Who is Vincent Van Gogh?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Vincent van Gogh is perhaps one of the most famous artists of all time. He was born in Holland in 1853 and died in France in 1890 from the mental illness which plagued him throughout his life. During his life time, van Gogh produced approximately two thousand works of art including the iconic Starry Night, currently in the possession of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. His distinctive bold brush styles and vibrant use of color in the later years of his artistic career are instantly recognizable to most people who are familiar with Western art.

Much of van Gogh's early years were spent in Holland, initially working for an art dealer. However, his personality was not well suited to customer service, and his employers ultimately let him go. He was also deeply interested in religion, and in 1879, he traveled to a small village in Belgium as a missionary. While he was there, he began to record the daily lives of the peasants and working poor in sketches and drawings, and his brother encouraged him to pursue his art. In 1880, he attended the Royal Academy of Art in Brussels, and began his career as an artist.


In his early artistic years, van Gogh painted people's daily lives in a muted palette of dark colors, producing work which is almost unrecognizable to people familiar with his later work. In 1886, he traveled to Paris, where he met several Impressionist artists and was heavily influenced by their work. He traveled to other parts of France as well for the next four years, spending time with other artists and in and out of medical clinics, seeking treatment for the mental illness which ultimately led him to shoot himself.

Along with Starry Night, van Gogh produced numerous other well known paintings including an earlier work, The Potato Eaters, and Irises, from the period in an asylum shortly before his death. The later work of van Gogh is often classified as Post-Impressionist, because although it uses the rich palette and strong brush strokes of Impressionism, it also carries other distinct characteristics. Like other Post-Impressionists, he distorted forms, painted more unpleasant subjects, used peculiar color choices, and expressed his emotions through his artwork.

During van Gogh's lifetime, only one of his works sold. Only after his death did his work become popular, with many twentieth century art critics hailing his work as a crucial component of Western art history. When a van Gogh is available for sale, it tends to command a very high price, although public sales of his artwork are becoming increasingly rare.


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