The life and death of Vincent Van Gogh

“There are so many people especially among our pals, who imagine that words are nothing. On contrary, don’t you think that it’s as interesting and as difficult as to say a thing well as to paint the thing.”

-Vincent Van Gogh to Emile Bernard, 19th April, 1888

Post-Impressioninst Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings are colorful, vibrant and vivid. Sadly, his artworks were neglected during his lifetime. Even today, his work is often eclipsed by his reputation as a madman. But its his madness that revealed what a genius he was, a creative genius who believed in painting experiences. To visualize his genius, look at the centre of the swirl for 30 sec and then watch The Starry Night come alive.
Starry Night- Probably thats how van gogh imagined the world around him

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

On his birthday, here is a look at his self-doubting journey as a painter as well as a man fighting anxiety, manic depression and epilepsy, based on the analysis of his paintings and the letters he wrote.

'Wicked to sell' paintings

Vincent Van Gogh was born in Zundert, in the province of North Brabont on 30th March, 1853. At the age of 16, he became the youngest assistant at Guptil and Cie in The Hague. Within few years of working at Guptil & Cie, Vincent became fervent about religion and thought that it was ‘wicked’ to sell his paintings. He was suspended from his work. The religiuos themes were present in many of his paintings including "Starry Night"

READ MORE: Observation Quiz on Starry Night(Question#3)

What affected Van Gogh?

He got a chance to experience the life of miners in the coal mining district of Borinage in Southern Belgium. Also, at that time he was reading Charles Dickens works. Charles Dickens was the best novelist who brilliantly portrayed the life of poor. Vincent’s ardent wish was to help these people and he gave all his possessions to help them in every possible way. Throughout his life, he contributed to improve the lives of poor. Farms and peasents where a common theme of his paintings.
Head of a young peasent in a peaked cap Bulb Fields Potato Eaters


Vincent relationship with his father was not really good. Vincent’s joblessness and his love affairs disgusted his family. Vincent felt himself like a “filthy dog” at his father’s place. He was sad that his father never understood his passions.

“Pa cannot empathize or sympathize with me, and I cannot settle in to Pa and Ma’s routine, it’s too constricting for me- it would suffocate me.“

-Vincent Van Gogh to Theo Van Gogh on or around 23rd December, 1881

Controversy around Authenticity

Vincent sold just one painting during his life time. His brother Theo tried to sell Vincent’s work but in vain. After Vincent’s death, it was Theo’s wife Jo Bonger, .
who collected Vincent’s work and his letters and dedicated all her life to get him well deserved recognition. The Red Vineyard- The only painting Van Gogh sold in his lifetime.

But the authenticity of Vincent’s paintings has been questioned – forty five doubted in canonical Hulsker’s catalogue. Surprisingly, sixteen of the forty five paintings are at the Van Gogh Museum itself. The paintings in the Amsterdam Museum came from the collection of Theo, their authenticity has been assumed. Although, many researchers have questioned the authenticity of Vincent’s work, people like Hulsker has not been able to provide any evidence as such.

Who cut off Vincent’s earlobe?

After he had an argument with his father, he headed to south where he encountered farmers’ lives. During this time, he painted colorful fields, farmers working in the fields but his major work was “Potato Eaters”. His friend, Anthan Van Rappard critiqued the painting negatively. The negative response disturbed him. He threatened his colleague and friend Paul Gaugin with a razor but in turn cut the part of his left ear and presented to the prostitute at the brothel he used to visit. People are now questioning that whether it was Vincent or Paul who cut the part of his earlobe. Paul Gaugin is suspected to commit the crime and the following words by Vincent hint at that:

“Luckily Gauguin ... is not yet armed with machine guns and other dangerous war weapons."

Self Potrait with Bandaged ear

Coloring spaces

Van Gogh earlier paintings are devoid of colors. What inspired him to fill some colors leading to some of the most vibrant paintings in the art history? During his visit to factories, Vincent encountered a weaver working on a loom. The color combination he witnessed here, are considered to have motivated him to experiment with colors. His favorite color was yellow, color which was made during Industrial revolution through pigment chrome yellow. His paintings like ‘The Bedroom’ has browned over years as these pigments were chemically unstable.
Sunflowers The Bedroom

Nervous Vincent- his paintings tells so

He loathed loneliness though at times, he desired it and would leave his house to spend some time alone at countryside. He was allowed to visit places even after being admitted at asylum. He used to visit night cafes, brothels and would say that night café is a place where you can become mad and commit crimes .The strong metallic colors, shades of violet, blue and yellow gave strength to his paintings but the concentric waves in “Starry Night”, and the shape of petals in “Sunflower” showed nervousness and violent expression of the painter. He never liked his work “Starry Night”. He produced this work while he was in an asylum in France. 'It was not a little good', he wrote.
Cafe Terrace at Night -There is a myth that Van Gogh hid the Last Supper in this painting Night Cafe in Arles

READ MORE: How van gogh used color to make one night cafe deliberately ugly

Passion or illness

Van Gogh painted over 900 paintings. Researchers have speculated his passion to be his illness, a behavioral condition called hypergraphia which prompted him to paint most of the time. He used to leave house at 5 am in the morning and would return at around 10 pm, painting all the time.

Called mad

“I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process.”

Vincent felt a continuous anxiety and it bothered him when people used to call him a madman. Once, 30 of his neighbor filed a petition against him in the police as he interrupted in their work and once grabbed a woman by her waist. He wrote to his brother after he was sent to an asylum that if given a choice he would have never chosen madness. He expressed his sadness that these people does not consider him a part of their society and feel threatened by him.

Vincent’s Mysterious Death

Everyone knows that Vincent died on July 29, 1890 of a gunshot wound, in a state of deteriorating mental health. Its commonly believed he commited suicide by killing himself in the wheat fields. But forensic experts now suggest that there is a possibility of murder. According to them, the theory that Vincent crawled to his inn after killing himself is dubious as such a serious wound would not have allowed anyone to stay alive for such a long time. An alternative thoery suggests that he was shot accidentally by a boy he knew, and did not want the kid to get in trouble. Considering his nature, its not hard to believe.

“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.”


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