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Vincent Willem van Gogh
30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890
Vincent van Gogh lived a short and troubled life that was steeped in anxiety, poverty and mental illness. Not painting until his late twenties, his best-known works include portraits, self portraits, landscapes, still life, olive trees, cypress trees, wheat fields and sunflowers. In just over a decade, he produced over 2100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings.
In 1879, he took a post as a missionary at Petit Wasmes in the coal-mining district of Borinage in Belgium. As a show of support for his impoverished congregation, he gave up his comfortable lodgings at a bakery to a homeless person, and moved to a small hut where he slept on straw. His squalid living conditions did not endear him to church authorities who dismissed him for “undermining the dignity of the priesthood”. After staying with his parents in Etten for a year or so, he moved to Cuesmes where he lodged with a miner for six months. Living with his parents was a difficult time for both parties. Several conflicts between Vincent and his father caused his father to consider committing Vincent to the lunatic asylum at Geel.
During his time in Cuesmes, Vincent was interested in the people and scenes around him and recorded his time there in his drawings, following his brother Theo’s suggestion that he take up art in earnest. He travelled to Brussels later in the year, to follow Theo’s recommendation to study with the Dutch artist Willem Roelofs, who persuaded him, in spite of his aversion to formal schools of art, to attend the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. He registered at the Académie in November 1880, where he studied anatomy and the standard rules of modelling and perspective.
His first major work was The Potato Eaters (1885) which contains few signs of the vivid colourisation that distinguished his later work. In 1886 he moved to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists. With their influence, his paintings grew brighter in colour as he developed a style that became fully realised during his stay in Arles in 1888.
Critics largely ignored him until his suicide at 37 years old in 1890. Analysis of his techniques, coupled with his use of vivid colours and emotive subject matter, has resulted in his audience labelling him the quintessential misunderstood genius. His work had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. Sadly, today he is remembered and revered as an important but tragic painter.