Vincent Van Gogh Biography: Vincent Van Gogh’s Biography Unraveled

Vincent van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in the village of Groot-Zundert in the southern Netherlands. He was the oldest surviving son of Theodorus van Gogh, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, and Anna Cornelia Carbentus.

Van Gogh had five siblings – a brother named Theo as well as three sisters and another brother who died at birth. As a child, Vincent was serious, silent and thoughtful. He attended the village school from age 6 to 12 where he excelled in language and was also interested in drawing.

First Career Pursuits

In 1869 at age 16, van Gogh’s uncle helped him procure a position with the art dealers Goupil and Cie in The Hague. This launched his career as an art dealer. He was then transferred to London in 1873 and to Paris in 1875. During this time, he visited art galleries in his spare time and became more interested in making art rather than selling it.

In 1876, van Gogh was let go from Goupil after repeated disputes with supervisors and colleagues over his strong personality and lack of motivation for art dealing. He then taught for a time at a small boarding school in England but became depressed and returned home in 1877 to find work as a minister’s assistant.

Time Period Key Event
1853-1869 Childhood in the Netherlands
1869-1876 Worked as an art dealer in The Hague, London and Paris
1876-1877 Brief stint teaching in England

Discovering His Artistic Calling

In 1880 after a period of deep soul-searching, van Gogh committed himself to becoming an artist. He moved to Brussels and studied anatomy and perspective before trying his hand at oil painting and creating his first major work “The Potato Eaters” in 1885.

He also tried painting local peasants and weavers in Nuenen, aided by his parents’ support and friendship with his brother Theo who worked as an art dealer in Paris. Theo provided financial and emotional support to Vincent which would continue throughout his life.

Year Artistic Milestone
1880 Dedicated himself fully to becoming an artist
1885 Painted first major work “The Potato Eaters”
1885 Onward Painted peasant subjects in Nuenen with Theo’s support

Paris and Provence Periods

In 1886 van Gogh moved to Paris to live with Theo and was exposed to new art styles including Impressionism and Pointillism. He studied under French artist Fernand Cormon for a time but later chose to teach himself art techniques he admired from other groundbreaking artists such as Claude Monet. During this time his palette began to brighten considerably.

From 1888-1889, inspired by Impressionism and Japanese woodblock prints, van Gogh left Paris for Arles in Provence, France. There he hoped to found an artists’ commune on some rented property. He painted prolifically during this time, creating many iconic works including paintings of sunflowers, the Starry Night and many self-portraits.

Mental Illness and Death

Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions culminating in cutting off part of his own left ear in December 1888 after a dispute with fellow artist Paul Gauguin. He was hospitalized in Arles then voluntarily admitted himself to an asylum in Saint-Remy in 1889 where he continued to paint and write letters to Theo.

In May 1890, van Gogh left the asylum and visited Theo in Paris but made the decision to move to Auvers-sur-Oise outside the city for medical treatment. There he painted many landscapes while under the care of homeopathic doctor Paul Gachet. In one of his last paintings Wheatfield with Crows, the swirling ominous sky perhaps reflected van Gogh’s troubled mental state at that time. On July 27, 1890 at the age of 37, Vincent van Gogh shot himself in the chest and died from his wounds two days later.

His brother Theo was suffering from poor health as well and died just six months after Vincent from illness likely compounded by grief. Theo’s widow worked to publish van Gogh’s letters and promote his paintings, which brought him success he tragically did not achieve in his short lifetime plagued by mental illness.

Time Frame Locations Key Works
1886-1888 Paris “Self Portrait with Felt Hat”
1888-1889 Arles “Sunflowers”, “The Starry Night”, “Bedroom in Arles”
1889-1890 Asylum in Saint-Remy “The Starry Night Over the Rhone”, “The Olive Trees”

Characteristics of Van Gogh’s Art

What makes van Gogh such an iconic and influential artist today? His unique painting techniques and style included:

  • Vibrant, emotive and expressive use of color
  • Loose, impressionistic brushstrokes that conveyed energy and emotion
  • Innovative compositional techniques including unusual perspectives and cropping
  • Frequent depiction of natural elements like swirling skies and undulating landscapes
  • Raw and honest conveyance of emotion through many self-portraits and deeply personal symbolism
  • Incorporation of emerging styles like Impressionism into a highly individualistic technique and vision

Though initially overlooked, van Gogh’s deeply emotional and imaginative style would help lay the foundations for modern expressionism in 20th century art. He exerted great personal passion in his poetic and symbolic representations of the world around him. Vincent van Gogh’s artistic intensity burns as brightly now as it did over a century ago.

Why Has Van Gogh’s Fame Grown So Immensely Since His Death?

The tortured artist who only sold one painting in his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh has become one of the most renowned painters today. But what led to his current widespread fame when he had so little success originally?

Van Gogh only sold The Red Vineyards to artist Anna Boch while he was alive in 1890. Most art critics at the time dismissed his work and he remained perpetually poor, relying on his brother Theo’s financial support. He had tumultuous relationships with other artists and trouble building any recognition for his unique style and immense output of paintings and drawings totaling over 2,000 works in a period just over a decade.

Theo’s Critical Role Promoting Vincent’s Work

After Vincent’s death by suicide in 1890, Theo worked hard to promote his brother’s art despite his own failing health. This led to the first Van Gogh exhibitions in the early 1890s, sparking some initial interest mainly in avant-garde circles. Unfortunately Theo died just six months after Vincent, unable to see the fledgling legacy he helped establish for his brother’s artwork.

Gradual Spread of Fame in Early 1900s

In 1901, major exhibitions in Paris and Amsterdam introduced van Gogh’s art to a wider audience, gaining attention from critics and fellow artists. The arts magazine Mercure de France published the first critical analysis of his work in the 1910s. Fame steadily grew in avant-garde art circles in the early 20th century leading up to a major retrospective in the Netherlands in 1905.

Van Gogh’s Increasing Influence on Modern Art

As modern art movements like Fauvism and German Expressionism emerged early 1900s, Vincent’s post-Impressionist style was re-contextualized as a pioneering influence. The raw emotional intensity and vibrant colors that were originally shocking now aligned with cutting-edge trends in modern art.


In his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh struggled with poverty, mental illness, and lack of recognition for his revolutionary art. Today he stands as one of history’s most famous painters and profoundly influential artists.

Major factors that led to Van Gogh’s soaring posthumous fame include:

  • His brother Theo’s tireless promotion of Vincent’s art after his death
  • Gradual spread of fame in avant-garde circles in early 1900s
  • Alignment of Van Gogh’s intensely emotional and colorful style with emerging Modern art movements
  • Major exhibitions bringing his work to wider audiences in New York, Germany and beyond
  • Ongoing popularity of his iconic works like Starry Night and Sunflowers series

The intensity of Van Gogh’s vision, innovative techniques, and prolific output continue to inspire admiration and awe from art critics and audiences worldwide. His legendary paintings are amongst the most coveted and priceless global art treasures today. The tragic story of Van Gogh’s struggle has also fueled intrigue and interest in the prolific Dutch artist both during and after his lifetime.

Although under-appreciated in his age, Van Gogh’s boldly expressive art was years ahead of its time. He has definitively left his mark as one of history’s most important painters and helped blaze a trail for other revolutionary Modern art masters who would follow after him.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many paintings did Van Gogh sell in his lifetime?

Van Gogh only sold one painting while he was alive, The Red Vineyards to artist Anna Boch in 1890. He otherwise faced poverty and lack of recognition during his short career.

Why was Van Gogh’s art not more successful when it was first created in the late 1800s?

In the 19th century, Van Gogh’s brightly colored, emotionally expressive, avant-garde style was seen as bizarre and amateurish compared to more highly polished academic art genres that were popular at the time.

How did Van Gogh’s brother Theo help promote Vincent’s art?

After Vincent died, Theo tirelessly worked to organize exhibitions of Vincent’s artworks even while Theo’s health was failing due to syphilis. Theo is largely credited with early promotion bringing some fame to Van Gogh’s art before Theo died just 6 months after Vincent.

When did Van Gogh’s fame expand from niche avant-garde circles to more mainstream success?

In the early 1900s, as modern styles like Fauvism and German Expressionism emerged influenced by Van Gogh’s innovative post-Impressionist style, his fame grew beyond niche avant-garde markets to reach major international exhibitions by 1913 in New York, Germany and beyond.

Why is Van Gogh now considered one of the most important painters in art history?

Van Gogh’s revolutionary use of color, intense emotionality, unconventional perspectives, and prolific creativity essentially laid foundations for 20th century modern art styles from expressionism to abstraction. His iconic paintings like Starry Night and Sunflowers series are also globally beloved high art treasures.