suicide he had not given up hope of founding a joint company with Theo. Andries Bonger later came into the conversation as a partner.

He initially stayed at the Hotel Carrel. In March he met with the painter Christian Mourier-Petersen. On April 15 he received a visit from the American painter Dodge Macknight, whom he visited twice in Fontvieille. The contact was established by the friend John Russell. In the middle of June there was an important meeting with Eugène Boch. Vincent gave drawing lessons to the Zouaven Milliet.

From March 22 to May 3, he had three paintings at the 4th Exhibition of Independents in Paris.

In April he rented a studio in the Yellow House, where he also lived from September, after renting the other rooms in the house. In between, he lived in a room in the café of Mr. and Mrs. Ginoux, whom he also portrayed. The Yellow House fell victim to a bombardment by the US Army during the liberation from the Nazis.

Artistically, the Arles stay was particularly productive; in sixteen months van Gogh created 187 paintings. Lacking models, he turned first to landscape. After the bridge at Langlois, he painted a series of flowering orchards and other motifs from the Arles area in the spring. From May 30 to June 4, van Gogh made a trip to the Camargue on the Mediterranean to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, from where he brought home, among other things, the sketches for the later painting Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saintes-Maries.

He had great sympathy for Eugène Boch, whom he portrayed. Contacts also developed with fellow citizens of Arles, which were reflected in portraits. Of particular importance was his friendship with the postmaster Joseph Roulin. Van Gogh painted all members of the five-member Roulin family several times, including the postmaster alone six times.

Having finished furnishing his apartment in September, van Gogh could think of realizing a long-cherished dream: The Studio of the South, where artists lived and worked together. Only Paul Gauguin, however, after much hesitation, agreed to come after Theo van Gogh had promised to pay his travel expenses and a monthly allowance. Van Gogh looked forward to Gauguin”s arrival with both joy and tension. In order to impress his colleague and to decorate the room intended for him, he painted numerous pictures in a short time, including the well-known sunflower pictures. He also painted tirelessly to offer Theo, in whose debt he felt, a return for the extra expense in furnishing the house. Before Gauguin”s arrival, van Gogh complained of health problems due to exhaustion.

On October 23, Gauguin arrived in Arles; Emile Bernard was still hesitant. Theo rejoiced and wrote: “I am very pleased that Gauguin is with you…. Now, in your letter, I see that you are ill and worrying a lot. I must tell you something once and for all. I see that the thing with the money and the sale of pictures and the whole financial side does not exist, or rather it exists like a disease. You talk about money that you owe and that you want to give back to me. I don”t know that. What I want you to achieve is that you should never have any worries. I am forced to work for money…”

However, it is a competitive relationship between two headstrong and emotional people, of whom at least Gauguin is egocentric and calculating. Both are quick-tempered and convinced of their own painting. But Vincent is willing to share equally Theo”s monthly allowance (150 francs) and the house. They paint the same subjects side by side and, at Vincent”s request, each paints a self-portrait. The painters Laval and Bernard, both close friends of the “school” but not yet in Arles, also paint a self-portrait for Vincent. Vincent is enthusiastic about the quality of the paintings and gives Theo hope that they will be “better and more marketable.

In October 1888, Theo sold a painting by Corot and a self-portrait by Vincent to a London gallery and confirmed the payment. This was already pointed out by M. E. Trabault in 1967, as Viviane Forrester writes. Nevertheless, this fact does not find attention, although it shows that Vincent”s paintings already found buyers during his lifetime.

On November 1 and 2, 1888, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin wrote a letter to their mutual friend Emile Bernard, which was auctioned in 2020 for €210,600 because it is the only letter from both painters together. It makes clear that at that time they were still of one mind, worked together and planned the future.

Vincent wrote: “Besides, I think that it will not astonish you very much if I tell you that our discussions go to deal with the terrible subject of an association of certain painters. This association, should or can it yes or no have a commercial character. We have not reached any conclusion yet and we have not set foot on a new continent at all. So I, who have an inkling of a new world, who certainly believe in the possibility of a tremendous renaissance of art. I believe that this new art will have the tropics as its home. I believe that we ourselves will serve only as mediators. And that it will only be a following generation that will succeed in living in peace. In the end, all this, our tasks and our possibilities of action will only become clearer to us through experiment.” Gauguin added, “His idea of the future of a new generation in the tropics seems absolutely right to me as a painter, and I continue to pursue the intention of returning there when I find the means. Who knows, with a little luck?”

At this point, the state of discussion was clear from the two painters that their studio of the South should move on to the tropics. After the Arles stage, Vincent would perhaps first visit Marseille, but in any case follow Gauguin to the tropics. So it is written there. Paul Gauguin had just come from an artists” colony in Brittany, which he had helped to build, and wanted most of all to return to the tropics, where he had already painted. The previous time he had not gone alone, but with a friend. Vincent van Gogh was ready to go along to realize his dream, which was now very close.

Not long after, the relationship between the two difficult characters was fraught with conflict. Still in mid-December, however, they visited the Fabre Museum in Montpellier together, where they came across paintings by Delacroix that shocked Vincent. Delacroix painted his patron Bruyas several times; in one picture, the painter confronts the patron as a self-confident artist with a servant and dog. The painting shows Bruyas dressed in black in mourning or despair and is like a mirror held up to Vincent. He wrote to Theo: “This is a gentleman with a red beard and hair who bears a devilish resemblance to you or me and makes me think of that poem by Musset: Everywhere I touched the earth, there came to sit near us, a wretch dressed in black, who looked at us like a brother.”

And he asked Theo for a lithograph of another work by Delacroix, “because it seems to me that this very figure must have something to do with the beautiful portrait of Brias.” It is the picture of Tasso in the prison of the insane: “Le Tasse dans la prison des fous”.

In this situation in the museum, the black-clad unfortunate brother appeared, the stillborn Vincent the First, by whom Vincent had been haunted since childhood, because he himself was only his substitute Vincent the Second. And he recognized his despair. He saw in the painting by Delacroix an allegory for the situation in Arles: the artist Gauguin proudly, almost haughtily greets the stiff merchant Theo, behind whom the bent brother Vincent serves.

His cohabitation with Gauguin ended exactly two months later with an incident that was never fully clarified, in the course of which van Gogh is said to have cut off a large part of his left ear after a heated argument, as Paul Gauguin reported and he himself also wrote later. Van Gogh was found the next morning, unconscious and weakened from blood loss. The posterior auricular artery was cut, according to Vincent”s letter of January 7-8, 1889, which resulted in the considerable blood loss. Gauguin notified Theo and left for Paris.

He himself, however, was soon allowed to paint, and he began doing so in the first days after his arrival in his cell. Gradually he was allowed to move more freely to paint. The often failed, withdrawn man now clung to his work even more than before. First he painted the view from his window, then motifs from the garden of the asylum, finally also motifs from the surroundings of Saint-Rémy and the later famous Starry Night.

In the summer he suffered a severe attack, which meant a six-week crisis, after learning of Jo”s pregnancy. In vain he resisted naming this child Vincent. Another crisis followed at Christmas, during which (as well as during another seizure at the end of the year) he tried to swallow poisonous paints, which can be considered a suicide attempt. After that he did not venture out of the house for weeks, but painted several self-portraits. He also converted a number of paintings that he valued and owned as black-and-white reproductions – especially by Delacroix and Millet – into color paintings. In the spring of 1890 he returned to the theme of irises.

Between September 1889 and April 1890, Theo submitted paintings by van Gogh to three renowned exhibitions of avant-garde art. This was the first time the painter reached a wider public. The reactions were appreciative, culminating in an enthusiastic article by critic Gabriel-Albert Aurier in an art journal. Moreover, at one of the exhibitions in early 1890, van Gogh”s painting The Red Vineyards of Arles was sold – it is the only documented sale from his mature period. The painter was more anxious than joyful about the success that might now be in the offing. So it seems at first glance, because Vincent did not like the picture that Aurier created of him: in the tendency a mad genius. At the same time, knowing the importance of praise, he sent Aurier one of his paintings and wrote to Theo:

Shouldn”t we send to Reid or perhaps to Tersteeg or to C.M.1 a copy of Aurier”s essay? We must take advantage of this now and try to place something in Scotland, right now or even later. I think you will love the picture I have intended for Aurier.”

Already since the fall, van Gogh had been pursuing the intention of leaving the asylum, where he felt like a prisoner, and moving back to the north. This raised the question of a place where he would receive the necessary care. In the spring of 1890, the question seemed resolved: In Auvers-sur-Oise, about 30 km from Paris, the art lover and physician Paul Gachet would take care of him.

Last months in Auvers sur Oise

On May 17, 1890, Vincent van Gogh arrived in Paris to his brother, his wife, and their son, also named Vincent, who was born at the end of January. Vincent had begged Jo to choose another name because it made another Vincent important to Theo. Jo was having trouble with Vincent. The atmosphere in the family was tense: Theo had differences with his employers and was toying with the idea of starting his own gallery – a financial gamble just now, when he had to provide not only for his brother but also for his wife and child; moreover, he had been hampered for some time by various health problems. After three days, Vincent van Gogh traveled on to Auvers to see Dr. Gachet.

The person and behavior of Dr. Gachet, of whom his new patient said: ” his experience as a doctor must, after all, keep him in balance in combating the nervous malady from which he seems to me to suffer at least as seriously as I do “, are judged differently in the literature. If on the one hand it is said: “Vincent could not find a better therapist for his illness”, the more recent research considers him rather as a hypocrite who misdiagnosed van Gogh”s illness, exploited him by “ordering” gifts of paintings, and possibly ultimately drove him to his death. The widower Gachet was acquainted with numerous modern artists, including Paul Cézanne and Claude Monet, whose paintings he collected, and was himself active artistically in his spare time. Van Gogh lived at the inn, but was invited to dinner once a week at the doctor”s house, who was very fond of his painting.

In Auvers, the painter fell into a veritable creative frenzy. In 70 days, he created around 80 paintings and 60 drawings. The still rural Auvers with its thatched huts offered him numerous motifs. He painted the houses of the village, its church, and portraits of some of the inhabitants, including that of Dr. Gachet and his daughter (Mademoiselle Gachet at the piano). Theo informed his brother that he wanted to quit his job at Boussod and start his own business with Dries Bonger, Jo”s brother. He did not agree with the pay, but above all he needed more money for his family. He saw the opportunity to make a lot of money with the modern painters who were despised by his bosses. However, Theo needed business partners to finance the business and hoped for Dries, Jo”s brother, who had found an apartment with his wife in the same house. Living together under one roof was not without conflict. On Sunday, July 6, Vincent visited Theo and Dries in Paris to talk hopefully about Theo”s new perspective: a joint venture in which Vincent would be involved. The women interfered, Dries declined. Vincent dejectedly left the same day. He actually wanted to stay longer. The Theo-Jo couple was aware of the drama and yet knew no way out.

Theo wrote to Jo on July 25: “If only he could find someone to buy some of them, but I”m afraid that might take a very long time. But you can”t drop him when he works so hard and so well. When will a happy time come for him? He”s so thoroughly good and has helped me so much to keep going.”

Jo replied on July 26, “What might be going on with Vincent? Did we go too far the day he came? My love, I have made up my mind never to quarrel with you again – and always to do as you wish.”

On July 27, Vincent seriously injured himself in a suicide attempt in the fields around Auvers with a pistol. Dr. Gachet and another doctor came and did not help him. Theo rushed over and stayed by his brother”s bedside until his death on July 29.

Among other things, Vincent painted the cornfields surrounding Auvers in a rainy mood shortly before the end. Viviane Forrester recalls the painting The Burial in Wheat, which had accompanied Vincent in his childhood because it hung behind his father”s desk. In French, wheat has the double meaning of grain and money.

On July 27, van Gogh shot himself in the chest (according to another account: in the stomach) outdoors, but was still able to return to the inn. There has been much speculation about the motives for the deed: It is possible that now that Theo was a family man, he feared for Theo”s undivided attention and also no longer wanted to be a financial burden on his brother in his uncertain professional situation; possibly the death was also intended to increase the price of his paintings in favor of Theo. Another conceivable motive would be that a budding love affair with Gachet”s 21-year-old daughter had been forbidden by her father. It can also not be ruled out that the shot was a “cry for help” without any real intention to kill. According to a recent theory, however, van Gogh did not die by suicide, but was the victim of an accident. Not only had Vincent been suicidal for some time, but if you know the life story and read the correspondence carefully, you will find the explanation for the suicide in Vincent”s letters. As shown above, Theo had broken the pact between painter and dealer and decided for his wife and child Vincent. Thus the future as a painter was blocked for Vincent and the only bond was cut.

The two doctors who were called in, including Dr. Gachet, refrained from removing the bullet. Theo rushed to him, gave him hope that he would survive the injury. Vincent replied, “It”s useless. The grief will always remain.” The weeping Theo laid his head next to his brother”s. Vincent murmured, “As in Zundert.” Vincent van Gogh died on July 29 in the presence of his brother. Cf. also in the following: Viviane Forrester.

On October 9, Theo collapsed. On October 12, Theo was transferred to a psychiatric hospital. On the admission sheet, in the column “Cause of illness” is noted: “Chronic illness. Overwork and grief. He has led a life of emotional tension.”

The painter friend Camille Pissarro wrote to his son Lucien Pissarro: “As a result of these things, in a moment of despair, he quit the Boussod and suddenly went mad. (…) He wanted to rent the tambourine to found a painters” association. After that he became violent. He, who loved his wife and child so much, he wanted to kill them.”

Theo felt guilty for not having believed in his brother enough and for not having supported his project of a Phalanstery. In his hallucinations he spoke of renting the Parisian cabinet “Tambourin” where Vincent had exhibited a few years earlier, in order to found the painters” association for which Vincent had fought so persistently. He knew in his dying days that this project of Vincent”s was also his own project, the failure of which broke them both.

Theo survived Vincent by only half a year. Today, the brothers” graves lie next to each other in the Auvers cemetery.

Dutch period

From September 1866 to March 1868, Vincent received proper drawing and art instruction at an elite school. At the place where he went to school, you can visit Vincent”s drawing class today. He was sent to the prestigious “Wilhelm II” institute in Tilburg. His teacher was a successful painter of landscapes and peasant life in France, Constant Cornelis Huijsmans. He had also published relevant drawing textbooks. His father had already been a drawing teacher at the Royal Academy, and his son Constant had succeeded him. Huijsmans set a decisive course for Vincent. He was a follower of Theodore Rousseau, a realistic landscape painter who had founded the Barbizon School. It brought together the first open-air painters, including Cézanne. Huiysmans had traveled throughout the south of France and was an advocate of subjectivity. The state granted him a loan so that he could buy a collection of reproductions of works of art that his students learned to look at and copy. Vincent made his first drawing there as a teenager of two peasants leaning on a shovel. It remains to be noted that at the school Vincent had as a teacher the most important Dutch painter of the avant-garde, who taught him the way of seeing and painting that Vincent would later follow, because in Paris he would join the successors of this “school”.

Vincent received drawing and painting lessons from Anton Mauve from November 1881. He represented the Barbizon of the North. He belonged to the Oosterbeek School, an artists” colony that had sprung up near Arnhem on the Lower Rhine and is considered the Barbizon of the North. The artists turned to nature and painted the landscape before industrialization and its people. This school had an attractive effect on more than forty painters between 1840 and 1870, it was especially pioneering in the fifties. Among them were Jozeph Israëls, the Dutch painter influenced by the Barbizon artists” colony during his stay in Paris (1845-1847), and his compatriot Hendrik Willem Mesdag. They turned to realism and open-air painting in nature. Israëls spent a lot of time on the coast (Katwijk and Zandvoort) in the fifties and sixties and moved to The Hague in the early seventies. The coast is not far there, Scheveningen is part of the residential city of The Hague. The Oosterbeek School continued to work in the Hague School from 1870 and developed a Dutch form of Impressionism. The fishing village of Scheveningen, with its fishermen and their boats, natural and coastal landscapes attracted the artists to whom Mauve, Izraël and Mesdag continue to belong. His son Isaac Israël was to establish Amsterdam Impressionism in the mid-eighties with Vincent”s friend Breitner, but until then the Hague School was dominant. An important role for this in The Hague was played by the artists” association Pulchri, to which an artist had to be elected. He could apply, but the committee determined. Sales exhibitions were organized in the galleries of the association, as well as joint art viewings of the paintings of members. According to Israëls, the board included the brothers Maris, Weissenbruch, Mesdag and – Anton Mauve. In 1878 they had additionally founded the Dutch Drawing Society. The unifying bond of the Dutch artist colonies of this era was the search for naturalistic painting at a time when naturalism was also being proclaimed in literature as a doctrine by Emile Zola. Paris and Barbizon are very close, the idea of artist colonies influenced the German painter Max Liebermann in Scheveningen, Paris and Barbizon. Again and again he went to the Netherlands. Vincent tried to meet him in Zweeloo. An early work of this German impressionist is a potato harvest and makes one think of Vincent”s early works.

Mauve had recommended a trip to the Drenthe to Vincent because the remote, rural landscape there had inspired himself and other famous painters (especially Max Liebermann). Theo also brought Liebermann to Vincent”s attention. Vincent did not go there until the fall of 1883, but too late. They later met in Paris, where the bourgeois Liebermann, however, turned away when he saw Vincent. From 1872 Max Liebermann went to Holland almost every summer, especially to Zweeloo in the Drenthe region, a lonely area of moors and heaths and windmills bordering Lower Saxony. There is a closeness in the motifs of Liebermann and Van Gogh (seamstress, weaver), which showed the exhibition “Barbizon of the North” in early 2020. Vincent painted intensively in the Drenthe, seven paintings are preserved. Liebermann, just like Vincent van Gogh, admired the painter Jean-François Millet and had visited him in Barbizon in 1874. Today, the Van Gogh Huis stands on the border between Veenoord and Nieuw-Amsterdam. That is where Vincent lived at the time. It is a museum and still an inn. As the name suggests, Veenoord is a fairy place, which in East Frisia is the name for a moorland landscape with canals and windmills.

Vincent admired the Belgian painter Charles De Groux. He was a representative of a socially critical realism that focused on the impoverishment and impoverishment of the working class in particular. It is obvious that Vincent”s bourgeois relatives thought nothing of such subjects, but Vincent after his experiences in the Borinage all the more. De Groux had studied in Düsseldorf in 185152, where the school of painting around Wilhelm Ludwig Heine and Ludwig Knaus had taken up socio-political themes after the 48 Revolution. In literature at the time, Georg Büchner stood for this new development. To this day, this school is defamed as “tendency painting” because it did not practice painting-art for art”s sake. Knaus later also went to Paris and Barbizon. Vincent, due to his professional experience, was of course aware of this important Düsseldorf school of painting with its important representatives, and he positioned himself just as clearly in the disputes with his conservative relatives.

In the years 1880-1885, which he spent in Holland and Brussels respectively, it was still two compatriots of the 17th century who exerted an influence on his work: Rembrandt and Frans Hals. From them he adopted the palette of brown, gray and black tones, the chiaroscuro painting, the pastose application of paint with the rather coarse brushstrokes that remain visible, the neglect of pictorial details in favor of an overall effect that is all the more striking. He explicitly admired how these old masters refrained from elaborating their paintings too much. “What particularly struck me when I saw the Old Dutch paintings again is that they are mostly painted quickly. That the great masters – like a Hals, a Rembrandt, a Ruysdael and many others – put down as much as possible de premier coup (with the first stroke) and then don”t do so much more to it,” he wrote to his brother Theo in 1885. Van Gogh himself maintained this principle throughout his life.

In terms of content, he worked primarily on the subject that was closest to his heart – the world of ordinary people. In this “Dutch period”, Van Gogh painted peasants at work, their poor huts, craftsmen; significantly, the potato is often found in his still lifes. He demanded that his pictures be true and convey a mood, a feeling or an idea – a demand that he also found fulfilled in his models.

The most ambitious and well-known painting from this period is The Potato Eaters from 1885, which depicts a peasant family at their simple meal; van Gogh wanted to use it to depict the earthiness and hard life of rural people. He put a lot of effort into this painting; having difficulty grouping the people depicted in a believable scene, he rented models and made many studies, despite his tight budget.

Time of development: Antwerp and Paris

During the three-month stay in Antwerp, but especially in the two Paris years 1886-1888, Vincent van Gogh was exposed to a variety of new impressions. For his own work began a phase of experimentation that would ultimately lead to a fundamental change in his painting style.

In Paris, he encountered the current style of art there, Impressionism. Although he had reservations about the new style (the dissolution of forms and the light application of color contradicted his own aims too strongly, and he also missed statements about content), van Gogh nevertheless adopted elements of Impressionism in his own painting. He now used lighter, pure colors and went over to dotted, comma-shaped brushstrokes or even dots (this a suggestion from Pointillism), whereby he liked to combine colored areas from complementary colored elements. The encounter with paintings by Eugène Delacroix supported the turn to a stronger colorfulness. Thematically, he turned to Parisian motifs; he also frequently painted in the rural surroundings of the city. Examples of Impressionist-influenced paintings from this period include Angling in Spring, Pont de Clichy (1887), Bridges over the Seine at Asnières (1887), and Vegetable Gardens on Montmartre (1887).

His encounter with Japanese woodblock prints was important for his further artistic development. In 1853, Japan had opened its borders, and in the following years more and more prints found their way to Europe. Many artists became enthusiastic about the completely new art of Japonism, and van Gogh was also fascinated. He started a collection of woodblock prints and also transferred some motifs into oil paintings, such as the portrait of Père Tanguy. Above all, however, he learned from the Japanese conception of art and adopted its principles of design. Virtually every one of his paintings from now on features one or another “Japanese” design device: the absence of body and cast shadows, “flat” areas of color outlined with thin lines, unusual perspectives, tiny people depicted in a landscape (for example, Street Work in Saint-Rémy, 1889). About his painting The Artist”s Bedroom he wrote to Theo: “Shadows and drop shadows are omitted, and the colors are flat and simply applied as in Japanese prints “. His choice of motifs is also partly influenced by Japan, for example in the series of blossoming fruit trees from the spring of 1888.

Mature style: Arles

In Arles, Vincent van Gogh began to paint in the new style that he had developed theoretically during his last period in Paris, but had not yet applied consistently. This style of painting, which he essentially maintained until his death, is the one that we today consider “typical” of van Gogh.

There is one painter who influenced Paul Cézanne and whom Vincent repeatedly named as a shining example: Adolphe Monticelli in Marseille. It was also because of him that he had set out for the south, but Monticelli had already died in 1886.

His encounter with Japanese woodblock prints was important for his further artistic development. In 1853, Japan had opened its borders, and in the following years more and more prints found their way to Europe. Many artists became enthusiastic about the completely new art of Japonism, and van Gogh was also fascinated. He started a collection of woodblock prints and also transferred some motifs into oil paintings, such as the portrait of Père Tanguy. Above all, however, he learned from the Japanese conception of art and adopted its principles of design. Virtually every one of his paintings from now on features one or another “Japanese” design device: the absence of body and cast shadows, “flat” areas of color outlined with thin lines, unusual perspectives, tiny people depicted in a landscape (for example, Street Work in Saint-Rémy, 1889). About his painting The Artist”s Bedroom he wrote to Theo: “Shadows and drop shadows are omitted, and the colors are flat and simply applied as in Japanese prints “. His choice of motifs is also partly influenced by Japan, for example in the series of blossoming fruit trees from the spring of 1888.

The light in Japanese art led van Gogh to the south of France, where he wanted to build the “Atelier of the South” with Paul Gauguin and other painters. Together, they cherished for a moment the dream of a “Studio of the South Seas”, which Gauguin realized alone.

Vincent van Gogh had moved to Arles hoping to find the bright colors of the south: ” the beautiful contrasts of red and green, of blue and orange, of sulfur yellow and purple found by nature.” Indeed, soon after his arrival there, he painted with pure, strong colors, which he liked to juxtapose in complementary contrasts so that they enhanced each other”s effect. He ignored the local colors, i.e. the natural colors of the objects. He often exaggerated the colors, or used them in such a way that they fit into the color scheme he had developed for the picture in question. In van Gogh”s work there are green skies, pink clouds, turquoise streets. He himself wrote about this: “I take over from nature a certain order and a certain accuracy in the placement of tones, I study nature so that I don”t make nonsense and remain sensible; but whether my color is literally exactly the same, I don”t care much about that, if it only looks good in my picture Despite the bright colors and the strong contrasts, however, van Gogh”s pictures never seem garish or striking. He ensured a harmonious harmony by also using intermediate tones that soften and connect the other colors.

Color also had a symbolic function for van Gogh. Colors were meant to express moods, as in the painting The Night Café (1888): “I have tried to express the terrible human passions with red and green. The room is blood red and dull yellow, a green billiard in the center, four lemon yellow lamps with orange and green radiant circles. Everywhere is struggle and antithesis

Vincent van Gogh painted quickly, spontaneously and without making major corrections afterwards. On the one hand, the speedy painting style suited his creative urge, but on the other hand he also used it quite deliberately as a means of expression: it was intended to lend his pictures more liveliness, intensity and immediacy. He also simplified the motifs in favor of a greater overall effect. Although he painted quickly, he did not paint impulsively or even ecstatically; before executing his paintings, he prepared them carefully in thought, sometimes in several drawings.

Almost always he painted “before the motif”, only in very rare cases from memory or imagination. Even though he often strongly reshaped what he saw, he always remained committed to reality and never crossed the line into abstraction.

Van Gogh used to apply the colors impasto, i.e. undiluted or only slightly diluted, and sometimes pressed them directly from the tube onto the canvas. The thick application of paint makes his brushstrokes vividly visible and is thus ideally suited to show off van Gogh”s special style of brushwork. In addition to the “Japanese” style of smooth areas of color surrounded by contours, he had already developed a technique in Paris of juxtaposing colors in small strokes (Meadow with Flowers under a Thunderstorm Sky, 18881889, Flowering Orchard with View of Arles, 1889). To make his paintings even more lively and animated, in Saint-Rémy he began to rhythmize these strokes and arrange them in wavy lines, circles or spirals, for example in Self-Portrait, 188990, or Starry Night, 1889. Van Gogh chose the respective painting technique depending on the motif (for example, he used the wavy technique to depict cypresses).

Several versions exist of many motifs; for example, van Gogh created seven versions of the famous Sunflowers (one of which was destroyed during World War II). He did this on the one hand to try out variations or make improvements, and on the other hand he often repainted pictures that he wanted to give away or had given away for himself or his brother.

The mere reproduction of visible reality was not Vincent van Gogh”s goal. Rather, he was interested in expressing the essence and characteristic of his subjects as well as the feelings he felt towards them. Thus he said of the portrait of Eugène Boch: “I want to put into the picture the admiration, the love I feel for him. I paint the infinite, I make a simple background of the richest, most haunting blue I can bring about, and through this simple composition the blond, luminous head on the deep blue background acquires something mysterious like the star in the deep blue sky.” And about his late landscape paintings from Auvers he wrote: “They are endlessly wide cornfields under dull skies, and I have not shied away from the attempt to express sadness and extreme loneliness The intended forcefulness of expression was achieved by the painter by changing both forms and colors; while he tended to simplify the form, he exaggerated the color.

In addition, van Gogh expressed himself through a variety of symbols. In many paintings he represented symbolically what he could not say in words. In addition to traditional symbols (for example, the burning candle as a symbol of vitality, the extinguished one as that of death), he primarily used an individual symbolic language, the meaning of which can only be understood through knowledge of his biography and his world of thoughts and feelings. In his still life with drawing board, pipe, onions and sealing wax, painted in 1889 after his first hospitalization, he arranges the objects that are now helpful to him: a health guidebook and the onions recommended by it against insomnia, the beloved pipe and tobacco pouch, a letter from Theo as well as sealing wax as a symbol of the bond with friends, the burning candle as a sign that the fire of life is not yet extinguished, the empty wine bottle as a symbol of turning away from alcohol consumption. The painting Walk in the Moonlight (1890) shows a couple walking at moonrise through a landscape of olive grove and cypress trees, the male figure characterized by red hair and beard as the painter himself. The painting is both an expression of van Gogh”s desire for the “real” life with a woman and the substitute for it: nature and the art expressing it.

Van Gogh as a draftsman

Above the attention given to Vincent van Gogh”s paintings, it is easy to forget that he was also a good and very productive draftsman. Drawing was at the beginning of his career as an artist, and it accompanied him to the end of his life. For a few weeks in the summer of 1888, he made only drawings to save money on expensive oil paints.

Van Gogh was convinced that in order to become a good painter, he first had to master drawing. Therefore, in 1880, in the absence of a teacher, he began to systematically learn the laws of pictorial representation, such as perspective and the proportions of the human body, by drawing from textbooks. In the Dutch years, he mainly depicted simple, rural people as well as landscapes, including views of his temporary residence, The Hague. He drew in mostly quite large format with pencil or pen, sometimes also with chalk or charcoal. After Anton Mauve had instructed him in the technique of watercolor painting at the end of 1881, he also produced sheets colored with opaque colors. In Paris, drawing initially took a back seat to painting. It was not until 1887 that van Gogh drew more often again, including colored city views of Paris.

In Arles he learned to appreciate the reed pen as a tool, which he cut himself from the reeds growing there. At the same time, he developed a new technique of representation: over a pencil preliminary drawing, the motif is reproduced by means of a reed pen in very varied strokes, dots, curves and spirals. Many of his drawings from this period are related to paintings. Either the drawing served to prepare the painting, then again he made a drawing of a painted motif afterwards. The latter was either to give third parties an impression of the painting or to help him correct certain errors he saw in the painted version In addition, colored brush drawings depicting the houses and gardens of Auvers date from the last weeks of van Gogh”s life.

Influence on modernity

When Vincent van Gogh died in 1890, he had already made a name for himself in artistic avant-garde circles. In the last year of his life, his paintings were represented at three exhibitions. Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet had spoken approvingly of him, and an extensive article had appeared in the literary magazine Mercure de France in 1890. At the beginning of the 20th century, his art had already established itself to such an extent that major commemorative exhibitions were held, for example in 1901 in Berlin and Paris, in 1905 also in Paris as well as in Amsterdam, and in 1912 in Cologne.

In the exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists at the end of 1910 and beginning of 1911, which Roger Fry organized in the Grafton Galleries in London, van Gogh was the only Dutchman to be represented with 25 works alongside French artists such as Cézanne and Gauguin. This exhibition coined the art concept of Post-Impressionism and was intended to portray Impressionist painting as superseded.

With the growing presence of van Gogh”s works, the number of artists who received important impulses for their own work increased. Among the first to pay attention to his work were Henri Matisse and the Fauves who surrounded him. Matisse became acquainted with paintings by the Dutchman probably as early as the mid-1890s; they inspired him to increase expression through intense color. Van Gogh had a great influence on the German Expressionists of the Brücke and the Blaue Reiter. The German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker became acquainted with his paintings on one of her trips to Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. “She was also very fond of van Gogh (e.g., The Great Arlesian, La Berceuse, The Sunflower Still Life, etc.),” reported her husband, painter Otto Modersohn. Other well-known painters who were under the influence of van Gogh at the beginning of the 20th century are Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele and Chaim Soutine. In the 1950s Francis Bacon painted a series of new creations of Van Gogh”s pictures, which are indebted to their model not only thematically, but also in the painting style.

Myth and media

In 1914, Theo”s widow, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, published the correspondence between the brothers. With it, the public learned more details about the painter”s life circumstances. His moving fate, his early, tragic death and, in contrast, the constantly rising prices of his paintings made him the epitome of the “unrecognized genius” and provided welcome material for numerous adaptations in novel literature, film and music. The exaggerations, one-sided interpretations, and falsifications made in the process fostered a “Van Gogh myth” that continues to influence perceptions of the painter to this day.

The beginning was made by the art historian Julius Meier-Graefe, who had already published a number of scientific writings about Vincent van Gogh, when he presented his novel of a God-seeker in 1921. The purpose of this book was explicitly to “Promote the creation of legends . For nothing is more necessary to us than new symbols, legends of a humanity from our loins.” Today”s best-known adaptation of the novel may be Irving Stone”s Lust for Life (German: Ein Leben in Leidenschaft), published in 1934. Vincente Minelli”s 1956 feature film of the same name, one of the most significant of the more than one hundred Van Gogh adaptations in existence, was based on this novel. In the musical field, Don McLean”s 1971 pop song Vincent stands out, referring to Van Gogh”s Starry Night with its refrain “starry starry night” and stylizing the painter as a misunderstood sufferer who is too good for this world.

Today, according to opinion polls, Vincent van Gogh is the most famous and at the same time by far the most popular painter ever. His high popularity is reflected not only in a large number of publications, record attendance at Van Gogh exhibitions and the prices of his paintings, but also in the ubiquity of Van Gogh motifs in the form of art prints, posters, calendars and on many kinds of everyday objects.

Color changes

The changes in the colors used by van Gogh have preoccupied art research for some time, as some paintings nowadays show significant changes from the color effects van Gogh intended. At the beginning of 2013, it became known that van Gogh”s favorite yellow had changed into shades of brown and green in various paintings (including Ufer der Seine ), depending on the color mixture caused by exposure to light. In addition to chemical processes within and between the color mixtures and natural UV radiation from sunlight, museum lighting is believed to be another major contributor to this effect. Some researchers are already warning against certain LED lights.

In numerous letters van Gogh had always written about the three versions of his painting Bedroom in Arles of the color purple (violet) used. However, today”s viewing of the various paintings gives blue to light blue walls. In the spring of 2016, after years of investigation, a team from the Art Institute of Chicago, where one of the paintings hangs, announced the presumed reason for the different color descriptions: exposure to light had caused the colors to fade and the purple in particular to react to a blue. A laboratory worker had examined blue paint particles from the Chicago painting and, after turning them over, discovered that their reverse sides were still violet. Examinations of the other two versions of the painting (in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and Musée d”Orsay, Paris) confirmed this result.

Art market

Nowadays, it is no longer possible to determine which paintings Vincent van Gogh sold during his lifetime. Contrary to the widespread claim that he sold only one work, it could well have been ten. So far, only the sale of the painting Red Vineyard to the Belgian painter Anna Boch for 400 francs at an exhibition in Brussels in 1890 is documented.

Shortly after van Gogh”s death, his fame, sales figures and prices increased. Among the first buyers were fellow painters and people close to them. An early and important collector was Helene Kröller-Müller, who first acquired a Van Gogh painting in 1909. Her collection later gave rise to the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, which today holds the second largest collection of Van Gogh paintings after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

In 1910, Gustav Pauli acquired Poppy Field for the Kunsthalle Bremen for 30,000 gold marks (equivalent to half a million euros in 2013), which triggered the Bremen Artists” Controversy. In 1929, the Berlin National Gallery paid 240,000 Reichsmark (equivalent to one million euros in 2013) for a Van Gogh painting.

The price explosion on the international art market in the 1980s and 1990s particularly affected paintings by van Gogh. In April 1987, his painting Sunflowers was auctioned at Christie”s in London for the equivalent of $39.9 million. This amount exceeded the previous highest price for a work of art ever sold at auction (a painting by Manet) many times over and is considered the beginning of a new epoch in the art trade in terms of prices achieved at auction for top works of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In November 1987, van Gogh”s Irises sold for $53.9 million at Sotheby”s, New York, and in May 1990, his Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for the equivalent of $82.5 million at Christie”s. These, too, were the highest auction prices ever achieved for a work of art up to that time. The price for Portrait of Dr. Gachet remains the highest for a Van Gogh painting to this day, and only in 2004 was this value surpassed by another work of art (Boy with Pipe by Picasso).


Vincent van Gogh”s work has always been a fertile field of activity for art forgers. In addition, paintings have been mistakenly attributed to the painter, probably without any fraudulent intent. The debate about the authenticity of van Gogh”s paintings is being conducted with growing intensity.

The first forgeries were made as early as the 1890s: at a Van Gogh exhibition in Paris in 1901, two paintings had to be discarded as inauthentic. Since forgery was not really worthwhile at the time because of the still low prices, there were probably insiders at work who foresaw the future development of the market. The suspicion of art historians falls on the painter and Gauguin friend Émile Schuffenecker and on the amateur painter Dr. Gachet and his circle.

In 1928, the Wacker scandal moved the art world. The ”erotic dancer” Otto Wacker offered a large number of Van Gogh paintings in Berlin, which were presumably made by his father Hans Wacker. The scandal arose because the authenticity of these paintings had initially been confirmed by experts.

33 Wacker forgeries were also included in Jacob-Baart de la Faille”s catalog raisonné published in 1928; their authenticity later had to be revoked. The most recent edition of de la Faille”s catalog, published in 1970 and still a standard work today, lists 913 oil paintings, but they do not always seem to stand up to critical scrutiny. Van Gogh expert Jan Hulsker, author of another catalog raisonné, put question marks on 45 of the 2125 works listed by de la Faille. The uncertainty among experts reflects the difficulties in making an assessment: this can often only be done according to stylistic criteria; works in private ownership are also often not accessible for examination. The situation is further complicated by the fact that van Gogh tried out a wide variety of painting techniques during his Paris period and later often produced several versions of the same motif.

In September 2013, the painting Sunset at Montmajour from 1888 – which was still part of Theo van Gogh”s collection in 1890, was sold in 1901 and stood for a long time in an attic in Norway – was declared genuine according to the latest research methods and put on display in the Van Gogh Museum.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, van Gogh”s painterly oeuvre has been put at 864 pictures, a figure that will probably be corrected in view of a whole series of disputed paintings.


sorted alphabetically by authors editors Unless otherwise indicated by individual references, the information in this article is taken from the books by Matthias Arnold: Vincent van Gogh – Biography, Vincent van Gogh – Work and Impact and Vincent van Gogh and his Models and by Viviane Forrester Van Gogh or The Burial in the Wheat as well as by Sjaar van Heugten: Van Gogh – the Drawings and by Belinda Thomson: Van Gogh – Paintings – the Masterpieces.

To the reception

The letter quotations follow the reproduction in Matthias Arnold: Vincent van Gogh – Biographie sowie Vincent van Gogh – Werk und Wirkung.


  1. Vincent van Gogh
  2. Vincent van Gogh
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