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Artist in Focus : Vincent van Gogh

In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at Vincent van Gogh.

Life

Vincent Van Gogh was born in 1853 to a wealthy family in Netherlands. His family followed the Dutch Reformist Church and his father was a clergyman. It was documented that from a young age Vincent displayed an abnormality in behaviour, Whether it was the genius that was waiting to express himself or if he was still in the learning, absorbing and experimental phase of life, it can be argued. Either case his attitude made it difficult to remain in school and he abandoned his formal education.

It was in 1896 that the Parisian branch of art dealers Goupil & Cie employed him thus. Vincent’s tenure at the art dealership ended in 1872 when he was hit by mental ill health and depression which made him turn towards divinity as solace. It was also something that bound him to his childhood. Vincent was keen on his ties with his brother Theo and later his wife.

Movement

Vincent’s relationship with Post Impressionism has its roots – when he decided to move back with his parents where he taught himself to paint. His palette was distinct and his brush work even more so. They were a clear departure of the earlier Impressionistic style which was in vogue. It meant
that his art was extremely hard to sell – as it fell out with tradition and trend.

From the period of 1885 – 1888, while he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, he studied Rubens, and the Impressionists closely. He produced work – under financial duress – art that would sell. His works were exhibited alongside Georges Seurat and Paul Signac.

Finally in 1888, when living with artist Paul Gauguin in Arles, France – the Post-Impressionist movement was born. Van Gogh created some his most memorable and remarkable works, which would be the last two years of his life.

His brush works and his palette were unquestionably announcing a new era of painters, his canvas was vibrant and alive with colour and his seemingly simple compositions were riveting. All the while his art thrived, it was Vincent who was growing very sick. His mental health deteriorated rapidly – he fought depression, bipolarity and epilepsy while producing art prolifically. It was almost like a cathartic activity for him. The iconic Starry Night (1889) was painted by him when he was admitted at the sanatorium at Arles.

1890 saw the artist take his own life in a wheat field, he died two days after the incident of a violent infection.

Legacy

Van Gogh’s legacy is one that is recognised the world over. In terms of contribution to art, to art theory, to future artist and generations and at human level. The German Expressionists and Fauvists carried his legacy forward, working with broad brush strokes and brighter colours. They displayed Van Gogh’s fearless attitude towards expression. Moreover, during the mid 20th century Th Abstract Expressionists effectively, inspired by the broad strokes, adopted the similar style – as an outwardly expression of angst. Van Gogh created 900 paintings and 1100 drawings, which were left to Theo, his brother. But the poignant truth was that only one was sold during his entire lifetime.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the Artist in Focus archive.

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