Vincent van Gogh
was born in Groot Zundert, The Netherlands on 30 March 1853. Van Gogh's birth came one year to the day after his mother gave birth to a first, stillborn child--also named Vincent. There has been much speculation about Vincent van Gogh suffering later psychological trauma as a result of being a "replacement child" and having a deceased brother with the same name and same birth date. This theory remains unsubstantiated, however, and there is no actual historical evidence to support it.
Van Gogh was the son of Theodorus van Gogh (1822-85), a pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church, and Anna Cornelia Carbentus (1819-1907). Unfortunately there is virtually no information about Vincent van Gogh's first ten years. Van Gogh attended a boarding school in Zevenbergen for two years and then went on to attend the King Willem II secondary school in Tilburg for two more. At that time, in 1868, Van Gogh left his studies at the age of 15 and never returned.
In 1869 Vincent van Gogh joined the firm Goupil & Cie., a firm of art dealers in The Hague. The Van Gogh family had long been associated with the art world--Vincent's uncles, Cornelis ("Uncle Cor") and Vincent ("Uncle Cent"), were art dealers. His younger brother, Theo, spent his adult life working as an art dealer and, as a result, had a tremendous influence on Vincent's later career as an artist. Vincent was relatively successful as an art dealer and stayed with Goupil & Cie. for seven more years. In 1873 he was transferred to the London branch of the company and quickly became enamoured with the cultural climate of England. In late August, Vincent moved to 87 Hackford Road and boarded with Ursula Loyer and her daughter Eugenie. Vincent is said to have been romantically interested in Eugenie, but many early biographers mistakenly misname Eugenie for her mother, Ursula. To add to the decades-long confusion over the names, recent evidence suggests that Vincent wasn't in love with Eugenie at all, but rather a Dutch woman named Caroline Haanebeek. The truth remains inconclusive. Vincent van Gogh would remain in London for two more years. During that time he visited the many art galleries and museums and became a great admirer of British writers such as George Eliot and Charles Dickens. Van Gogh was also a great admirer of the British engravers whose works illustrated such magazines as The Graphic. These illustrations inspired and influenced
The relationship between Vincent and Goupil's became more strained as the years passed and in May of 1875 he was transferred to the Paris branch of the firm. It became clear as the year wore on that Vincent was no longer happy dealing in paintings that had little appeal for him in terms of his own personal tastes. Vincent left Goupil's in late March, 1876 and decided to return to England where his two years there had been, for the most part, very happy and rewarding.
After working briefly in a bookshop in Dordrecht in early 1877, Vincent left for Amsterdam on 9 May to prepare himself for the admission examination to the university where he was to study theology. Vincent received lessons in Greek, Latin and mathematics, but his lack of proficiency ultimately compelled him to abandon his studies after fifteen months. Vincent later described this period as "the worst time of my life". In November Vincent failed to qualify for the mission school in Laeken after a three month trial
period. Never one to be swayed by adversity, Vincent van Gogh eventually made arrangements with the Church to begin a trial period preaching in one of the most inhospitable and impoverished regions in western Europe: the coal mining district of The Borinage, Belgium.
In autumn of 1880, after more than a year living as a pauper in the Borinage, Vincent left for Brussels to begin his art studies. Vincent was inspired to begin these studies as a result of financial help from his brother, Theo. Vincent and Theo had always been close as children and throughout most of their adult lives maintained an ongoing and poignantly revealing correspondence. It is these letters, in total more than 700 extant, which form most of our knowledge of Van Gogh's perceptions about his own life and works. 1881 would prove to be a turbulent year for Vincent van Gogh. Vincent applied for study at the Ecole des Beaux-Art in Brussels, although the biographers Hulsker and Tralbaut conflict with regards to the details. Tralbaut suggests a short and unremarkable tenure with the school, whereas Hulsker maintains that Vincent's application for admission was never accepted. Whatever the case, Vincent continued drawings lessons on his own, taking examples from such books as Travaux des champs by Jean-François Millet and Cours de dessin by Charles Bargue. In the summer Vincent was once again living with his parents, now situated in Etten, and during that time he met his cousin Cornelia Adriana Vos-Stricker (Kee). Kee (1846-1918) had been recently widowed and was raising a young son on her own. Vincent fell in love with Kee and was devastated when she rejected his advances. The unfortunate episode concluded with one of the most memorable incidents in Van Gogh's life.
After being spurned by Kee, Vincent decided to confront her at her parents house. Kee's father refused to let Vincent see his daughter and Vincent, ever determined, put his hand over the funnel of an oil lamp, intentionally burning himself. Vincent's intent was to hold his hand over the flame until he was allowed to see Kee. Kee's father quickly defused the situation by simply blowing out the lamp and Vincent left the house humiliated. Despite emotional setbacks with Kee and personal tensions with his father, Vincent found some encouragement from Anton Mauve (1838-88), his cousin by marriage. Mauve had established himself as a successful artist, and from his home in The Hague, supplied Vincent with his first set of watercolours--thus giving Vincent his initial introduction to working in colours. Vincent was a great admirer of Mauve's works and was deeply grateful for any instruction that Mauve was able to provide. Their relationship was a pleasant one, but would suffer due to tensions brought about when Vincent began living with a prostitute. Vincent van Gogh met Clasina Maria Hoornik (1850-1904) in late February 1882, in The Hague. Already pregnant with her second child when Van Gogh met her, this woman, known as "Sien", moved in with Vincent shortly afterward. Vincent lived with Sien for the next year and a half. Their relationship was a stormy one, partly due to both of their volatile personalities and also because of the strain of living in complete poverty.
Once again, Vincent returned to his parents' home, now in Nuenen, in late 1883. Throughout the following year Vincent van Gogh continued to refine his craft. He produced dozens of paintings and drawings during this period: weavers, spinners and other portraits. The local peasants proved to be his favourite subjects--in part because Van Gogh felt a strong affinity toward the poor working labourers and partly because he was such an admirer of the painter Millet who himself produced sensitive and compassionate paintings of workers in the fields. Vincent's romantic life took yet another dramatic and unhappy turn that summer. Margot Begemann (1841-1907), whose family lived next door to Vincent's parents, had been in love with Vincent, and the emotional upheaval of the relationship lead her to attempt suicide by poison. Vincent was greatly distraught over the incident. Margot eventually recovered, but the episode upset Vincent a great deal and he referred to it in his letters on a number of occasions.
In the early months of 1885 Van Gogh continued his series of portraits of peasants. Vincent viewed these as "studies", works which would continue to refine his craft in preparation for his most ambitious work to date. Vincent laboured throughout March and April on these studies, briefly distracted from his work by the death of his father on 26 March. Vincent and his father had maintained a severely strained relationship over the last few years and, while certainly not happy about his father's death, Vincent was quite emotionally detached and continued his work. All the years of hard work, of continually refining his technique and learning to work in new media--all served as stepping
stones toward the production of Vincent van Gogh's first great painting: The Potato Eaters. Vincent worked on The Potato Eaters throughout April of 1885. He had produced various drafts in preparation of the final, large oil on canvas version. The Potato Eaters is acknowledged to be Vincent van Gogh's first true masterpiece and he was encouraged by the outcome. Although angered and upset by any criticism of the work (Vincent's friend and fellow artist, Anthon van Rappard (1858-1892), disliked the work and his comments would prompt Vincent to end their friendship), Vincent was pleased with the result and thus began a new, more confident and technically accomplished phase of his career.
Van Gogh continued to work throughout 1885, but once again became restless and in need of new stimulation. He enrolled briefly in the Academy in Antwerp in early 1886, but left it about four weeks later feeling stifled by the narrow and rigid approach of the instructors. As he demonstrated frequently throughout his life, Vincent felt that formal study was a poor substitute for practical work. Vincent had worked for five difficult years to hone his talents as an artist and with the creation of The Potato Eaters he proved himself a first-rate painter. But Vincent continually sought to better himself, to acquire new ideas and explore new techniques as a means of becoming the artist he truly aspired to be. In The Netherlands he had accomplished as much as he could. It was now time to explore new horizons and begin a journey which would further refine his craft. Vincent left The Netherlands to find the answers in Paris . . . . and in the company of the Impressionists.
Vincent van Gogh had written to his brother, Theo, throughout early 1886 in an effort to convince Theo that Paris was where he belonged. Theo was all too aware of his brother's somewhat abrasive personality and resisted. As always, Vincent was undeterred and simply arrived in Paris unannounced in early March. Theo had no choice but to take Vincent in. Van Gogh's Paris period is fascinating in terms of its role in transforming him as an artist. Unfortunately, Vincent's two years in Paris is also one of the least documented periods of his life--namely because biographers are so dependent on the letters between Vincent and Theo to supply the facts, and these letters stopped while the brothers lived together in Theo's apartment at 54 rue Lepic in Paris's Montmartre district.
Vincent enjoyed painting in the environs of Paris throughout 1886. His palette began to move away from the darker, traditional colours of his Dutch homeland and would incorporate the more vibrant hues of the Impressionists. To add further to the complex tapestry of Van Gogh's style, it was at this point in Paris that Vincent became interested in Japanese art. Japan had only recently opened its ports to outsiders after centuries of a cultural blockade and, as a result of this long-held isolationism, the western world was fascinated with all things Japanese. Van Gogh began to acquire a substantial collection of Japanese woodblock prints (now in the collection of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam) and his paintings during this time (The Portrait of Père Tanguy, for example) would reflect both the vibrant use of colour favoured by the Impressionists, and distinct Japanese overtones. Although Van Gogh only ever produced three copies of Japanese paintings, the Japanese influence on his art would be evident in subtle form throughout the rest of his life.
1887 in Paris marked another year in which Vincent evolved as an artist, but it also took its toll on him, both emotionally and physically. Vincent's volatile personality put a strain on his relationship with Theo. When Vincent insisted on moving in with Theo, he did so with the hopes that they could better manage their expenses and that Vincent could more easily devote himself to his art. Unfortunately, living with his brother also resulted in a great deal of tension between the two. In addition, Paris itself was not without its temptations and much of Vincent's two years there was spent in unhealthy extremes: poor nutrition, and excessive drinking and smoking. As was often the case throughout his life, poor weather during the winter months left Vincent irritable and depressed. Never was Vincent more happy then when he was outdoors communing with nature when the weather was at its finest. Whether painting or simply taking long walks, Vincent van Gogh lived for the sun. During the bleak winter months in Paris of 1887-88 Van Gogh became restless. And the same pattern was re-emerging. Van Gogh's two years in Paris had a tremendous impact on his ongoing evolution as an artist. But he had acquired what he was seeking and it was time to move on. Never truly happy in large cities, Vincent decided to leave Paris and follow the sun, and his destiny, south.
Vincent van Gogh moved to Arles in early 1888 propelled by a number of reasons. Weary of the frenetic energy of Paris and the long months of winter, Van Gogh sought the warm sun of Provence. Another motivation was Vincent's dream of establishing a kind of artists' commune in Arles where his comrades in Paris would seek refuge and where they would work together and support each other toward a common goal. Van Gogh took the train from Paris to Arles on 20 February 1888 heartened by his dreams for a prosperous future and amused by the passing landscape which he felt looked more and more Japanese the further south he travelled. No doubt Van Gogh was disappointed with Arles during his first few weeks there. In search of the sun, Vincent found Arles unusually cold and dusted with snow. This must have been discouraging to Vincent who had left everyone he knew behind in order to seek warmth and restoration in the south. Still, the harsh weather was short lived and Vincent began to paint some of the best loved works of his career. Once the temperature had risen, Vincent wasted no time in beginning his labours outdoors. Note the two complimentary works: the drawing Landscape with Path and Pollard Trees and the painting Path through a Field with Willows. The drawing was produced in March and the trees and landscape appear somewhat bleak after winter. The painting, however, executed a month later shows the very first spring buds on the trees. During this time Van Gogh painted a series of blossoming orchards. Vincent was pleased with his productivity and, like the orchards, felt renewed. The months to follow would be happy ones. Vincent took a room at the Café de la Gare at 10 Place Lamartine in early May and rented his famous "Yellow House" (2 Place Lamartine) as a studio and storage area. Vincent wouldn't actually move into the Yellow House until September, in preparation for establishing it as the base for his "Studio of the South."
In late July, however, Van Gogh's Uncle Vincent died and left a legacy to Theo. This financial influx would enable Theo to sponsor Gauguin's move to Arles. Theo was motivated both as a concerned brother and also as a business man. Theo felt that Vincent would be happier and more stable in the company of Gauguin and also Theo had hopes that the paintings he would receive from Gauguin, in exchange for his support, would turn a profit. Unlike Vincent, Paul Gauguin was beginning to see a small degree of success from his works. Despite the improved state of Theo's financial affairs, Vincent nevertheless remained true to form and spent a disproportionate amount of his money on art supplies instead of the basic necessities of life. Malnourished and overworked, Van Gogh's health declined early October, but he was heartened upon receiving confirmation that Gauguin would join him in the south. Vincent worked hard to prepare the Yellow House in order to make Gauguin feel welcome. Gauguin arrived in Arles by train early on 23 October. The next two months would be pivotal, and disastrous, for both Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. Initially Van Gogh and Gauguin got on well together, painting on the outskirts of Arles, discussing their art and differing techniques. As the weeks passed, however, the weather deteriorated and the pair found themselves compelled to stay indoors more and more frequently.
As always, Vincent's temperament (and most likely Gauguin's as well) fluctuated to match the weather. Forced to work indoors, Vincent's depression was assuaged, however, when he was encouraged and stimulated by a series of portraits he undertook. "I have made portraits of a whole family . . . ." he wrote to Theo (Letter 560). Those paintings, of the Roulin family, remain among his best loved works. The relationship between Van Gogh and Gauguin deteriorated throughout December, however. Their heated arguments became more and more frequent--"electric" as Vincent would describe them. Relations between the pair declined in tandem with Vincent's state of mental health. On 23 December Vincent van Gogh, in an irrational fit of madness, mutilated the lower portion of his left ear. He severed the lobe with a razor, wrapped it in cloth and then took it to a brothel and presented it to one of the women there. Vincent then staggered back to the Yellow House where he collapsed. He was discovered by the police and hospitalized at the Hôtel-Dieu hospital in Arles. After sending a telegram to Theo, Gauguin left immediately for Paris, choosing not to visit Van Gogh in the hospital. Van Gogh and Gauguin would later correspond from time to time, but would never meet in person again. During his time in the hospital, Vincent was under the care of Dr. Felix Rey (1867-1932). The week following the ear mutilation was critical for Van Gogh--both mentally and physically. He had suffered a great deal of blood loss and continued to suffer serious attacks in which he was incapacitated. Theo, who had rushed down from Paris, was sure that Vincent would die, but by the end of December and the early days of January, Vincent made a nearly full recovery. The first weeks of 1889 would not be easy for Vincent van Gogh. After his recovery, Vincent returned to his Yellow House, but continued to visit Dr. Rey for examinations and to have his head dressings changed. Vincent was encouraged by his progress after the breakdown, but his money problems continued and he felt particularly depressed when his close friend, Joseph Roulin (1841-1903), decided to accept a better paying position and move with his family to Marseilles. Roulin had been a dear and faithful friend to Vincent for most of his time in Arles.
Vincent was quite productive in terms of his art throughout January and early February, producing some of his best known works such as La Berceuse and Sunflowers. On 7 February, however, Vincent suffered another attack in which he imagined himself being poisoned. Once again, Vincent was taken to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital for observation. Van Gogh was kept in the hospital for ten days, but returned once again to the Yellow House, provisionally: "I hope for good." (Letter 577) By this time, however, some of the citizens of Arles had become alarmed by Vincent's behaviour and signed a petition detailing their concerns. The petition was submitted to the mayor of Arles and eventually to the superintendent of police who ordered Van Gogh readmitted to the Hôtel-Dieu hospital. Vincent remained in the hospital for the next six weeks, but was allowed to
leave on supervised outings--in order to paint and to put his possessions into storage. It was a productive, but emotionally discouraging time for Van Gogh. As was the case a year before, Van Gogh returned to painting the blossoming orchards around Arles. But even as he was producing some of his best works, Vincent realized that his position was a precarious one and, after discussions with Theo, agreed to have himself voluntarily confined to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Van Gogh left Arles on 8 May.
Upon arrival at the asylum, Van Gogh was placed in the care of Dr. Théophile Zacharie Auguste Peyron (1827-95). After examining Vincent and reviewing the case, Dr. Peyron was convinced that his patient was suffering from a type of epilepsy--a diagnosis that remains among the most likely possibilities, even today. The asylum was by no means a "snake pit," but Van Gogh was disheartened by the cries of the other residents and the bad food. He found it depressing that the patients had nothing to do all day--no stimulation of any kind. Part of Van Gogh's treatment included "hydro-therapy", a frequent immersion in a large tub of water. While this "therapy" was certainly not cruel in any way, neither was it in the least beneficial in terms of helping to restore Vincent's mental health. As the weeks passed, Vincent's mental well-being remained stable and he was allowed to resume painting. The staff was encouraged by Van Gogh's progress (or, at least, at his not suffering any additional attacks) and in mid-June Van Gogh produced his best known work: Starry Night.
Van Gogh's relatively tranquil state of mind didn't last, however, and he was incapacitated by another attack in mid-July. During this attack Vincent tried to ingest his own paints and for that reason he was confined and not given access to his materials. Although he recovered fairly quickly from the incident, Van Gogh was discouraged at being deprived of the one thing that gave him pleasure and distraction: his art. After another week, Dr. Peyron relented and agreed to allow Van Gogh to resume his painting. His resumption of work coincided with an improved mental state. Vincent sent Theo letters detailing his precarious state of health; while at the same time Theo had similar issues to deal with. Theo's health had often been delicate and he had been ill throughout much of early 1889. For two months Van Gogh was unable to leave his room and wrote to his sister: " . . . when I am in the fields I am overwhelmed by a feeling of loneliness to such a horrible extent that I shy away from going out . . . ." (Letter W14) In the weeks to follow, however, Vincent would again overcome his anxieties and resume working. During this time Vincent began to plan for his eventual departure from the asylum at Saint-Rémy. He expressed these thoughts to Theo who began to make inquiries of possible alternatives for Vincent's medical care--this time much closer to Paris.
Van Gogh's mental and physical health remained fairly stable throughout the remainder of 1889. Theo's health had recovered for the most part and, in the midst of preparing a home with his new wife, Theo was also assisting Octave Maus who was organizing an exhibition, Les XX, in Brussels in which six of Vincent's paintings would be displayed. Vincent seemed enthusiastic about the venture and remained quite productive throughout this time. The ongoing correspondence between Vincent and Theo worked out many of the details surrounding Vincent's showing within the exhibit. On 23 December 1889, a year to the day after the ear slashing incident, Vincent suffered another attack: an "aberration" as he called it (Letter 620). The attack was serious and lasted about a week, but Vincent recovered reasonably quickly and resumed
painting--this time mainly copies of other artists' works, due to being confined inside, both because of his mental health and also because of the weather. Sadly, Van Gogh suffered more attacks throughout the early months of 1890. These attacks came more frequently and left Vincent more incapacitated than any of those previously. Ironically, during this time when Van Gogh was probably at his lowest and most mentally despondent state, his works were finally beginning to receive critical acclaim. News of this, however, only served to depress Vincent further and renewed his hopes to leave the asylum and return to the north. After making some inquiries, Theo felt that the best course of action would be for Vincent to return to Paris and then enter the care of Dr. Paul Gachet (1828-1909), a homeopathic therapist living in Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris. Vincent agreed with Theo's plans and wrapped up his affairs in Saint-Rémy. On 16 May 1890 Vincent van Gogh left the asylum and took an overnight train to Paris.
"The sadness will last forever . . . . " Vincent's journey to Paris was uneventful and he was met by Theo upon his arrival. Vincent remained with Theo, Theo's wife Johanna and their newborn son, Vincent Willem (named after Vincent) for three pleasant days. Never one to enjoy the hustle and bustle of city life, however, Vincent felt some stress returning and opted to leave Paris for the more quiet destination, Auvers-sur-Oise. Vincent met with Dr. Gachet shortly after his arrival in Auvers. Although initially impressed by Gachet, Vincent would later express grave doubts about his competence, going so far as to comment that Gachet appeared to be "sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much" (Letter 648). Despite his misgivings, however, Vincent managed to find himself a room in a small inn owned by Arthur Gustave Ravoux and immediately began painting the environs of Auvers-sur-Oise. Over the course of the next two weeks, Van Gogh's opinion about Gachet softened somewhat and he became completely
absorbed in his painting. Vincent was pleased with Auvers-sur-Oise, which afforded him the freedom denied him in Saint-Rémy, while at the same time provided him with ample subjects for his painting and drawing. Vincent's first weeks in Auvers passed pleasantly and uneventfully. On 8 June Theo, Jo and the baby came to Auvers to visit Vincent and Gachet and Vincent passed a very enjoyable day with his family. To all appearances, Vincent appeared quite restored--mentally and physically.
Throughout June, Vincent remained in good spirits and was remarkably productive, painting some of his best known works (Portrait of Doctor Gachet and The Church at Auvers, for example). The initial tranquility of the first month in Auvers was interrupted, however, when Vincent received news that his nephew was seriously ill. Theo had been going through a most difficult time throughout the previous few months: uncertainty about his own career and future, ongoing health problems and finally his own son's illness. Following the baby's recovery, Vincent decided to visit Theo and his family on 6 July and caught an early train. Very little is known about the visit, but Johanna, writing years later, would suggest that the day was strained and fairly tense. Vincent eventually felt overwhelmed and quickly returned to the more quiet sanctuary of Auvers.
During the next three weeks Vincent resumed his painting and, as his letters suggest, was reasonably happy. To his mother and sister Vincent wrote: "For the present I am feeling much calmer than last year, and really the restlessness in my head has greatly quieted down." (Letter 650) Vincent was absorbed in the fields and plains around Auvers and produced some brilliant landscapes throughout July. For Vincent life had appeared to settle into a productive and--if not happy--at least stable pattern.
Although details chronicled within the various reports conflict, the basic facts of 27 July 1890 remain clear. On that Sunday evening Vincent van Gogh set out, with his easel and painting materials, into the fields. There he took out a revolver and shot himself in the chest. Vincent managed to stagger back to the Ravoux Inn where he collapsed in bed and was then discovered by Ravoux. Dr. Mazery, the local practitioner, was called, as was Dr. Gachet. It was decided not to attempt to remove the bullet in Vincent's chest and Gachet wrote an urgent letter to Theo. Unfortunately, Dr. Gachet didn't have Theo's home address and had to write to him care of the gallery where he worked. This didn't cause a serious delay, however, and Theo arrived the next afternoon.
Vincent and Theo remained together for the last hours of Vincent's life. Theo was devoted to his brother, holding him and speaking with him in Dutch. Vincent seemed resigned to his fate and Theo later wrote: "He himself wanted to die; when I sat at his bedside and said that we would try to get him better and that we hoped that he would then be spared this kind of despair, he said 'La tristesse durera toujours' ('The sadness will last forever.') I understand what he wanted to say with those words." Theo, always his brother's greatest friend and supporter, was holding Vincent as he spoke his last words: "I wish I could pass away like this." Vincent van Gogh died at 1:30 am. on 29 July 1890. The Catholic church of Auvers refused to allow Vincent's burial in its cemetery because Vincent had committed suicide. The nearby township of Méry, however, agreed to allow the burial and the funeral was held on 30 July. Vincent's long time friend, the painter Emile Bernard, wrote about the funeral in detail to Gustave-Albert Aurier:
Chronology of Vincent van Gogh's Life Events
1853 Vincent van Gogh is born on 30 March in
the small village of Groot-Zundert, Holland to Theodorus van
Gogh (1822-1885) and Anna Cornelia née Carbentus (1819-1907).
1857 Vincent's brother, Theo, is born on
1862 While still living in Zundert, Vincent
attempts his first drawings.
1864 Vincent begins schooling in Zevenbergen
and studies French, English and German.
1869 After finishing his schooling, Vincent
is apprenticed to Goupil & Cie, art dealers from Paris with
a branch established in The Hague by his uncle Vincent (Uncle
"Cent"). Vincent makes frequent visits to the museums
of The Hague.
1872 Vincent spends a good deal of time with
his brother, Theo. They begin a lifelong correspondence which
today offers the best means of studying Vincent's opinions,
feelings and state of mind.
1873 Vincent is transferred to the London
branch of Goupil & Cie. He visits the museums and galleries
and expands his knowledge of art. Vincent stays in a boarding
house run by Mrs. Ursula Loyer. For decades it's been thought
that Vincent was in love with Mrs. Loyer's, daughter, Eugenie.
Recent evidence, however, suggests that Vincent was, in fact,
in love with Caroline Haanebeek--a friend of the Van Gogh family
living back in The Netherlands. Vincent's feelings are unreciprocated.
1874 Vincent shows little interest in his
position at Goupil & Cie and eventually transferred to the
Paris branch. By the end of the year, however, he returns to
1875 Vincent's performance at Goupil &
Cie deteriorates while, at the same time, his devotion to his
bible studies reach an obsessive level. 1876 After resigning
his position in the early spring, Vincent journeys to Ramsgate,
England where he takes a post at a small boarding school. Later
in the year Vincent takes a new job as a teacher and curate
with Reverend T. Slade Jones, a Methodist minister. On October
29 Vincent delivers his first Sunday sermon. As Vincent's religious
fervour increase, his physical and mental state take a downturn.
1877 Vincent leaves England and takes a temporary
job in a bookshop in Dordrecht. As with his Goupil & Cie
position, Vincent shows little interest and behaves abrasively
toward his colleagues and clients. Vincent then pursues religious
studies in Amsterdam.
1878 Vincent's formal religious studies come
to an end, but, determined to pursue a religious vocation, Vincent
travels to the Borinage, a coal-mining district in Belgium.
The conditions for both Vincent and the miners is extremely
bad (look to some of Vincent's etchings from the period for
an idea as to the bleakness and oppressively dismal atmosphere).
Vincent reads from the bible to the miners and lives in complete
1879 His work at the Borinage continues.
Vincent devotes all of his energy toward helping the miners--giving
them clothes and food he can ill afford himself. His religious
enthusiasm and drive to help the impoverished miners eventually
attracts the attention of his superiors who feel that Vincent's
behaviour is too extreme. Vincent is soon relieved of his position
in the Borinage and subsequently suffers depression at what
he perceives to be a failed effort. Vincent then moves on to
Cuesmes to continue similar work helping the miners. It is at
this time, however, that his religious devotion begins to wane
and his interest in painting is renewed.
1880 A turning point in Vincent's life. Vincent
abandons his religious pursuits and devotes himself exclusively
to painting the miners and poverty-stricken weavers. Theo begins
to financially support Vincent, a situation that would continue
until the end of Vincent's life. Later in the year, Vincent
undertakes some formal studies of anatomy and perspective at
the Academy in Brussels.
1881 Vincent visits Theo in Etten and, later
in the year, has his advances rejected by his cousin Cornelia
Adriana Vos-Stricker (known as Kee). Vincent is devastated by
this rejection, but throughout the period also follows his artistic
pursuits. He spends time with the painter, Anton Mauve (1838-1888)
who first introduces Vincent to watercolors. The situation with
Kee causes Vincent's mental state to once again deteriorate
and his relationship with his father also begins to crumble.
1882 Vincent meets Clasina Maria Hoornik
(known as Sien) and they move in together. Sien is a prostitute
with a five year old daughter and is pregnant with another child.
While continuing his studies and painting with some acquaintances
(painters Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch and George Hendrik Breitner),
Vincent's physical state again deteriorates and he is hospitalized
for three weeks for gonorrhoea. Upon his release Vincent begins
to experiment with oils and spends much time painting nature
as well as using Sien and her newborn child as models.
1883 After more than a year together, Vincent
ends his relationship with Sien and pursues a life devoted exclusively
to his work. He travels to Drenthe in northern Holland and paints
the bleak landscape as well as the peasant workers. Later in
the year, Vincent moves to Nuenen to stay with his parents.
He sets up a small studio to work and continues to rely on Theo
1884 While continuing with his work, Vincent
begins a relationship with a neighbour's daughter, Margot Begemann.
Both families are opposed to their plan to marry and, in despair,
Margot attempts to poison herself. Vincent is extremely distressed
as this relationship ends, but continues his work and strikes
up a friendship with Anton C. Kerssemakers (1846-1926), a tanner
and art enthusiast. They spend much time together, discussing
art and visiting museums.
1885 After the death of his father in March,
Vincent continues with his work and, in early spring, paints
what many consider to be his first great work, The Potato Eaters.
Vincent expands his experiments to include a greater variety
of colours and becomes extremely interested in Japanese woodcuts.
1886 Wishing to continue with some more formal
education in the arts, Vincent submits some of his works to
the Antwerp Academy and is put in a beginner's class. As expected,
Vincent doesn't fit in well with the Academy and leaves. Later
in the year Vincent moves to Paris and lives with Theo. After
arriving in Paris Vincent begins studies with Cormon (1845-1924)
at his atelier. It is not so much the training that influences
Vincent, but rather his introduction to his fellow students:
John Russell (1858-1931), Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
and Emile Bernard (1868-1941). Later in the year, Theo, who
is working for Boussod & Valadon managing an art gallery
in Montmartre, introduces Vincent to the works of the Impressionists:
Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Edgar
Degas and Georges Seurat. Their work has a profound influence
on Vincent and his use of colour. Later in the year, Vincent
becomes friends with painter, Paul Gauguin, a turbulent relationship
that would later prove to be another turning point in Vincent's
(and Gauguin's) life.
1887 Throughout the year, Vincent continues
his work in Paris. He frequents cafes with other painters and
argues about art with Bernard and Gauguin. Over the course of
the year, Vincent experiments with some different styles, including
Japonaiseries and pointillism.
1888 A pivotal point in Van Gogh's life.
Vincent leaves Paris in February and moves to Arles in the south.
At first the bad, winter weather prevents Vincent from working,
but once spring arrives Vincent begins painting the flowering
Provence landscapes. Vincent eventually moves into the "Yellow
House", a dwelling he has rented where he will paint, and
from which he hopes to establish an artists' community. Vincent
is extremely productive during this period when he paints a
number of seaside landscapes (in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer) as
well as many of his most famous portraits (including his series
of the postman, Joseph Roulin, and his family). Throughout the
year, Vincent continues to paint some of his best work. He anxiously
awaits the arrival of his friend, Paul Gauguin, who he dreams
of helping him to set up the artists' community. Gauguin finally
arrives in October and moves in with Vincent in his "Yellow
House" This proves to be an extremely rewarding and productive
time for Vincent and Gauguin, though a tense and often turbulent
one in which they would endlessly argue about art. As the weather
worsens, so too does their relationship, which is finally destroyed
on 23 December when Vincent is supposed to have attacked Gauguin
with a razor. Immediately after the failed attack, Vincent loses
all reason and cuts off his left earlobe. He then wraps it in
newspaper and presents it to a prostitute at the local brothel
he frequented. He is then hospitalized and shortly afterward
Theo arrives from Paris to make arrangements for Vincent's care.
1889 Vincent begins to improve in the new
year and leaves the hospital in Arles on 7 January. During the
early part of the year, Vincent's mental state fluctuates wildly.
At times he is completely calm and coherent; at others he suffers
from hallucinations and delusions. Vincent continues to work
sporadically from his "Yellow House", but the increasing
frequency of his mental breakdowns prompt him, with Theo's help,
to enter the Saint Paul-de-Mausole mental asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
The year progresses with varying recoveries and lapses in
Vincent's mental state. When able, Vincent continues his paintings
of landscapes (his famous series of olive groves and cypresses)
from the asylum, but is forced to stop when his attacks (in
which he tries to poison himself by swallowing his own paints)
return. Since these attacks often occur while Vincent is outdoors,
he confines himself indoors and begins to do a series paintings
based on the works of other artists he admires (specifically
Millet and Delacroix). Ironically, as Vincent's mental state
steadily deteriorates throughout the course of the year, his
work is finally beginning to receive recognition in the art
community. His Starry Night over the Rhone and Irises are exhibited
at the Salon des Indépendants in September and in November
he is invited to exhibit six of his works by Octave Maus (1856-1919),
secretary of the Belgian artist group, Les XX. Vincent begins
to work out of doors once again, but the year concludes with
one of his worst attacks, in which he again tries to poison
himself, and he is once more incapacitated.
1890 begins much like the previous year with
Vincent making various recoveries and breakdowns. As before,
he continues to work when he can and, as his life draws to a
close, his works gain more and more recognition. On 31 January
Theo's wife, Jo, gives birth to a son who they name Vincent
Willem. After a serious attack in February lasting two months,
it's decided that Vincent should move closer to Theo and be
put under the care of Dr. Paul Gachet. Vincent takes a drastic
turn for the better during the course of this move and arrives
in Paris looking fit and well (in fact, even more fit than his
brother who had been suffering from ill health for years). In
May Vincent moves to Auvers-sur-Oise, just north-west of Paris
and, while under the care of Dr. Gachet, begins to paint with
incredible energy, producing more than 80 paintings in the last
two months remaining to him. June: Vincent continues to produce
some of his best work and his mental and physical health improve
drastically. Dr. Gachet feels that Vincent has made a complete
recovery, and Vincent spends a great deal of time with Theo,
Jo and his new nephew. To many, it would appear that Vincent
was finally happy. July: As conditions for Vincent improved,
they took a turn for the worse for Theo, who was experiencing
financial difficulties and who was troubled at his new son's
ill health. Vincent visits Theo on 6 July and is devastated
at the state of Theo's condition. Vincent continues to work
in the weeks to follow, but his mental state finally plummets,
perhaps owing to his regarding himself as a burden to Theo and
his family and for being responsible for their poor financial
state and troubles. On 27 July Vincent goes for a walk and shoots
himself in the chest with a pistol. He manages to stagger home
late in the evening, but tells no one of his condition. The
wounded Vincent is eventually found in his lodgings and a doctor
is summoned. The bullet cannot be removed and Theo is called
for. Vincent's last hours are much like the last two years of
his life--varying from complete mental anguish to seeming contentment.
After attempting suicide, Vincent spends the little time he
has left sitting up in bed and smoking a pipe, all the while
with Theo at his side. Near the end, Theo climbs into bed with
Vincent and cradles his head in his arms. Vincent says: "I
wish I could pass away like this." Vincent dies early the
next morning on 29 July. The funeral takes place shortly thereafter
and his coffin is covered with dozens of sunflowers, which he
loved so much.
1891 Theo never recovers from the death of
his beloved brother and his health takes a turn for the worse.
He dies on 25 January at Utrecht.
Citations of Vincent van Gogh
"As for me, I am rather often uneasy in my mind, because I think that my life has not been calm enough; all those bitter disappointments, adversities, changes keep me from developing fully and naturally in my artistic career." - Vincent van Gogh
Vincent and Theo Van Gogh: A Dual Biography by Jan Hulsker (Fuller, 1990).
Van Gogh by Ronald Pickvance (Lausanne: Edipress Imprimeries Reunies, 2000).
Vincent van Gogh by Marc Edo Tralbaut (Viking, 1969).
Van Gogh: His Life and Art by David Sweetman (Touchstone, 1990).
'A Great Artist is Dead': Letters of Condolence on Vincent van Gogh's Death by Sjraar van Heugten and Fieke Pabst (eds.), (Waanders, 1992), pages 32-35.
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