Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh, Vincent

Vincent Van Gogh (văn gō, Dutch vĬnsĕnt´ vän khôkh), 1853–90, postimpressionist painter, b. the Netherlands. Van Gogh's works are perhaps better known generally than those of any other painter. His brief, turbulent, and tragic life is thought to epitomize the mad genius legend.

During his lifetime, Van Gogh's work was represented in two very small exhibitions and two larger ones. Only one of Van Gogh's paintings was sold while he lived. The great majority of the works by which he is remembered were produced in 29 months of frenzied activity and intermittent bouts with epileptoid seizures and profound despair that finally ended in suicide. In his grim struggle Vincent had one constant ally and support, his younger brother Théo, to whom he wrote revealing and extraordinarily beautiful letters detailing his conflicts and aspirations. As a youth Van Gogh worked for a picture dealer, antagonizing customers until he was dismissed. Compulsively humanitarian, he tried to preach to oppressed mining families and was jeered at. His difficult, contradictory personality was rejected by the women he fell in love with, and his few friendships usually ended in bitter arguments.

Ten years before his death Van Gogh decided to be a painter, fully conscious of the sacrifices this decision would require of him. His early work, the Dutch period of 1880–85, consists of dark greenish-brown, heavily painted studies of peasants and miners, e.g., The Potato Eaters (1885; Van Gogh Mus., Amsterdam). He copied the work of Millet, whose idealization of the rural poor he admired. In 1886 he joined Théo in Paris, where he met the foremost French painters of the postimpressionist period. The kindly Pissarro convinced him to adopt a colorful palette and thereby made a tremendously significant contribution to Van Gogh's art. His painting Père Tanguy (1887; Niarchos Coll., Paris) was the first complete and successful work in his new colors. Impressed by the theories of Seurat and Signac, Van Gogh briefly adopted a pointillist style.

In 1888, in ill health and longing for release from Paris and what he felt was his imposition upon Théo's life, he took a house at Arles. At Arles he was joined by Gauguin for a brief period fraught with tension, during which he mutilated his left ear in the course of his first attack of dementia. His paintings from this period include the incomparable series of sunflowers (1888; one version: National Gall., London); The Night Café (Yale Univ.); and The Public Gardens in Arles (Phillips Coll., Washington, D.C.). During his illness he was confined first to the Arles Hospital, then to the asylum at Saint-Rémy, where, in 1889, he painted the swirling, climactic Starry Night (Mus. of Modern Art, New York City).

Van Gogh's last three months were spent in Auvers near Pissarro, painting the postman Roulin and the sympathetic, eccentric Dr. Gachet, a physician and collector who watched over him. Vincent's consciousness of his burden upon Théo, by then married and a father, increased. His work tempo was pushed to the limit; one of his last paintings, Wheat Field With Crows (Van Gogh Foundation, Amsterdam), projected ominous overtones of distress. He despaired and shot himself, dying two days later in the arms of his brother. Théo died shortly thereafter.


See his works ed. by J. B. de la Faille (rev. ed. 1970); his Complete Letters (tr. 1958) and Vincent van Gogh: The Letters: The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition (ed. by L. Jansen et al., 6 vol., 2010); see biographies by D. Sweetman (1990) and S. Naifeh and G. W. Smith (2011); studies by J. Leymarie (1968), M. E. Tralbaut (1969), R. J. Philpott (1984), and R. Pickvance (1984); L. Jansen et al., The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters (museum catalog, 2010).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Vincent van Gogh: Selected full-text books and articles

Van Gogh 100
Joseph D. Masheck.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Van Gogh: The Taste of Our Time
Albert Skira; Charles Estienne; S. J. C. Harrison.
Skira, 1953
The Glory of Van Gogh: An Anthropology of Admiration
Nathalie Heinich.
Princeton University Press, 1996
Vincent van Gogh: A Biographical Study
Julius Meier-Graefe; John Holroyd-Reece.
Harcourt Brace, 1933
Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890: A Study of the Artist and His Work in Relation to His Times
Walter Pach.
Artbook Museum, 1936
Van Gogh: A Self-Portrait; Letters Revealing His Life as a Painter
W. H. Auden; Vincent van Gogh.
New York Graphic Society, 1961
Van Gogh and Gauguin: Electric Arguments and Utopian Dreams
Bradley Collins.
Westview Press, 2001
This Strange Eventful History: A Philosophy of Meaning : Pairs of Thinkers in Philosophy, Religion, Science and Art
Paul Bradley.
Algora, 2011
Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin
John Rewald.
Museum of Modern Art, 1956
The Politics of Vision: Essays on Nineteenth-Century Art and Society
Linda Nochlin.
Harper & Row, 1989
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Van Gogh, Renouard, and the Weavers' Crisis in Lyons"
The Sociology of Art: A Reader
Jeremy Tanner.
Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "The Van Gogh Effect"
Manic Depression and Creativity
D. Jablow Hershman; Julian Lieb.
Prometheus Books, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Van Gogh"
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