Early in life had wanted to become a pastor and worked as a missionary amongst very poor but gave away all of his possessions and became ill. Brother Theo came to his rescue. He wrote letters to his brother who financially supported him throughout his life. This is why we know so much about him and his art.
Vincent struggled his whole life with mental health problems. Some say that he may have suffered from being bi-polar.
Started drawing in his late twenties and created studies of working peasants in fields.
Did his first major painting in 1885 called ‘The Potato Eaters’. It was of a family of peasants after a hard day working the fields picking potatoes – sitting down to an honest meal. Person in the foreground is silhouetted by the steam of the food. Colours all darks and browns like the soil of the land they worked. Faces tough, hands gnarled from hard work.
Van Gogh really inspired at this time by Jean-Francois Millet who also depicted peasants working the land.
Van Gogh went to Paris in 1886 and discovered ‘The Impressionists’
The impressionists were a completely new movement which went against the formal trend of the time in art for quite formal, austere paintings which were very finely painted without clear brushstrokes or bright colour. The Impressionsists were interested in capturing the light and essence of a scene and their work was full of layered brushstrokes of bright colours. Monet (perhaps the best known of the Impressionists) would paint the same scene several times at different times of the day simply to capture the sense of light. The Impressionists were initially frowned upon by the art establishment because their way was so new and seen as poor quality, childish, bad art.
Van Gogh was a ‘Post Imressionist’ painter. Although he was deeply influenced by the Impressionsits, he took what they had done further and pushed his work into even stronger, brighter, living colour. His brushstrokes became even more bold and clear – they were like lots of layered dashes of colours and moved even further away from representation towards really expressing feelings and emotions through his work.
Pick a painting by Van Gogh now to analyse using the ‘Form Content Process Mood’ sheet. Include date painted, which medium was used (e.g. oil on canvas) and title.
Vincent never achieved success with his art which was unrecognised in his lifetime. He only sold one of his paintings during his lifetime.
Vincent suffered from severe emotional swings during his whole life and this strength of emotion was captured in many of his paintings. As the years passed, his emotional state grew more unstable with him severing his own ear at one point. His emotional state was reflected in the paintings as they grew wilder.
Vincent shot himself in a suicide attempt in 1890. His last painting was ‘Wheatfield with Crows’ which he may not have fully finished. It shows a yellow field full of crows with a dark, stormy sky and is done with strong, rapid brushstrokes and is full of angst and what seems like turmoil, reflecting what may have been his state of mind at the time.