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Self Portrait Painted by Van Gogh 1888

 Vincent Van Gogh Tormented Artist

Vincent Willem van Gogh, 1853-1890, was a Dutch post-impressionist painter- artist, his early life was unremarkable and as a young man he floundered failing from one job to the next. Although he is now known as a well-respected artist, Van Gogh basically only painted for the last 9 years of his life, and in that short time he created more than 860 paintings! 

Van Gogh was born in 1853 in the Netherlands. He was raised in the middle-class home of his father who was a Dutch Reformed Church Minister. In childhood Van Gogh was described as an intelligent, serious almost dour young man. He took art lessons in middle school but did not think he was particularly good at it. When he left school, Vincent became an art dealer in England, France and the Netherlands. Vincent was not successful at selling art and so he became a teacher and a minister’s assistant. Failing again and to his parents displeasure he had several short-lived jobs.  At his parent’s insistence he returned to school and trained to be a minister. However, the ministry was also not for Vincent as he failed his seminary examinations.

Van Gogh’s House in Cuesmes Belgium

where he lived in 1879-1880

In his twenties, Van Gogh spent almost 10 years bouncing from one job to the another.  In the early 1880’s, at the age of 29, Vincent began drawing and painting in earnest. He decided to try his hand at being an artist when he was accepted into the Royal Academy of Art in Brussels, where he studied the mechanics and theory of art. He was not a successful artist as there was little interest in his work. He survived on occasional painting commissions. During this time, however, Vincent’s personal life was disastrous, and he was overcome by bouts of depression and self-loathing.

Van Gogh’s The Potatoes Eaters Van Gogh painted 1885

Following the 1885 death of his father, Vincent painted what is considered his first major work, a very dark dour piece titled "The Potato Eaters".  In August of the same year, his work was displayed on exhibition for the first time in The Hague. In November on 1885, Vincent moved to Antwerp, where he became interested in painting with vivid colors. While in Antwerp, he studied Japanese Art and applied the techniques he admired to some of his own paintings. He was completely enamored with Japanese wood block artists and produced several paintings that were homage to Japanese artists Utagawa Hiroshige and Keisai Eisen.  During this period, Vincent’s health was poor.

In 1886, Vincent moved to Paris and began to associate with other Parisian Impressionists such as Émile Bernard and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. During his time in Paris Vincent adopted a new style that emphasized bright complementary colors, and he experimented with pointillism

Van Gogh’s Sunflower Study Van Gogh painted 1887

Van Gogh met many artists in Paris. In 1887, he met Paul Gauguin during a visit to an artist cooperative with his brother Theo. The brothers both admired Gauguin’s use of bright colors. Van Gogh met Gauguin again when Gauguin attended a Paris Art Exhibition of Van Gogh’s works that he had organized for the Impressionists Artists of the Petit Boulevard. After seeing the exhibit Gauguin traded one of his paintings from Martinique for two of Van Gogh's Sunflowers studies.

In February of 1888, Van Gogh decided to move to Arles in Southern France and begin what he called the Studio of the South. His plan for the studio was for it to be an artist colony where artists could work together and inspire each other. Van Gogh’s Brother Theo, an Art dealer, agreed to try to sell their work. Van Gogh rented four rooms in a building on the Place Lamartine in May. This building is known as the "Yellow House".

Van Gogh’s The Yellow House Van Gogh Painted 1888

The yellow house is the one that Van Gogh was to share with  Gauguin but as it turned out, his dream of a studio in the south shared by like-minded painters lasted only two months. 

Paul Gauguin’s painting of Vincent Van Gogh painting Sunflowers in the yellow house

 Paul Gauguin came to paint with Van Gogh in Arles. They had a very tumultuous relationship and within a month, Van Gogh and Gauguin were arguing constantly. One night after an argument, Gauguin walked out. Van Gogh followed him, and when Gauguin turned around, he saw Vincent holding a razor in his hand. Hours later, Van Gogh went to the local brothel and paid for a prostitute named Rachel. With blood pouring from his hand, he offered her his ear, asking her to "keep this object carefully." Gauguin Left Arles and returned to Paris.

We have an upcoming blog that addresses the complicated relationship between Gauguin and Van Gogh.

The next day, the police found van Gogh in his room and admitted him to the hospital. Theo arrived to see Van Gogh, who was weak from blood loss and having violent seizures. The doctors assured Theo that his brother would live and would be taken good care of. On January 7, 1889, Van Gogh was released from the hospital. Vincent was alone and depressed. Van Gogh took to painting as a distraction but could not find peace and was hospitalized again. He would paint at the yellow house during the day and return to the hospital at night.

 The Garden in the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence Painted by Van Gogh 1889

Van Gogh decided to move to the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence after the people of Arles signed a petition saying that he was dangerous. On May 8, 1889, he began painting in the hospital gardens. In November 1889, he was invited to exhibit his paintings in Brussels. He sent six paintings, including "Irises" and "Starry Night."

The Home of Dr, Gachet Painted by Van Gogh in 1889

In January 1890, Dr. Paul Gachet, who lived in Auvers, about 20 miles north of Paris, agreed to take Vincent as his patient. Van Gogh moved to Auvers and rented a room. In July of that year, Vincent van Gogh committed suicide.


Portrait of Dr Gachet Painted by Van Gogh 1889

In his lifetime Van Gogh produced close to 900 paintings and 700 drawings, only one of which sold during his lifetime. Although Van Gogh was a very unhappy and perhaps unstable person he is considered a genius today and has influenced generations of painters.  His painting Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890), one of his most admired pieces, was sold at auction for 82.5 million dollars in 1990. This was the highest price ever paid for a work of art in 1990. 

Workers in the Red Vineyard Painted by Van Gogh 1888

In Early 1890, Theo sold The Red Vineyard for 400 Francs.  Theo, who was suffering from syphilis and weakened by his brother's death, died six months after his brother in a Dutch asylum. He was buried in Utrecht, but in 1914 Theo's wife, Johanna, who was a dedicated supporter of van Gogh's works, had Theo's body reburied in the Auvers cemetery next to Vincent.

Theo's wife Johanna then collected as many of van Gogh's paintings as she could, but discovered that many had been destroyed or lost, van Gogh's own mother having thrown away crates full of his art. On March 17, 1901, 71 of van Gogh's paintings were displayed at a show in Paris, and his fame subsequently grew enormously. His mother lived long enough to see her son hailed as an artist and a genius. Today, Vincent van Gogh is considered the greatest Dutch painter after Rembrandt. 

In 1973, the Van Gogh Museum opened its doors in Amsterdam to make the works of Vincent van Gogh accessible to the public. The museum houses more than 200 van Gogh paintings, 500 drawings and 750 written documents including letters to Vincent’s brother Theo. It features self-portraits, “The Potato Eaters,” “The Bedroom” and “Sunflowers.” 

Sunset at Montmajour  Painted by Van Gogh 1888

In September 2013, the museum discovered and unveiled a van Gogh painting of a landscape entitled "Sunset at Montmajour.” Before coming under the possession of the Van Gogh Museum, a Norwegian industrialist owned the painting and stored it away in his attic, having thought that it wasn't authentic. The painting is believed to have been created by van Gogh in 1888 — around the same time that his artwork "Sunflowers" was made — just two years before his death.

In Arles, Van Gogh painted over 200 paintings; portraits, self-portraits and evening café scenes. Following Vincent cutting off his left ear Vincent spent 1889 in an insane asylum, where he created over 150 paintings, including the Starry Night, a magical painting that makes the brilliantly lit night sky appear as if it is rolling like waves over a pastoral village. Many of his other paintings also featured dazzling night scenes with glowing stars.

Starry Night Over the Rhone Painted by Van Gogh 1888

Quick Facts About Vincent Van Gogh


  • Van Gogh suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy as well as other mental and physical conditions.
  • Vincent only sold one painting during his lifetime and only became famous after his death
  • Vincent van Gogh did not cut off his ear. He only cut off a small portion of his ear lobe.
  • Van Gogh painted "The Starry Night" in the asylum where he was staying in Saint-Rémy, France, in 1889, the year before his death. “This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,” he wrote to his brother Theo.
  • Van Gogh wrote over 800 letters in his lifetime. Most of them written to his brother and closest friend Theo. In his letters, Van Gogh mentions over 1,100 works by different artists, as well as at least 800 books and magazine articles. He looked for intellectual and artistic nourishment.
  • Vincent was obsessed with painting and sketching self-portraits.  Over the course of 10 years, van Gogh created more than 43 self-portraits. "I am looking for a deeper likeness than that obtained by a photographer," he wrote to his sister. "People say, and I am willing to believe it, that it is hard to know yourself. But it is not easy to paint yourself, either. The portraits painted by Rembrandt are more than a view of nature, they are more like a revelation,” he later wrote to his brother.
  • Vincent’s brother Theo died six months after Vincent and is buried next to him in Auvers, France.
  • Vincent’s brother’s wife collected Vincent’s paintings and letters after his death and dedicated herself to getting his work the recognition it deserved.
  • Van Gogh created approximately 900 paintings in 10 years. In his lifetime, Vincent van Gogh completed more than 2,100 works of art; 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings and sketches. Several of his paintings now rank among the most expensive in the world; "Irises" sold for a record $53.9 million, and his "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" sold for $82.5 million.


Further Exploring and Reading:



More about Vincent and Gauguin:


Van Gogh’s Night Visions:


Touring Europe in the Footsteps of van Gogh:


Van Gogh and some of his works:




Movies about Van Gogh:

  • Loving Vincent -2017

 Directors: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Writers: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman

  • Vincent and Theo- 1990

Director: Robert Altman and Writer: Julian Mitchell


Be sure to visit the museum in person or on line.  It is an awesome site:


The Van Gogh Museum is an art museum dedicated to the works of Vincent van Gogh and his contemporaries in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Wikipedia

Address: Museumplein 6, 1071 DJ Amsterdam, Netherlands

Founded: June 2, 1973, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The museum's collection is the largest collection of Van Gogh's paintings and drawings in the world.