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Life and Legacy of Vincent Van Gogh

Updated: 3 days ago

Becoming an Artist

Vincent Van Gogh was born in the Netherlands as the eldest of six children. His father was a Protestant pastor. At 16, through a family connection, he found work at the Hague dealing art. He worked at the London branch for a couple of years, then moved to Paris to work for the Hague there for several months.


But Vincent hated art dealing. He quit after several years, then considered following in his father's footsteps as a Pastor, and searched for a branch of the church which reflected his beliefs. But after a crisis of faith, Vincent started drawing in 1880.

The Study Years

For four years, Vincent worked on his technical skills. He drew and drew and drew, teaching himself anatomy and perspective. He studied the greats, from Rembrandt to contemporary masters.


Vincent began working with oils and spent many months isolated and alone in the Netherlands, striving to capture the beauty of the natural world.

The Potato Eaters

In 1885, Vincent created his largest work yet: The Potato Eaters. This early masterpiece was the cumulation of many studies and sketches of people's heads and of the poor cottages that housed the peasants in the piece. 

Though this piece lacks the vibrant colors of his later works, it shows Vincent was already experimenting with how light filled a space and wove around objects.

Impressionist Studies

In 1886, he joined his brother Theo in Paris and met several notable artists, among them Paul Gauguin  and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. These men were impressionists, painting with broad brushstrokes to capture the light of landscapes and outdoor scenes.


Vincent was undoubtedly influenced by this style, but many argue that he wasn’t an impressionist himself. He’s often categorized as a post-impressionist, part of the era of painters who differed vastly from the classical style, as did the impressionists, but didn’t quite have the same technique as the true impressionists.

Wheat field with Crows

Vincent used very saturated colors, even pure black, and even outlined certain objects in some of his works, such as 'The Bedroom in Arles.' Impressionists strayed from use of color in that manner, and seldom outlined in black.

The Bedroom in Arles

Arles and the Yellow House

The Street

Vincent moved to Arles and lived there in the 'Yellow House.’ His dream was to create a studio space for artists to live and collaborate in. Vincent shared this space with Paul Gauguin.


For some time, Vincent and Paul lived together happily. But by December of that year, Paul and Vincent were quarreling. Then, infamously, Vincent cut off his hear, and was hospitalized for several days.


Today, there is speculation that Vincent didn’t cut off his own ear, as he claimed and was believed at the time. Historians wonder if the injury was caused by Paul during a fight, and that Vincent took blame to keep Paul out of trouble.

Self-Portrait with a Bandaged Ear and Pipe

The Asylum and the End

Regardless of the precise origins of his injury, Vincent was not well. Even after his ear had healed, he was hurting; struggling with mental illness. He checked himself into Asylum at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.


He went through good and bad periods, and painted when he could. He captured the world he saw through the windows of the asylum, and painted the plants of the garden there. Then he panted from homesickness, recalling the Northern beauty of his youth.


He eventually left the asylum for Paris in 1890, then to Auvers-sur-Oise, and painted village life there. It had been many years since he’d lived in such a small, rural community.


But he still struggled with depression, and died a few months later, in May.

The Legacy 

Vase with 12 Sunflowers

Vincent Van Gogh became famous long after his death, not only for his art, but for his story. Historians have found many of his and Theo’s letters, which share many of his secrets. Yet some mysteries continue to shroud his life: we may never know what really happened on that December night in the Yellow House.


In the single decade when Vincent was an artist, he created over 700 pieces. Yet he sold precious few of those works in his lifetime. Today, he is well known for Starry Night and his Tournesols (sunflowers) from the South of France.

Written by Jasmine Grace, University Intern

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