Cozy with an artist: Van Gogh
Updated: Feb 23
You might not be an artist, or even have a basic knowledge about the world of art, but when someone mentions the name Van Gogh (read خُخ), it must ring a bell. You must have seen, somewhere, his most famous painting “starry night” or one of his self-portraits distinguished by his vivid red hair and beard, and perhaps heard stories about his mental illness. Today, you can find his paintings in the most prestigious museums in the world, there's even a museum that bears his name in Amsterdam; but in the late 1880s, the years when he painted all his masterpieces, he wasn’t well known or liked at all.
- Give us intro about yourself
I am Vincent Willem van Gogh, I was born March 30, 1853 in Zundert in the south of the Netherlands and I am a post-impressionist painter. My family was well off financially since my father, Theodore, was the minister of the town and my mother, Cornelia, came from a family of art dealers.
- How was your childhood?
I was the eldest of 3 sisters, Elisabeth, Anna, and Willemina, and a brother, Theo. I had a stillborn brother called Vincent Willem born exactly one year before me, so every time I went to church, I would pass by a tombstone that had my name on it. Growing up I was quiet, I would spend hours observing people passing by, and loved long walks alone in nature. My brother Theo joined me sometimes in my strolls. At 11, I was sent to a boarding school 30km away from my hometown.
- What was your first interaction with art?
At the age of 16, I was sent to work for my uncle who was a renowned art dealer. I was sent to London as a part of my job, I was happy to discover the English style and way of life. Soon after, my brother joined the same company, I wrote to him to say how glad I was we were in the same line of business and continued corresponding frequently after.
- You were very close to Theo, weren’t you?
We often sent letters to each other, we didn’t only share our daily lives, we spoke about art, literature and poetry. I was an avid reader and I much enjoyed works of Victor Hugo, Balzac, Zola, Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte and many more. Theo also supported me financially and morally throughout my life as a painter.
- Did you have romantic interests?
In the summer of 1973, I fell in love with Eugénie Loyer, the daughter of the landlady of the house where I stayed in London. When I declared my love to her the next spring, I was devastated by her rejection. I fell in love with other women after, including with a widowed cousin of mine but none of the relationships were successful.
- How did you transition from being an art dealer to a painter?
Even though I was successful in the beginning, I felt that art dealing, that required too much social gatherings and interactions, wasn't for me. A while after my first heartbreak, I shifted my focus on God, I felt that my vocation was in helping people and spreading His word. I became a preacher in a poor mining town in the Borinage. In 1875 I started including sketches in my letters to Theo who encouraged me to pursue art as a career. I only became serious about it in 1880 when I attended a couple of art schools and started oil painting.
- Your first artworks are very different from the latest, what was the cause of this change?
My very first paintings were quite dark because they depicted poor people, miners, peasants, and inhabitants of houses for the poor. When I moved to Paris in 1886, I discovered impressionists and their use of light, colors and brush work. I was also fascinated with japanese prints that were very popular at the time, and I loved collecting them for inspiration. When Parisian life became stressful for me, I moved to the countryside in Arles, south of France where I was able to connect with nature.
- Aside from your paintings, you are most famous for your mental illness, can you elaborate?
In 1888, I invited a fellow painter Paul Gauguin to visit and work with me for a while. We fought soon after and when he left for Paris, I cut off my ear in a fit of anger. I began hallucinating and having seizures, so I asked to be admitted to a mental asylum in Saint-Rémy where I spent a year and painted more than 150 artworks, including starry night. In 1890, I died 3 days after I shot myself in the stomach.
- Finally, what is your advice to young artists and to people who want to appreciate art?
“Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see. And then, there are painters who make nothing but good things, who cannot make anything bad, just as there are ordinary people who cannot do anything that isn’t good.”
Still hungry for more? Here are some useful links below, but first, I suggest you watch this playlist:
Van Gogh rarely kept letters he received, luckily for us, his brother did: http://vangoghletters.org/
The Van Gogh museum website: https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en .
Getting to know Van Gogh, Steven Neifeh: https://youtu.be/R1zUpp6UzYc .
Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.
Lust for life, by Irving Stone.